Although the private lives of political couples have in our era become front-page news, the true story of this extraordinary and tragic first family has never been fully told. The Lincolns eclipses earlier accounts with riveting new information that makes husband and wife, president and first lady, come alive in all their proud accomplishments and earthy humanity. Award-winning biographer and poet Daniel Mark Epstein gives a fresh close-up view of the couple’s life in Springfield, Illinois (of their twenty-two years of marriage, all but six were spent there), and dramatizes with stunning immediacy how the Lincolns’ ascent to the White House brought both dazzling power and the slow, secret unraveling of the couple’s unique bond.
The first full-length portrait of the marriage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln in more than fifty years, The Lincolns is written with enormous sweep and striking imagery. Daniel Mark Epstein makes two immortal American figures seem as real and human as the rest of us.
From the Author: What's New in The Lincolns, Portrait of a Marriage?
During the years I was researching and writing this book I was asked again and again: Have you found anything new, in facts or perspective?
The answer is yes, and yes again. Everything is new in the sense that when one puts aside the stereotypes associated with the Lincolns, a rich and complex married life emerges. The stereotypes are: Mary was crazy, and Abraham was a saint. The most popular myth is that Lincoln married a madwoman, and suffered patiently and heroically through twenty-two miserable years of marriage.
After my research, I reached two conclusions that shaped my portrait of the marriage. First, these two people loved each other deeply, from the time they met in Springfield in 1839, until his assassination in 1865. The second is that Mary was extremely interested in Abraham's career and speeches; whenever they could, the two of them talked about these things. She was a strong political partner for him.
The rest of my work has been a careful gathering of details. Here again, there is a lot that is new. First, this is the only book about the marriage that recounts the Springfield years (16 years out of 22) in as much detail as the White House years. In Springfield the family achieved a delicate balance that was destabilized in wartime Washington. The story that began as a romance turns to tragedy.
The Lincolns' courtship was stormy; he broke off their engagement in 1840, and they were not reconciled until 1842. New evidence indicates that Lincoln believed he had syphilis, and would not resume the courtship until he believed he was cured.
I discovered letters from Mary's brother-in-law that shed light on the courtship, and the abrupt reconciliation and marriage in 1842.
This is the first book to connect Lincoln’s reading of The Niles Register
(a news magazine of the time) with his speeches against the Mexican War during his term of congress in 1847-48. In their Washington boarding house in 1848, the Lincolns witnessed the abduction of a black servant who was buying his freedom. Using newspaper accounts of the time I was able to detail this terrifying incident.
Mary's physical abuse of her husband has mostly been a matter of rumor. In 1857 she is supposed to have hit her husband with a stick of firewood, injuring his nose. I was able to find store receipts for a gelatin plaster that Lincoln purchased on the date witnesses saw him wearing the plaster cast, on his nose, in court.
Much has been written about the plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way through Baltimore for the inauguration. This book is the first to describe the danger to which Mary and her sons were exposed en route to Baltimore while Lincoln passed secretly from Harrisburg to Washington. The Presidential train with Mary aboard served as a decoy, and the journey through "mob city" was a nightmare.
One of the most exciting moments of my research was in discovering a poem of Albert Laighton's that the Lincolns read together. It shaped the last lines of Lincolns' first inaugural address. Another was the discovery of a letter from a Washington physician describing Mrs. Lincoln's handling of a medical crisis in the White House (when her children had measles) that disproves the received opinion she was too unstable to handle such emergencies.
There's a lot more that is new, but I don't want to spoil it here. I felt honored to be entrusted with these materials, and to tell the Lincolns' story. --Daniel Mark Epstein