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Issues and Problems in Mary and Abraham Lincoln's Marriage


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Lincoln and His Family (Thomas, Abraham, Robert Todd, and Mary Todd Lincoln). Painting by S. B. Waugh engraved by W. Sartain. Philadelphia: Bradley & Co., c. 1866. Prints and Photographs Division.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Lincoln Related: Marriage Profile | Quotes | Children | Previous Relationships

Historians agree that Mary and Abraham had a troubled and stormy marriage. Here's a look at some of the issues and problems in their marriage.

Travel and Mary's Emotional/Physical Health: Throughout their marriage, Abe would travel for as much as six months out of a year. Mary perceived Abe's travels as abandonment. We can only wonder if his travels were a way of protecting himself from Mary's uncontrollable shopping, her irrational fears of dogs, lightning storms, burglars, etc. and from her migraine headaches that left her bedridden for days on end.

Mary was considered self-centered, known to have a violent temper, exhibited eccentric behavior, had disturbing mood swings, and suffered from depression and exhaustion. As the years passed, Abe grew more distant and withdrawn from Mary.

Communication Styles: When they argued, Mary yelled, screamed, and threw things. Abe just walked away. Mary liked to talk and chattered on and on while Abraham was quiet and silent.

Differences: Mary and Abe had different personalities and opposing temperaments. They both struggled with depression. Mary was used to luxury while Abe had a background of poverty and hardship. Mary was well educated and Abe had little formal schooling.

Finances: Mary often lived beyond their means. Shopping was the way Mary would calm herself. She often kept her reckless spending from Abe. Even when she over spent what Congress had allowed her spend on re-doing the White House, she tried padding the accounts and appropriating money from other funds so that Abe wouldn't know the truth.

Mary's sister: "Her chief enjoyment consists in purchasing and storing."
Source: PBS.org, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided

"The horrors of the Civil War, domestic bereavement, and the fact that she was not accepted socially in Washington, then largely a city of Southerners, made Mrs. Lincoln's White House years unhappy. She vented her frustrations in an orgy of spending -- buying handsome clothes and beautiful accessories for herself and elegant furnishings for the White House."
Source: Smithsonian. First Ladies Hall. no page #.

Abe Lincoln on learning of Mary's over spending while redecorating the White House: "It never can have my approval ... It would stink in the nostrils of the American people to have it said that the President of the United States had approved a bill overrunning an appropriation of $20,000 for flub-dubs for this damned old house when the soldiers cannot have blankets ... The house was furnished well enough, better than any one we ever lived in ... Well, I suppose Mrs. Lincoln must bear the blame, let her bear it, I swear I won't!"
Source: PBS.org, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided

After Willy's death, Mary retreated more into herself showing signs of instability and imbalance. Along with believing that Willy and Eddy visited her at night, Mary went on irrational shopping sprees.

"Mary continued to try to find comfort in possessions. She bought new dresses, hats ... it was said that in three months, she purchased 300 pairs of gloves. Many of her purchases were never even unpacked."
Source: PBS.org, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided

After she left the White House, Mary's debt deepened. She was not given a pension from the government until 1870.

Expectations: Mary had said during her courtship with Abraham that she wanted to marry a man who would be President someday. She had expectations of supporting her husband in his political role and being his Chief Advisor. Although she was supportive and listened to Abe as he talked about politics, her role was limited to being a good hostess and writing letters for him.

Jealousy: Mary was very jealous of Abe and could go out of control in the midst of being upset.

After Mary made a scene at a Grand Review of the Union army: "It is true however that Mary worried about flirtations, even when they didn't exist ... It was the first really open public display of their differences that they had ever permitted themselves since he became President ... After her humiliating outburst, Mary Lincoln did not leave her cabin for three days. The President explained she wasn't feeling well. Then, he sent her home to Washington."
Source: PBS.org, Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided

Quotes about the Marriage of Mary and Abraham Lincoln

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Mary and Abraham Lincoln Marriage Profile

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