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.

One Response to “The young Mary Todd.”

  1. […] 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 […]

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