Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

How Lincoln's engagement was patched up is as delicious an uncertainty, from gossip's
point of view, as how it had been broken off. Possibly, as many people have asserted, it
was brought about by an event of which, in the irony of fate, Lincoln ever after felt
ashamed.[1] An impulsive, not overwise politician, James Shields, a man of many
peculiarities, was saucily lampooned in a Springfield paper by some jaunty girls, one of
whom was Miss Todd.
Somehow,--the whole affair is very dim,--Lincoln acted as their literary adviser. Shields
demanded the name of his detractor; Lincoln assumed the responsibility; a challenge
followed. Lincoln was in a ridiculous position. He extricated himself by a device which
he used more than once thereafter; he gravely proposed the impossible. He demanded
conditions which would have made the duel a burlesque--a butcher's match with cavalry
broadswords. But Shields, who was flawlessly literal, insisted. The two met and only on
the dueling ground was the quarrel at last talked into oblivion by the seconds. Whether
this was the cause of the reconciliation with Miss Todd, or a consequence, or had nothing
to do with it, remains for the lovers of the unimportant to decide. The only sure fact in
this connection is the marriage which took place November 4, 1842.[2]
Mrs. Lincoln's character has been much discussed. Gossip, though with very little to go
on, has built up a tradition that the marriage was unhappy. If one were to believe the half
of what has been put in print, one would have to conclude that the whole business was a
wretched mistake; that Lincoln found married life intolerable because of the fussily
dictatorial self-importance of his wife. But the authority for all these tales is meager. Not
one is traceable to the parties themselves. Probably it will never be known till the end of
time what is false in them, what true. About all that can be disengaged from this cloud of
illusive witnesses is that Springfield wondered why Mary Todd married Lincoln. He was
still poor; so poor that after marriage they lived at the Globe Tavern on four dollars a
week. And the lady had been sought by prosperous men! The lowliness of Lincoln's
origin went ill with her high notions of her family's importance. She was downright,
high-tempered, dogmatic, but social; he was devious, slow to wrath, tentative, solitary;
his very appearance, then as afterward, was against him. Though not the hideous man he
was later made out to be--the "gorilla" of enemy caricaturists--he was rugged of feature,
with a lower lip that tended to protrude. His immense frame was thin and angular; his
arms were inordinately long; hands, feet and eyebrows were large; skin swarthy; hair
coarse, black and generally unkempt. Only the amazing, dreamful eyes, and a fineness in
the texture of the skin, redeemed the face and gave it distinction.[3] Why did precise,
complacent Miss Todd pick out so strange a man for her mate? The story that she married
him for ambition, divining what he was to be--like Jane Welsh in the conventional story
of Carlyle--argues too much of the gift of prophecy. Whatever her motive, it is more than
likely that she was what the commercialism of to-day would call an "asset." She had
certain qualities that her husband lacked. For one, she had that intuition for the main
chance which shallow people confound with practical judgment. Her soul inhabited the
obvious; but within the horizon of the obvious she was shrewd, courageous and stubborn.
Not any danger that Mary Lincoln would go wandering after dreams, visions, presences,
such as were drifting ever in a ghostly procession at the back of her husband's mind.
There was a danger in him that was to grow with the years, a danger that the outer life