Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Happy Birthday Tad Lincoln!

On April 4, 1853 Thomas Lincoln was born. Originally named after Abraham’s father Thomas Lincoln, but Thomas is not how he is remembered. When Thomas was born his father described him as “wiggly as a tadpole” and started calling him Tad. Over the years scholars would recognize Thomas as Abraham’s father, and Tad as his son. This small but fond nickname placed Tad in the history books in regards to Lincoln but his character as an individual created who he was. Not much is record about Tad’s early life in Springfield. It is known that Tad did not like academics like his brother Willie and did not have a drive like his oldest brother Robert.  This was probably in part of Tad’s learning disability and speech impediment. According to Margarita Spalding Gerry, editor, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook she quotes the White House guard William Crook as he later recalled:

"Taddie could never speak very plainly. He had his own language; the names that he gave some of us we like to remember to-day. The President was 'papa-day,' which meant 'papa dear.' Tom Pendel was 'Tom Pen,' and I was ‘Took.' But for all his baby tongue he had a man's heart, and in some things a man's mind. I believe he was the best companion Mr. Lincoln ever had — one who always understood him, and whom he always understood."[1]

Even though Tad had his distractions and difficulties he did have a knack of using his wild imagination to make life interesting for the Lincoln family and would in his own way help his father. This is seen mostly by his mother and the White House staff.  Most of the instances  with Tad took place in the White House and Tad was usually pared with his quiet and poetic brother Willie. According to Inside the White House in War Times editor, Dr. Michael Burlingame, quotes William O. Stoddard as he describes Willie and Tad in the White House:

“What a yell! But it comes from the forces belonging to quite another seat of war. Tad has been trying to make another seat of war. Tad has been trying to make a war-map of Willie, and there are rapid movements in consequence on both sides. Peace is obtained by sending them to their mother, at the other end of the building, but the President does not return to his desk. He is studying one of the maps he has pulled down from the spring-roller above the lounge on the eastern side of the room. It is an outline map of West Virginia and the mountain ranges, and it is likely that something important is going on there.”[2]

With Willie and Tad pared together there was always a commotion going on. But this was the parenting Mary and Abraham continued from the day Robert was born they viewed that children were brought up with the philosophy of letting their children be children, and that is exactly what Willie and Tad did they were children.

Tad carved his name into to top of the
rocking chair, LHM
Tad Lincoln rocker, 
Lincoln Heritage Museum (LHM)

When the Lincoln’s moved to the White House in 1861 the boys Robert, Willie, and Tad continued their studies. Robert left for Harvard and Willie and Tad had tutors in the White House. Willie and Tad had their own plans. They were famous for creating their own regiment out of the White house staff. They even had a doll Jack who according to Tad and Willie caused the most trouble. In the introduction to Julia Taft Bayne’s book Mary A. Decredico describes some of the instances Julia had with Willie and Tad: “The Taft and Lincoln boys staged a circus and charged five cents admission; they built forts and played soldiers; they were often found frolicking with Tad’s goats, Nako and Nannie, or with the dogs or pony that well-wishers gave them. Their mischief often involved the president. As Julia recalls, she “entered the study to find the four boys pinning down the president and begging her to help keep him down.
On another occasion, Julia Taft recounts that Tad’s doll, dressed in the gaudy uniform of a Zouave, was repeatedly executed for being asleep on watch. After the firing squad, he was accorded a military burial, much to the annoyance of the White House gardener, who found his flower beds dug up.”[3] These were just a few of the instances she describes in her book Tad Lincoln’s Father that give a bit of light to the effects Tad and Willie had on their father and those that surrounded them. But during the early years the Lincoln’s were in Washington tragedy would strike the Lincoln family. According to many scholars both Willie and Tad contracted typhoid fever but only one of the boys would recover. Doris Goodwin states in her book Team of Rivals,
“Slipping in and out of consciousness, Willie would call for his friend Bud Taft, who sat by his bedside day and night. Late one evening, seeing Bud at his son’s side, Lincoln ‘laid his arm across Bud’s shoulder and stroked Willie’s hair.’ Turning to Bud, he said quietly, ‘You ought to go to bed, Bud,’ but Bud refused to leave, saying, ‘If I go he will call for me.’[4]

Willie was a much loved boy by both his parents and his friends. The Taft children were very close to Willie, but like his father Tad would have a tough time getting over his brother’s death like his father. But the Lincoln family continued on Robert still at school and Tad alone without Willie was still at the White House. Lincoln became busier and busier as the war went on and had little time with his two remaining sons and the war was becoming overwhelming. Tad trying to be closer to his father would interrupt meetings Lincoln had with cabinet members, and in some ways reminded Lincoln of his morals that he stood by. According to a story told by Ward Hill Lamon,

"The introductions were gone through with, and they turned out to be gentlemen Mr. Lincoln had been avoiding for a week. Mr. Lincoln reached for the boy, took him on his lap, kissed him, and told him it was all right, and that he had introduced his friend like a little gentleman as he was." Tad later explained that he called the men his "friends" because "they looked so good and sorry, and said they were from Kentucky, that I thought they must be our friends." His father replied: "That is right, my son. I would have the whole human race your friends and mine, if it were possible."[5]

Tad in his own way helped to keep Lincoln take a break from the weariness of the war and remind him of pleasanter times. In many ways this is what Abraham and Mary’s son provided for them, Tad was a constant reminder of happiness and hope. The Lincoln boys were the glue that held Lincoln together through the good and the bad times and shaped his way of thinking. In addition the boys helped to keep Lincoln on his path through his life and gave him new insights into the light and the dark in the world.

[1] Margarita Spalding Gerry, editor, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, p. 23
[2] Michael Burlingame, editor, Inside the White House in War Times, p. 12
[3] Mary A. DeCredico. Julia Taft Bayne, Tad Lincoln’s Father. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.2001
[4] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2005: 419
[5] Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 167-168

No comments:

Post a Comment