PROPERTY OF A NEW YORK COLLECTOR
Exhibited: "Abraham Lincoln in New York," Federal Hall, 26 Wall St, 6 February 2009 to 30 April 2009
William Herndon was not a champion of Mary Todd Lincoln, to say the least. Nor was her husband's longtime law partner a favorite of the First Lady. One of the most sensational aspects of Herndon's controversial biography of Abraham Lincoln was the insight he purported to have on the state of the Lincolns' marriage, from which, he claimed, both parties "reaped the bitter harvest of conjugal infelicity." The dynamic of the Lincoln household, according to Herndon was the husband's acquiescence to the wife's vicious temper: "However cold and abstracted her husband may have appeared to others, however impressive, when aroused, may have seemed his indignation in public, he never gave vent to his feelings at home. He always meekly accepted as final the authority of his wife in all matters of domestic concern."
As "a specimen of the perplexities which frequently beset Mr. Lincoln when his wife came in contact with others," Herndon printed the present letter (with several variations in wording and punctuation):
"Your note about the little paragraph in the Republican, was received yesterday; since when, till now, I have been too unwell to answer it. I had not supposed you wrote, or approved it. The whole originated in mistake. You know, by the conversation with me, that I thought the establishment of the paper unfortunate but I always expected to throw no obstacle in its way, and to patronize it to the extent of taking and paying for one copy. When the paper was first brought to my house, my wife said to me 'now are you going to take another worthless little paper' I said to her evasively, I had not directed the paper to be left. From this, in my absence, she sent the message to the carrier. This is the whole story."
Herndon claimed that he did not know "what in this instance [Mrs. Lincoln] said to the paper carrier," but whatever her remark, it must have been reprinted in the 16 February 1857 issue of the Springfield Republican. The Republican was short-lived; edited by John Rosette, it began publication on 9 February and lasted only through that April. Evidently most potential subscribers felt similarly to Mrs. Lincoln: not only was the life of the newspaper very brief, but the survival rate of issues is extremely low. Basler was not able to locate a copy of the issue in question, nor is a copy in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, which is the designated repository for Illinois newspapers. So while the specific content of "the little paragraph in the Republican" remains a mystery, the present revealing letter certainly does fulfill Herndon's purpose of serving as an example "of the complexities which frequently beset Mr. Lincoln when his wife came into contact with others."
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