New York Historical Society
Reference Number: 1909.6
Ruth Painter Randall, Lincoln’s Sons
(Little, Brown & Co., 1955)
Illinois Editor Jeriah Bonham recalled visiting Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the summer of 1860. Mr. Lincoln was at the State Capitol where he normally met with visitors, but this day he was alone with Tad and Willie, who were playing on the floor of the Governor’s office. “‘Tad’ was spinning a top, and Mr. Lincoln, as we came in, had just finished adjusting the string for him so it would give the top greater force when it was whirled off on the floor. He said he was having a little season of relaxation with the boys, which he could not always enjoy now, as so many callers and so much correspondence occupied his time.”1
Children — his own and others — were a critical part of Mr. Lincoln’s mental relaxation. “Mr. Lincoln was always fond of children, ” noted one Illinois friend. “During his earlier years of practice in Springfield his wife would have him put their latest baby in its wagon and wheel it on the street until he had to go to his office. A neighbor called to him one morning: ‘That is pretty business for a lawyer.’ Mr. Lincoln’s quiet reply was: ‘I promised to give him the air; he was so tired and heated.'”2 Robert was the oldest of four Lincoln boys. The second son, Eddie, died in 1850 before he reached three years, perhaps of diphtheria. Two more boys — Willie and Tad — were born in 1850 and 1853.
One young friend of the Lincoln family in Springfield, Joseph R. Kent, recalled “that Bob, the elder and Tad the younger, were Mama boys. They neither one had the slightest personal appearance or deliberate easy manner of Mr. Lincoln. They both resembled their mother in looks and actions. Will was the true picture of Mr. Lincoln, in every way, even to carrying his head slightly inclined toward his left shoulder.” 3 The boys could be a handful, according to a young woman who lived across the street: “One evening Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were to attend a reception at the home of Mr. Dubois, the State Auditor, a couple of blocks down on Eighth street. My mother was helping Mrs. Lincoln dress for the party. Willie and Tad came home from a candy-pull. They were smeared with molasses candy from head to foot. When they heard of the party they wanted to go, too. Robert, who at that time was planning to enter Harvard, was to stay at home with the little boys. Mrs. Lincoln said firmly that they could not go, whereupon the two boys set up a cry. Their mother was steadfast, and the boys were determined. They were kicking and screaming when Mr. Lincoln entered.”
“This will never do, ” he said. “Mary, if you will let the boys go, I will take care of them.”
“Why, Father, you know that is no place for boys to be. When people give a party like that it is no place children.” By this time the boys began to listen.
“But, ” said Mr. Lincoln, “I will taken them around the back way, and they can stay in the kitchen.” He then talked to the boys about being good and making no promises that were not to be kept, and it was arranged that the boys should go if Robert and my mother should get them dressed. They were cleaned up, and in the haste Tad found his short trousers on hind-side before. At this he set up another storm, because he ‘couldn’t walk good, ’ which his father quieted by a wave of his hand and saying, ‘Remember, now, remember.’ When the little boys were ready, they went ahead with their father, not to the kitchen but to the full reception. With Robert Mrs. Lincoln followed in, in a beautiful canary-colored satin dress, low neck and short sleeves, and large hoop-skirts, after the manner of the time.”4