Presidential Children – The Lincoln Boys

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The children of Abraham Lincoln remain probably the best known of all Presidential children. They lived in the White House in what might have been the most exciting and dramatic years in our history. They are also some of the few who are remembered today, for whatever reasons.

Robert Todd Lincoln, 1843-1926. Robert was born in the Globe Tavern, in Springfield, Illinois on August 1, 1843. He was the only Lincoln child to live to full maturity. After failing to gain admission to Harvard, Robert attended Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He was admitted to Harvard on his second try just before the Civil War began. He graduated Harvard in 1864 and entered law school at Harvard, but dropped out to join the Union army. Captain Lincoln served as an assistant adjutant general of volunteers on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant during the last year of the war. As a member of Grant’s staff, he was present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant. After the war, he returned to law school, and was admitted to the bar in 1867. In 1868, he married Mary Harlan, the daughter of James Harland who was Secretary of the Interior during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations. Robert became a successful corporation lawyer, representing mainly railroads. Although Robert avoided publicity and politics, he served as Secretary of War during the Garfield and Arthur administrations and as Minister to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) from 1889-1893. He then served as president of the Pullman Company from 1897-1911. In 1875, Robert had to ask the court to declare his mother insane and commit her to an asylum.

Robert had the unusual luck to be present or involved in three presidential assassinations. On April 14, 1865, Robert was invited to attend the theater with his parents. As he had just returned from the field that afternoon, he declined in order to get to sleep early. He was awakened after his father was shot, and spent the night beside his father’s bed, still there when his father died. In 1881, President Garfield was supposedly bothered by dreams similar to those supposedly experienced by Abraham Lincoln shortly before his death. He wanted to talk to Robert Lincoln about the dreams, and asked Robert to meet him at Union Station in Washington where he was supposed to board a train for his college reunion. Robert was late, and arrived just in time to see Charles Guiteau shoot President Garfield in the back. In 1901, President William McKinley asked Robert Lincoln to meet with him in Buffalo during the Exposition of that year. Lincoln arrived late, and President McKinley was shaking hands with the crowd, and asked Lincoln to meet him at his hotel later that evening. McKinley was shot shortly after Lincoln left him. McKinley, according to some stories, was also bothered by the same dreams and wanted to speak with Robert about them.

Edward Baker Lincoln, 1846-1850. Born on March 10, 1846 in Springfield, Illinois, he died there on February 1, 1850. Not much is known about Edward.

William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln, 1850-1862. Willie was a quiet, bookish boy who was probably his father’s favorite. The two were extremely close to each other, and many said that Willie was the only person who could cheer up the President when he seemed depressed. The President certainly doted on Willie. At the age of twelve, Willie died of fever in the White House, being the only child of a president to die in the White House. The President was inconsolable at his son’s death, but the Civil War left him little time to mourn. In fact, after Willie’s death, the President went downstairs and returned to work in his office.

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, 1853-1871. Tad was born with a cleft palate and had a pronounced lisp. A quiet, pleasant boy, he was said to be a great comfort to his father after the death of his brother Willie. After Lincoln’s assassination, Tad accompanied his mother to Europe. He attended schools in England and Germany. Always in frail health, he died in Germany at the age of 18.

The Lincoln children lived at the center of very exciting times. With the exception of Robert, they never had a chance to prove themselves. We remember them only because of who their father was, and the times in which they lived.

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