What did Lincoln see in Mary Todd? Maybe that’s the wrong question.

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Belle Montgomery

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A photograph of an undated daguerreotype of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. (Library of Congress/AP)

She was an ambitious and polarizing first lady who was scorned by her enemies as “gross,” “avaricious,” a “she wolf” and “cold as a chunk of ice,” slammed after leaving the White House for basic “unloveableness,” and sarcastically derided in a 2012 tweet as “such a b----.” If the name Hillary — or, for that matter, Michelle or Nancy — is dancing on your lips, then cast your gaze back, 150 years ago, to Mary.


Mary Todd Lincoln, to be clear, whose arraignment in the court of mid-19th-century public opinion enrolls her in a vexed sorority with today’s first ladies and female politicians. Her example reminds us, in case we needed reminding, that America has never known quite what to do with women who enter the public sphere.


It was Mary’s particular misfortune to be the woman to one particular man. Indeed, of all the mysteries that have enveloped Abraham Lincoln, his choice of a life mate has been...
Rest of Article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/05/28/what-did-lincoln-see-mary-todd-maybe-thats-wrong-question/
paging @JPK Huson 1863
 

John S. Carter

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What did Bill Clinton see in Hillary? Maybe it was he realized that she was as ambitious as he was.She was willing to marry him even after he had left her which seems to indicate that she saw a man she could guild into a position of power.As to love,ambition does not require this relation.Her family was very well connected in the political rhem of the state .Lady Macbeth guided the unwilling husband to the kingship when he was not willing to do what was required.If one reads history there have been women who where more ambitious that the male.Eve to Adam,Cleopatra to Anthony and even prehabs Caesar {where did he git the idea of being a god?}What would have happened if she had refused AL and married Douglas,would there had been a President Douglas.This does not make her evil just a woman who used what she could when men restricted ambitious women, just as women today are very skilled at diplomacy
 
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huskerblitz

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I think her oldest son did much to malign her character as well. Didn't he try to have her committed to an asylum?
Lubliner.
I don't think so. Mary was being erratic in her after the loss of Tad. There's more to it than just throwing her in the clink. He was concerned about her own health. It was one of those situations where there were going to be no winners.
 

Lubliner

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I don't think so. Mary was being erratic in her after the loss of Tad. There's more to it than just throwing her in the clink. He was concerned about her own health. It was one of those situations where there were going to be no winners.
Wasn't that while Lincoln was in office, he mentioned that she would end up in the white-washed buildings if she continued? I did mistake the original intent of the thread by reading the article and thinking of her fall from grace afterward, and thinking her son, Robert had pushed her in that direction after a trip overseas.
Maybe the pairing of Abe and Mary was so unique as to be incomparable to most other profiling??
Lubliner.
 
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wbull1

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It is easy to underestimate a woman who, in another time, might have run for the presidency herself instead of having to fulfill her ambitions through her husband. When they met, she was extremely intelligent, witty, charming and politically astute. She was also gorgeous, but I don't think that was her main point of attraction to the sixteenth President. As I've written before, it was more surprising to their friends that she was interested in Lincoln than that he was smitten by her.

Lincoln had been engaged to Mary Owens, who was rather ordinary in appearance, but intelligent, clever with words and had strong knowledge and opinions about politics. For a man who was political down to his bone marrow, Mary Todd was one of the rare women of that time who shared his passion for politics. For Mary, Lincoln was a man who did not pursue her for her beauty or her family connections, but who actually listened to her thoughts.
 

huskerblitz

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Wasn't that while Lincoln was in office, he mentioned that she would end up in the white-washed buildings if she continued? I did mistake the original intent of the thread by reading the article and thinking of her fall from grace afterward, and thinking her son, Robert had pushed her in that direction after a trip overseas.
Maybe the pairing of Abe and Mary was so unique as to be incomparable to most other profiling??
Lubliner.
I don't recall the quote you reference. He might have said that...heck, I'm sure most of us have said something similar or worse to our spouses during an argument.

Mary was grief-stricken...she was constantly around the specter of death. She loses a son, then another son, then her husband, then another son, then tack on all of her other relatives that died....all before she was assigned to an institution by a JURY (and yes, it was a sham trial, but it wasn't like Robert just tossed her in). And let's not bring down Robert in all this....Mary almost ruined his marriage and Robert's wife temporarily left. Mary needed help, and at least in that time period, this was how help was found. Today we know better. Then, they just didn't have the tools to deal with Mary's eccentricism.
 
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wbull1

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Wasn't that while Lincoln was in office, he mentioned that she would end up in the white-washed buildings if she continued? I did mistake the original intent of the thread by reading the article and thinking of her fall from grace afterward, and thinking her son, Robert had pushed her in that direction after a trip overseas.
Maybe the pairing of Abe and Mary was so unique as to be incomparable to most other profiling??
Lubliner.
As I read that conversation, I remember it was Lincoln asking Mary to try to calm herself so she would not end up in the buildings. I did not read it as a threat, although it clearly has those overtones. Mary, reluctantly, agreed to go to a home that was much more comfortable and plush than anything we have today. It was not institutional at all. Mary had made real efforts to kill herself and unsuccessful only because a pharmacist took unusual steps to warn other pharmacists of her intentions.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Her example reminds us, in case we needed reminding, that America has never known quite what to do with women who enter the public sphere.

And that ' crazy ' gets thrown at them like weapon. We've been doing it to women since Day 1 and for some reason it remains the default position. Upset? No, of course not, she's crazy. Say something someone doesn't like? Crazy. It's also the easiest way to vilify a woman especially one in the public eye.

Herndon made a living vilifying her. Must be nice to pay your bills on the back of someone you've destroyed. The biggest problem historically has been sourcing his nonsense and quite a bit more of the era then that gets sourced. It didn't help she was a much more vulnerable target than her husband. Hated as a Southern woman married to the biggest Yankee there was, ostracized by a DC ' clique ' determined to paint her as the gauche wife of a gaucher man they used their positions to vilify her too.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I don't recall the quote you reference. He might have said that...heck, I'm sure most of us have said something similar or worse to our spouses during an argument.

I'm not sure he said it either or who'd have been around during such an intimate, private moment to record he said it. Neither would have repeated that conversation to anyone. That " Get ahold of yourself Mary or you'll end up there " line had been repeated often enough to be part of the Mary Todd Lincoln narrative.
 
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Wasn't that while Lincoln was in office, he mentioned that she would end up in the white-washed buildings if she continued?
You are right, Mary Todd Lincoln's friend and seamstress Elizabeth Keckley tells about it in her book "Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House"

I don't recall the quote you reference.
This is what Elizabeth Keckley writes about it:

In one of her paroxysms of grief the President kindly bent over his wife, took her by the arm, and gently led her to the window. With a stately, solemn gesture, he pointed to the lunatic asylum. "Mother, do you see that large white building on the hill yonder? Try and control your grief, or it will drive you mad, and we may have to send you there."
https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/keckley/keckley.html#keckley91

I remember it was Lincoln asking Mary to try to calm herself so she would not end up in the buildings. I did not read it as a threat, although it clearly has those overtones.
That's what I think also, it was not meant as a threat. Note that Lincoln does not say that she IS mad, but that her uncontrolled grief "WILL drive her mad". I think he was concerned that Mary might develop signs of a mental illness, but as he was no doctor and as the symptoms and the treatment for mental diseases were not yet developed, he just hoped that if she controlled her "paroxysms of grief", she would be better off. And to a certain extent that is really so, in lighter cases. I dare not judge if Mary was shattered by grief as everyone would have been, or if she really was in the beginning stages of mental illness. But I think Abraham Lincoln was worried that the latter could be the case. I never thought that remark was meant as an insult, to me it was the rather helpless attempt to guide her back to being "normal" (whatever that is in a situation like that) again.
 

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Think of them as they were when they met.
Your comment made me do some searching on how/when did they first meet. I went to “House of Abraham” - Lincoln & the Todds, A Family Divided By War”, by Stephen Berry (pages 32-33) to see what I could find. Springfield, 1840 Mary has left Kentucky to join her sister. - - -

“Stepping in the Edwardses’ parlor, Lincoln had lead with his face, {even Lincoln knew he wasn't what one would say 'handsome'} . . . and sure enough just as Lincoln entered one of the belles let out a peal of laughter - ‘What were you laughing at just as I came in?’ Lincoln asked Mary Todd after being introduced. ‘You’ Mary replied directly. ‘You’re so tall’.”

The author goes on to state - - -

“Lanky as well as homely, Lincoln was built just like Henry Clay, Mary’s beau ideal of a man. As it happened, Clay was Lincoln’s beau ideal of a statesman.”

Maybe like most couples, it was about love, marriage and all the tremendous challenges they faced in life.
 
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Belle Montgomery

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Ok I don't proclaim to be Dr. Phil but losing her mother at 7 (I lost mine at 3 and believe me it STILL affects me!), losing 4 children (I lost 1 and that still affects me too) and living through a war that separated her from some of her family that killed 2 of her half brothers would be enough to make anyone today seem "unstable" in the eyes of others. People deal with grief in their own way but perhaps today they would've diagnosed her with PTSD, Bi-polar, or survivor's guilt etc. , load her up with meds and send her home and then go on a talk show to talk about it. I never received any professional "help" for my losses years ago either.

The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
I challenge anyone, let alone a woman, go through all that grief today while trying to "carry on" and represent the nation at the same time!

Funny, you never hear much about Lincoln and the blue mass pills he was taking for his supposed "hypochondriasis", or perhaps be diagnosed with something else today, until he displayed neurobehavioural consequences from the now known high dose of mercury. He stopped during the main years of his presidency. I wonder what else went on behind closed doors...could Mary have been sneaking them too? However, no one seems to really delve into his reason to medicate himself or accuse him of being "crazy" It's always been about his tall stature and possible Marfan sydndrome. Why didn't the gossip columns of yesteryear ostracize him for the blue mass pills?

Mary needs the benefit of the doubt, especially in a climate of new leaps and bounds regarding "mental health" and judging her without having ALL of the facts and symptoms first hand, maligning her is unfair. She is riddled with scars of grief!
"Walk a mile in her shoes" OR "judge lest ye be judged" is what I say!
I totally agree with @JPK Huson 1863 always defending her!
 

wbull1

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Ok I don't proclaim to be Dr. Phil but losing her mother at 7 (I lost mine at 3 and believe me it STILL affects me!), losing 4 children (I lost 1 and that still affects me too) and living through a war that separated her from some of her family that killed 2 of her half brothers would be enough to make anyone today seem "unstable" in the eyes of others. People deal with grief in their own way but perhaps today they would've diagnosed her with PTSD, Bi-polar, or survivor's guilt etc. , load her up with meds and send her home and then go on a talk show to talk about it. I never received any professional "help" for my losses years ago either.

The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
I challenge anyone, let alone a woman, go through all that grief today while trying to "carry on" and represent the nation at the same time!

Funny, you never hear much about Lincoln and the blue mass pills he was taking for his supposed "hypochondriasis", or perhaps be diagnosed with something else today, until he displayed neurobehavioural consequences from the now known high dose of mercury. He stopped during the main years of his presidency. I wonder what else went on behind closed doors...could Mary have been sneaking them too? However, no one seems to really delve into his reason to medicate himself or accuse him of being "crazy" It's always been about his tall stature and possible Marfan sydndrome. Why didn't the gossip columns of yesteryear ostracize him for the blue mass pills?

Mary needs the benefit of the doubt, especially in a climate of new leaps and bounds regarding "mental health" and judging her without having ALL of the facts and symptoms first hand, maligning her is unfair. She is riddled with scars of grief!
"Walk a mile in her shoes" OR "judge lest ye be judged" is what I say!
I totally agree with @JPK Huson 1863 always defending her!
You are correct about the totally double standard.
 
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to medicate himself or accuse him of being "crazy" It's always been about his tall stature and possible Marfan sydndrome. Why didn't the gossip columns of yesteryear ostracize him for the blue mass pills?
Well, most recently we had a thread based on a newspaper article that suggested that Lincoln was suffering from syphilis and therefore treated himself with the blue mercury pills.
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/op-ed-5-myths-about-abraham-lincoln.22329/page-2#post-2066313
 
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Belle Montgomery

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Well, most recently we had a thread based on a newspaper article that suggested that Lincoln was suffering from syphilis and therefore treated himself with the blue mercury pills.
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/op-ed-5-myths-about-abraham-lincoln.22329/page-2#post-2066313
I wouldn't doubt it. After all, the famous saying back then was "one night with Venus and a lifetime of mercury!" was popular. Many men who contracted VD took the pills and their teeth and hair fell out as well as it was the mercury in the oil that made the top hats shine thus "the mad hatter"
 

James N.

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It is easy to underestimate a woman who, in another time, might have run for the presidency herself instead of having to fulfill her ambitions through her husband. When they met, she was extremely intelligent, witty, charming and politically astute. She was also gorgeous, but I don't think that was her main point of attraction to the sixteenth President. As I've written before, it was more surprising to their friends that she was interested in Lincoln than that he was smitten by her.

Lincoln had been engaged to Mary Owens, who was rather ordinary in appearance, but intelligent, clever with words and had strong knowledge and opinions about politics. For a man who was political down to his bone marrow, Mary Todd was one of the rare women of that time who shared his passion for politics. For Mary, Lincoln was a man who did not pursue her for her beauty or her family connections, but who actually listened to her thoughts.
Back to the ORIGINAL subject of this thread, this assessment by @wbull1 closely coincides with the version put forth at that most appropriate place to visit, the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky in which she grew up: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/mary-todd-lincoln-house-lexington-kentucky.135911/ Also, other sympathetic accounts describe Mary's intelligence - especially for the times - and her intense interest in politics, both rarities for women and especially Southern Belles of the day.
 
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