In the next two weeks, it will be the 168th anniversary of the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. The couple married November 4, 1862 at the home of the bride’s sister and brother-in-law, Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards. The Lincoln marriage is frequently written about and debated between historians. Some argue that Mary was Lincoln’s life miserable while others say her presence was a calming influence on the man and with her help, Lincoln was able to rise to greatness. I will not state my opinion one way or another. This post will just tell the story of the Lincoln’s courtship and marriage but feel free to leave your own comments about the Lincoln’s marriage.
Lincoln arrived in Springfield in 1837, the same year as Mary did. Lincoln came to the city to further his career as a lawyer, becoming the junior partner of John Todd Stuart. Mary left with hopes of finding a suitor, but also to escape her stepmother who she did not get along with. Mary moved in with her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Ninian Edwards. Lincoln lived above Joshua Speed’s store in the city.
Mary quickly became the belle of Springfield. One man wrote that Mary “could make a bishop forget his prayers.” The vivacious, witty twenty-year old quickly grew the attention of many suitors in the city. One suitor was Stephen A. Douglas, who would run against Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election. Lincoln thrived in Springfield as well. His sense of humor, witty banter, and charismatic personality gained Lincoln many friends.
The two met at a dance at her sister’s home. Legend has it that Lincoln approached Mary and said “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way.” Mary later commented that Lincoln did dance in the worst way, stepping on her feet throughout the song. Despite his poor dance skills, Mary and Lincoln began courting. They found they had many things in common. Both were born in Kentucky, but to very different backgrounds. Each had lost their mother at a young age. Additionally, they shared many common interests – Shakespeare, poetry, and politics, especially the Whig party. The couple became engaged in 1840.
However, the engagement did not last. Some historians argue that Mary’s family was appalled that Mary would marry a man below her social class, causing the engagement to be called off. Others argue that Lincoln broke off the engagement because he realized he did not love Mary. Regardless, after the engagement, Lincoln wrote that he was the “most miserable man living.”
In 1842, with the help and encouragement of friends, the couple reunited and, once again, became engaged. This time, the couple did marry. The couple originally planned to marry at the home of Rev. Charles Dresser. However, Elizabeth Edwards intervened and the wedding was held in the parlor of the Edward’s home on November 4, 1842. At the ceremony, Abraham gave Mary a ring engraved with the words “Love is Eternal.”