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“Honest Abe” Lincoln Admits to Skirting the Truth with his Wife
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Headed “Private” in Lincoln’s hand, this unique letter reveals an awkward intersection of domestic and national politics and an instructive insight into the marriage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Here, Lincoln admits to not being truthful with his wife on the small matter of purchasing a copy of a new partisan newspaper, a year before the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. “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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Letter Signed, to John Rosette, editor of the Springfield Republican, February 20, 1857, Springfield, Ill. Headed “Private” in Lincoln’s hand. 1 p., 7½ x 9⅝ in.

Inventory #21190.99       Price: $48,000

Complete Transcript

Private                                                                          Springfield, Feb. 20. 1857

John E. Rosette, Esq

            Dear Sir

            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.

                                                                                    Yours truly

                                                                                    A Lincoln

Historical Background

Whatever Mrs. Lincoln’s remark was, it must have been reprinted in the February 16, 1857 issue of the Springfield Republican. The newspaper, edited by John Rosette, was short-lived and the survival rate of issues is extremely low. The specific content of “the little paragraph in the Republican” remains a mystery, but the letter certainly does fulfill Lincoln biographer William Herndon’s purpose of serving as an example “of the complexities which frequently beset Mr. Lincoln when his wife came into contact with others.”

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 this letter to Rosette, claiming that he did not know “what in this instance [Mrs. Lincoln] said to the paper carrier.”

References

Herndon, William H., and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life The History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (Chicago, 1889).

Lincoln, Abraham. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. Roy P. Basler et al., eds. (New Brunswick, N.J., 1953-1974), 2:389.


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