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Robert Todd Lincoln
Robert Todd Lincoln, photographed by
Harris & Ewing.
35th United States Secretary of War

In office
March 5, 1881 – March 5, 1885
President James Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Preceded by Alexander Ramsey
Succeeded by William C. Endicott
Ambassador to the United Kingdom

In office
President Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Edward J. Phelps
Succeeded by Thomas F. Bayard
Personal details
Born (1843-08-01)August 1, 1843
Springfield, Illinois, U.S.
Died July 26, 1926(1926-07-26) (aged 82)
Manchester, Vermont, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington County, Virginia
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Eunice Harlan
Children Mary Todd Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln II
Jessie Harlan Lincoln
Alma mater Harvard University
Old University of Chicago
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Military service
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1865
Rank Captain
Battles/wars American Civil War

Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1, 1843 – July 26, 1926) was an American lawyer and Secretary of War, and the first son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. Born in Springfield, Illinois, United States, he was one of two of Lincoln's four sons to live to adulthood.

Family and early life

Lincoln graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1860, then studied at Harvard University from 1861 to 1865, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Alpha chapter). He enrolled at Harvard Law School but did not graduate.[citation needed] Much to the embarrassment of the President, Mary Todd Lincoln prevented Robert Lincoln from joining the Union Army until shortly before the war's conclusion.[1] On February 11, 1865 he was commissioned as an assistant adjutant general with the rank of captain and served in the last weeks of the American Civil War as part of General Ulysses S. Grant's immediate staff, a position which sharply minimized the likelihood that he would be involved in actual combat. He was present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.[1] He resigned his commission on June 12, 1865 and returned to civilian life.

Lincoln c. 1865

Lincoln had a distant relationship with his father, in part because during his formative years, Abraham Lincoln spent months on the judicial circuit. Robert would later say his most vivid image of his father was of his packing his saddlebags to prepare for his travels through Illinois.[2] Abraham Lincoln was proud of Robert and thought him bright, but also saw him as something of a competitor. An acquaintance purportedly said, "he guessed Bob would not do better than he had."[3] The two lacked the strong bond Lincoln had with his sons Willie and Tad, but Robert deeply admired his father and wept openly at his deathbed.[4]

The night of his father's death, Robert had turned down an invitation to accompany his parents to Ford's Theatre, citing fatigue after spending much of his recent time in a covered wagon at the battlefront.[5][6][7]

Following his father's assassination, in April 1865 Robert moved with his mother and his brother Tad to Chicago, where Robert completed his law studies at the Old University of Chicago law school (later absorbed by the Northwestern University School of Law). He was admitted to the bar on February 25, 1867.[8]

On September 24, 1868, Lincoln married the former Mary Eunice Harlan (September 25, 1846 – March 31, 1937), the daughter of Senator James Harlan and Ann Eliza Peck of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. They had two daughters and one son.[9]

  • Mary "Mamie" Lincoln (October 15, 1869 – November 21, 1938)
  • Abraham Lincoln II (nicknamed "Jack") (August 14, 1873 – March 5, 1890)
  • Jessie Harlan Lincoln (November 6, 1875 – January 4, 1948)

In an era before air conditioning, Robert, Mary and the children would often leave hot city life behind for the cooler climate of Mt. Pleasant. During the 1880s the family would "summer" at the Harlan home. The Harlan-Lincoln home, built in 1876, still stands today. Donated by Mary Harlan Lincoln to Iowa Wesleyan College in 1907, it now serves as a museum with many artifacts from the Lincoln family and from Abraham Lincoln's presidency.[10]

Robert Lincoln's home in Washington, DC from 1918 until his death in 1926.

Robert Todd Lincoln's mansion Hildene in Manchester, Vermont.

Relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln

Lincoln was concerned about what he thought were his mother's "spend-thrift" ways and eccentric behavior. Fearing that she was a danger to herself, in 1875 he arranged to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois. With his mother in the hospital, he was left with control of her finances. On May 20, 1875, she arrived at Bellevue Place, a private, upscale sanitarium in the Fox River Valley.[11] Three months after being installed in Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln engineered her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer, James B. Bradwell, and his wife, Myra Bradwell, who was not only her friend but also a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times, known for its sensational journalism. Soon, the public embarrassments Robert had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question. The director of Bellevue, who at Mary’s commitment trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility, now in the face of potentially damaging publicity declared her well enough to go to Springfield to live with her sister as she desired.[12] The committal proceedings and following events led to a profound estrangement between Lincoln and his mother, and they never fully reconciled.[13]


Secretary of War (1881–1885)

In 1877 he turned down President Rutherford B. Hayes' offer to appoint him Assistant Secretary of State, but later accepted an appointment as President James Garfield's Secretary of War, serving from 1881 to 1885 under Presidents Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. During his term in office, the Cincinnati Riots of 1884 broke out over a case in which a jury gave a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder in a case that many suspected was rigged. Forty-five people died during three days of rioting before U.S. troops dispatched by Lincoln reestablished calm.[14]

Chief Justice Taft, President Harding and Lincoln at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

Following his service as Secretary of War, Lincoln helped Oscar Dudley in establishing the Illinois Industrial Training School for Boys in Norwood Park in 1887, after Dudley discovered "more neglected and abandoned children on the streets than stray animals.""Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". May 2012.  The school relocated to Glenwood, Illinois in 1899. It first enrolled girls in 2001.

Minister to the Court of St. James's

Lincoln served as the U.S. minister to the United Kingdom from 1889 to 1893 under President Benjamin Harrison. Lincoln's young son, Abraham II "Jack", died during this time in Europe.[15] After serving as minister, Lincoln returned to private business as a lawyer.[citation needed]

Later life

Lincoln was general counsel of the Pullman Palace Car Company under George Pullman, and was named president after Pullman's death in 1897. According to Almont Lindsey's 1942 book, The Pullman Strike, Lincoln arranged to have Pullman quietly excused from the subpoena issued for Pullman to testify in the 1895 trials of the leaders of the American Railway Union for conspiracy during the 1894 Pullman strike. Pullman hid from the deputy marshal sent to his office with the subpoena and then appeared with Lincoln to meet privately with Judge Grosscup after the jury had been dismissed.[16] In 1911, Lincoln became chairman of the board, a position he held until 1922.[17]

A serious amateur astronomer, Lincoln constructed an observatory at his home in Manchester, Vermont, and equipped it with a refracting telescope made in 1909 by Warner & Swasey with a six-inch objective lens by John A. Brashear Co., Ltd. Lincoln's telescope and observatory still exist; it has been restored and is used by a local astronomy club.[18] Robert Lincoln made his last public appearance at the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C. for his father's memorial on May 30, 1922.[19]

Presence at assassinations

Robert Lincoln was coincidentally either present or nearby when three presidential assassinations occurred.[20]

  • Lincoln was not present at his father's assassination.[21] He was at the White House,[22] and rushed to be with his parents.[23] The president was moved to Petersen House after the shooting, where Robert attended his father's deathbed.[24]
  • At President James A. Garfield's invitation, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., where the President was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, and was an eyewitness to the event. Lincoln was serving as Garfield's Secretary of War at the time.
  • At President William McKinley's invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, though he was not an eyewitness to the event.[25]

Lincoln himself recognized the frequency of these coincidences. He is said to have refused a later presidential invitation with the comment "No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."[26]

Robert Lincoln and Edwin Booth

Robert Lincoln was once saved from possible serious injury or death by Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. The exact date of the incident is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place in late 1863 or early 1864, before John Wilkes Booth's assassination of President Lincoln (April 15, 1865).

Robert Lincoln recalled the incident in a 1909 letter to Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine:

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.

Months later, while serving as an officer on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Lincoln recalled the incident to his fellow officer, Colonel Adam Badeau, who happened to be a friend of Edwin Booth. Badeau sent a letter to Booth, complimenting the actor for his heroism. Before receiving the letter, Booth had been unaware that the man whose life he had saved on the train platform had been the President's son. The incident was said to have been of some comfort to Edwin Booth following his brother's assassination of the President.[27][28] President Ulysses Grant also sent Booth a letter of gratitude for his action.

Republican politics

From 1884 to 1912, Lincoln's name was mentioned in varying degrees of seriousness as a candidate for the Republican presidential or vice-presidential nomination. At every turn, he adamantly disavowed any interest in running and stated he would not accept either position if nominated.[29]


Lincoln's sarcophagus at Arlington National Cemetery

Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home, on July 26, 1926. He was 82. The cause of death was given by his physician as a "cerebral hemorrhage induced by arteriosclerosis".[30]

He was later interred in Arlington National Cemetery[31] in a sarcophagus designed by the sculptor James Earle Fraser. He is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack, who died in London, England of blood poisoning[15] at the age of 16.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of both the Garfield and Arthur Cabinets.

Of Robert's children, Jessie Harlan Lincoln Beckwith (1875–1948) had two children, Mary Lincoln Beckwith ("Peggy" 1898 – 1975) and Robert ("Bud") Todd Lincoln Beckwith (1904–1985), neither of whom had children of their own. Robert's other daughter, Mary Todd Lincoln ("Mamie") (1869–1938) married Charles Bradley Isham in 1891. They had one son, Lincoln Isham (1892–1971). Lincoln Isham married Leahalma Correa in 1919, but died without children.

The last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage, Robert's grandson "Bud" Beckwith, died in 1985.[32]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Goff, John S. (1968). Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man in His Own Right. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 68. 
  2. Donald, p. 159
  3. quoted in Donald, p. 428
  4. Donald, p. 599
  5. Ralph Gary, The Presidents Were Here: A State-by-State Historical Guide, 2008, page 43
  6. Deanna Spingola, The Ruling Elite: A Study in Imperialism, Genocide and Emancipation, 2011, page 556
  7. Jason Emerson, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln, 2011, page 100
  8. "Lincoln Chronology". National Park Service. 
  9. "Robert Todd Lincoln entry". Notable Names Database (NNDB). 
  10. Allt, Kate (12 February 2013). "Mt. Pleasant; the second Land of Lincoln". KTVO-TV via website. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  11. Mary Todd Lincoln's Stay at Bellevue Place. Retrieved on 2011-08-06.
  12. "The insanity life", Wellesley Centers for Women 2008
  13. "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln". 2005-10-25. ISBN 1416549838. 
  14. "Cincinnati Courthouse Riot". Ohio History Central. Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Schwartz, Thomas F. (Autumn 2007). "A Death in the Family : Abraham Lincoln II "Jack" (1873–1890)" (PDF). For the People. Abraham Lincoln Association. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  16. Lindsey, The Pullman Strike, p. 301.
  17. "Prominent Alumni ROBERT TODD LINCOLN '64". Alpha / Harvard. 
  18. Revised List of Telescopes by Warner & Swasey Company as augmented by E. N. Jennison from Records in Engineering Department, Warner & Swasey Corp. Papers, Case Western Reserve University
  19. "Robert Todd Lincoln Attends Dedication of His Father’s Memorial (1922)". Ghosts of DC. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  20. Lincoln Bicentennial – Biography of Robert Todd Lincoln
  21. NPS Historical Handbook: Ford's Theatre. (2002-12-02). Retrieved on 2011-08-06.
  22. Corey, Herbert (December 10, 1921). "Assassin Would Have Failed Had Son Been at Theater with Abraham Lincoln". Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  23. Franscell, Ron (2012). The Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Washington, DC. Globe Pequot. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-7627-8870-5. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  24. "Robert Todd Lincoln on Presidential Assassinations, 1881". Shapell Primary Sources. Shapell Manuscript Foundation. 
  25. O'Reilly, Bill; Zimmerman, Dwight Jon (2012). "Afterword". Lincoln's Last Days: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever. Macmillan. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-8050-9676-7. 
  26. Peters, James Edward. Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America's Heroes (2nd ed.). Woodbine House. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-890627-14-0 
  27. Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man In His Own Right by John S. Goff, p. 70-71.
  28. Edwin Booth Saved Robert Todd Lincoln’s Life. History Net. Retrieved on 2011-08-06.
  29. Robert Todd Lincoln: The Perpetual Non-Candidate. Retrieved on 2011-08-06.
  30. "Robert Lincoln". Abraham Lincoln Research Site. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  31. Robert Todd Lincoln Tomb in Arlington Cemetery. Retrieved on 2011-08-06.
  32. Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1982 (ISBN 0-07-046145-7).

Further reading

  • Emerson, Jason. Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press; 2012) 600 pages; scholarly biography

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Ramsey
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur and Grover Cleveland

Succeeded by
William C. Endicott
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Edward J. Phelps
U.S. Minister to Great Britain
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Bayard

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