An enlightening narrative exploring an oft-overlooked aspect of the sixteenth president’s life, An American Marriage reveals the tragic story of Abraham Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd.
Abraham Lincoln was apparently one of those men who regarded “connubial bliss” as an untenable fantasy. During the Civil War, he pardoned a Union soldier who had deserted the army to return home to wed his sweetheart. As the president signed a document sparing the soldier’s life, Lincoln said: “I want to punish the young man—probably in less than a year he will wish I had withheld the pardon.”
Based on thirty years of research, An American Marriage describes and analyzes why Lincoln had good reason to regret his marriage to Mary Todd. This revealing narrative shows that, as First Lady, Mary Lincoln accepted bribes and kickbacks, sold permits and pardons, engaged in extortion, and peddled influence. The reader comes to learn that Lincoln wed Mary Todd because, in all likelihood, she seduced him and then insisted that he protect her honor. Perhaps surprisingly, the 5’2” Mrs. Lincoln often physically abused her 6’4” husband, as well as her children and servants; she humiliated her husband in public; she caused him, as president, to fear that she would disgrace him publicly.
Unlike her husband, she was not profoundly opposed to slavery and hardly qualifies as the “ardent abolitionist” that some historians have portrayed. While she provided a useful stimulus to his ambition, she often “crushed his spirit,” as his law partner put it. In the end, Lincoln may not have had as successful a presidency as he did—where he showed a preternatural ability to deal with difficult people—if he had not had so much practice at home.
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