Ninian W. Edwards, was born into politics. His father, Ninian Edwards Sr., was the third governor of Illinois from 1826 to 1830.

Ninian married Elizabeth Porter Todd, Mary Todd’s older sister, and played a key role in Mary and Abraham Lincoln’s marriage. He was a legislator and lawyer whose mansion on Aristocracy Hill was the social gathering spot for  the promising or already established  Springfield politicians, and lawyers. A fine place for an ambitious man from New Salem to rub elbows with the best of the town’s society.  Lincoln was a frequent guest who was often the life of the party, telling stories and charming the room with his wit.  Lincoln had previously met Ninian Edwards in Vandalia, Illinois, when the two men worked together as a part of the vocal group of Whig legislators named the “Long Nine.” A name deriving from the fact that all nine men were an average of 6 feet tall and around 200 pounds each. The Long Nine’s goal was to move the Illinois state’s capitol from Vandalia to Springfield, and after gaining enough votes, finally achieved the relocation. After the Whig party’s successes, Ninian would invite all of his friends over to the house for oysters and cigars to celebrate.


It is said that Ninian was a vain man. Conceited and bad-tempered. Despite this temperament, he must have seen something promising in Lincoln as he claimed many years later in an interview with William Herndon to have at least attempted to help Lincoln, a “mighty rough man,” upon his arrival in Springfield. In the book Herndon’s informants, Ninian recalls  “that when Lincoln first came to Springfield I assisted Lincoln – offered to buy him a good law library and send him to some law school and these offers he refused – said that he was too poor and did not wish to involve himself.”

Ninian and Mary Todd did not get along very well and as I mentioned in last week’s piece on Mary Todd, Ninian acted as Mary’s guardian, and he and his wife opposed Abraham and Mary’s original engagement. The son of Ninian and Elizabeth later remembered “My mother did what she could to break up the match.” But the two still found a way to commence the unapproved courtship through correspondence, in the summer and fall of 1840, while Lincoln was in southern Illinois campaigning for William Henry Harrison for president. Lincoln, no doubt, found his feelings easier to write down on paper than to muster them up on the spot for this young lady who had caught his attention. And Mary loved his attention. Returning the favor a couple times over by as Joshua Speed put it “Darting after him.” Lincoln’s friend, O.H. Browning recalled that “She had taken a fancy to Mr. Lincoln, and I always thought she did most of the courting until they became engaged.” By the time winter was beginning it was accepted in Springfield that the two were together as an item.

Unfortunately, the  relationship in its first round was troubled. Mary, for one thing, had been spending a  bit of  time in the company of other Springfield suitors, possibly  only to bother Lincoln. Or maybe she was having second thoughts the same as Lincoln had been. Ninian and Elizabeth later revealed “Lincoln and Mary’s engagement and courtship were broken off  by her flirtations with (Stephen) Douglas.”  Lincoln was beset by problems and distress in his political, and financial life and was being dragged down into a deep depression. These “flirtations” could have done little to rid him of his insecurities. Catherine Clinton in her book Mrs. Lincoln writes:

” In this operatic scenario, Lincoln failed to appear on time to escort Mary to a social gathering to which she ventured alone. When Lincoln finally appeared at the party, he found Mary dancing with Douglas, his ‘arch rival,’ provoking him to jealousy and anger.”

Sometime before or after New Year’s Day, 1841, the two were single once again, and Lincoln was gone, suffering a severe mental breakdown, living with another Springfield friend, William Butler and his family.

Below: Joshua Speed drunk with Ninian Edwards from The Hypo

On September 27, 1842, Mary and Abraham both found themselves at the same social event in Jacksonville, Illinois: the wedding of Martinette Hardin to Alexander McKee. The two at last spoke to one another again, beginning their reconciliation. Some have written that it was Mrs. Francis, the wife of Simeon Francis, the editor of the Sangamo Journal, who played matchmaker between the two the second time around. Mrs. Francis allowed the couple to meet privately in her Springfield home to renew  their feelings towards each other after their 18 month split. Mary insisted in later years that she was the only woman Abraham was ever truly attached to, and that they were destined to be together. Their early courtship troubles were caused by his crisis. Lincoln’s uncertainty.  Mary had waited for him, despite a great number of eligible beaux in line to sweep her off of her feet. Time had passed slowly and neither seemed able to move on. And now it was the fall of 1842 and it was time to settle matters.

Another of Mary’s sisters, Mrs. Frances Todd Wallace,who was also living in Springfield at the time, described Lincoln’s 2nd proposal to Mary:

“In his conversation with Mary, he referred to his lack of means, his ambitions, and his love for her. ‘I now suggest and insist upon our marriage at once.'”

Abraham and Mary decided to hastily marry in order, perhaps, to obstruct any further objections. On November 3rd Abraham visited  an Episcopalian minister, Charles Dresser, to ask him if he would perform the wedding service that evening at the reverend’s home. Then, out on the street, Abraham spotted Ninian and revealed his plans with Mary to him. Ninian was past the point of prevention, and insisted that the ceremony be held at his home and that the couple hold off until the following day to exchange vows.

And so, the same mansion that hosted the social gatherings that Lincoln had frequented years before was also the location of a wedding on a very rainy day. November 4th 1842. The Lincoln’s wedding was planned over the course of hours by Elizabeth Edwards. She had only gotten word of their plans that morning, and had hosted a sewing circle in the home the night before. Elizabeth, resentful, complained that she may only have time to send out for gingerbread. Pushing Mary, referencing her sister’s feelings of Lincoln’s poor origins, to sourly reply ” Gingerbread is good enough for plebeians!”

A week later, the Sangamo Journal announced:

MARRIED-in this city on the 4th instant. At the residence of N.W. Edwards, Esq., by Rev. C. Dresser ABRAHAM LINCOLN, Esq., to Miss MARY TODD, daughter of Robert Todd, Esq.

In a letter that Lincoln wrote to a friend he casually mentioned “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which to me, is a matter of profound wonder.”


On a special note, Fantagraphics books is now offering a special mini comic with all orders of The Hypo. This comic features an all new comic adaptation of Abraham Lincoln’s prophetic Assassination dream only weeks before his murder. Please click on the cover for more info!


The young Mary Todd.

July 20, 2012


Daughter of Robert Smith Todd, a lawyer and member of the Kentucky Legislature, Mary was raised in a very wealthy and politically influential family. She was provided with an excellent education, and because of the Todd’s close relationship with Whig party founder, Henry Clay, she developed a keen interest in politics and political issues. She moved to Springfield, after the urging of her older sisters who lived there already.

Mary was a difficult woman, strong-willed, and by William Herndon’s account “haughty and sarcastic but an excellent conversationalist.” She was not the most beautiful woman in Springfield but her bloodline was enviable, and so she was therefore very desirable to the up and coming political hopeful. But, Mary was 21 years old, and for as much as she was courted by all of the prominent bachelors of the town (including Stephen A. Douglas) she was on the verge of becoming an “old maid.” And acted in a way that other women of the time would have found to be improper. In Catherine Clinton’s excellent book Mrs. Lincoln: A Life she recounts this story of Mary and her friend, Mercy Levering enjoying themselves in their new town during a rainy day, while also giving an example of this “incorrect behavior” for a young woman in the 19th century:

” Once, after the girls had been trapped by rain inside their houses for days, Mary convinced Mercy that they should make their way into town by scattering shingles to walk on-until they could reach the sidewalks lining Monroe Street. They escaped their perches on the hill, and frolicked into town. But after the visit, they had no way to get back home without sinking their shoes ankle-deep in mud. In desperation, Mary Todd hitched a ride back to her home with a local driver, Ellis Hart, jumping onto his donkey-pulled dray. But Mercy refused to go along, ‘failed to take advantage,’ fearing reprisals such impropriety might provoke.”

Mary disregarded the conventions of the time, and seemed to take glee in deviating from dull prescribed roles in the tedious dance to marriage. This was  surely maddening to her guardians, Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards.

Although he was probably aware of her, considering Lincoln was acquaintances with Ninian Edwards and was a law partner to her cousin John T. Stuart, It is generally agreed upon that the couple was first introduced at a cotillion held in December of 1839.  It was at this cotillion where Lincoln uttered his famous line “I want to dance with you in the worst way” of which Mary in later years recalled with humor that “he did just that.” Her attraction to Lincoln, a poor lawyer,  might have begun as a personal challenge of drawing this bashful man out of his shell. He would have stood out compared to the bold, impudent men, young and old, who were drawn into Mary’s orbit. Lincoln was clumsy and inexperienced with women. He was probably awkward in his attempts to converse with her early on, and so learning that Henry Clay was Lincoln’s hero was sure to have been a great way to open him up.  Mary could impress Abraham with her political erudition, and her passion for great literary works and poetry, specifically their mutual love for Shakespeare of which they could quote pieces from heart. Mary’s sister, Elizabeth describing Mary’s effect on Lincoln said “He would listen and gaze on her as if drawn by some superior power.” Soon enough Mary would find herself in love with this odd looking fellow, sharing sleigh rides with him and having long conversations. Quickly the two were engaged to each other.

Abraham Lincoln was not exactly what the Todds had in mind for Mary. Her family hoped for her to meet someone of equal pedigree in Springfield to marry and were very against the pairing up of Mary and Abraham, even playing a part in their break up. The personal struggles and doubts in Lincoln’s life only pushed the two apart more. And eventually Abraham and Mary split.

Below: a page from The Hypo in script form and the final page.

Mary was very troubled as well, and was plagued by migraine headaches and
obsessive habits. She was very prone to temper tantrums and erratic behavior.
I believe that in 1842 when Lincoln and Mary once again began secretly meeting up at the home of newspaper editor, Simeon Francis, it was at a point when perhaps her family had lowered their expectations for Mary. And just maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to have struggled as much to keep them from their inevitable marriage.

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As the story goes Abraham Lincoln arrived in Springfield, Illinois during a housing shortage, and with two saddlebags under his arms he walked into a wooden two story building that housed a general store partly owned by Joshua Fry Speed, the son of Judge John Speed and member of a prominent Kentucky family. Lincoln, a seemingly hopeless man in a denim suit with very little money, walked up to the store’s counter to inquire about the furnishings for a bed.

Speed remembered ” I looked up at him, and I thought then as I think now, that I never saw so gloomy, and melancholy a face.”  After a short introduction he offered to share his bed upstairs  with Lincoln, pointing towards the staircase. Lincoln, saying nothing walked up the stairs, dropped his two saddlebags down on the floor, came back down the stairs and “with a face beaming with pleasure and smiles,”  declared; “Well Speed, I’m moved.”

Not only was Joshua from a well to do family and well educated, but he was also considered  to be quite good looking. Says one biographer “Joshua was a friendly, handsome, blue-eyed, medium sized youth with the culture and bearing of a gentleman.”  The two new friends got along right away, and soon enough were helping each other through their personal struggles.

In The Hypo,  I chose to focus on the friendship between Lincoln and Speed. Lincoln being a heavy hearted character and Speed being more of a jocular ladies man. And there shouldn’t be any concern with whether or not Joshua Speed was a womanizer. That is a well documented fact.One story I chose to include in my book involves Speed giving lincoln directions to a brothel to meet with a woman for sex. This section appeared in a comics anthology called HIVE published in Minneapolis and shortly afterwards I was asked by a few people if the story was true or not. It is a true story and is told in many Lincoln biographies.

I quote from the book Abraham Lincoln: A life  by Thomas Keneally:”His hulking bedfellow, Speed, was quite the womanizer, and kept ‘a pretty woman in the city.’ One day Lincoln asked Speed, ‘ Do you know where I can get some?’ According to Speed, he sent Lincoln with a note to this woman, who appears to be something of a prostitute. Lincoln and the girl stripped and were in bed before Lincoln remembered to ask about the price. The girl told him five dollars. Lincoln declared he could  afford to pay her only three dollars, and the girl said she would trust him for the rest, but Lincoln declared he had other debts to meet, and rose and clothed himself again. As he left, according to Speed’s secondhand telling of the encounter, the girl said, ‘You are the most conscientious man I ever saw.'”

One subject that the two men did not see eye to eye on was slavery. Lincoln protested slavery in public as early as 1837, while Speed was raised in a slave-holding family on a southern hemp plantation. And in 1840, after Judge John Speed had passed away, Joshua had to move back home to take care of the family plantation. During a visit Lincoln took to the farm in 1841 he saw for the first time slavery in action. He had witnessed slaves being sold in New Orleans almost ten years before, but never had he lived and breathed among working slaves. This was a very distressing experience for him. That trip in particular was important  for me to draw in The Hypo because it’s considered to be when Lincoln’s staunch position  against slavery was fully formed.

Speed in later years

An example of my work to avoid confusion in The Hypo comes in the first chapter of the book; in the year 1837. Abraham Lincoln is 28 years old and has just moved from  the small village of New Salem (where his business as a store owner has failed and left him with debt) to Springfield. Lincoln and his political party, The Whigs, have  claimed victory and have successfully relocated the state’s capitol from Vandalia to Springfield. Lincoln is on his way to study law under his friend from The Black Hawk War, and prominent lawyer, John Todd Stuart.

In 1837 Lincoln is already engaged to the sister of a friend in New Salem named Mary S. Owens. Whom he had met in 1833, while she was visiting her sister from Kentucky. It was during that visit that he began a relationship with Mary, and told her sister that he “would marry Miss Owens if she came a second time to Illinois.” Shortly after proposing marriage to Mary Owens in 1836,  she returned to New Salem, and Lincoln’s feelings towards her had changed. Upon seeing her again his enthusiasm soured. Later he would write to his friend, Eliza Caldwell “I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an ‘old maid,’ and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appelation [sic]; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty five or forty years; and, in short, I was not all pleased with her.”

Now, he was in a predicament. Hooked up with a woman he found repulsive. He responded to this situation by moving away and writing to her letters that hopefully would turn her off to the whole idea of a marriage to him, while at the same time let her know that he was a man of his word and would keep up his end of the bargain he had with Mary’s sister. I chose one of these letters to open The Hypo with.

In earlier drafts of The Hypo, this relationship was featured only a little more prominently, but when the chopping block came out I found it an easy piece to slice off. In addition I decided to refer to her when mentioned in the book as “Miss Owens” so that the reader would not confuse Mary Owens and Mary Todd, whose story I was more interested in writing. So there it is. The story of the other Mary from Kentucky in Abraham Lincoln’s life.


July 3, 2012

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