Abraham Lincoln: There’s Nothing Trivial About Him

By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2003, All Rights Reserved

This April (2003) marks the 138th anniversary of the assassination of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Here are some random facts and figures in the life of this great American guaranteed to tell you something about him you didn’t know before.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, six feet, four inches tall, weighed 180 pounds – much taller and slightly heavier wearing his stovepipe hat. His hat size was seven and one eighth – his shoe size, fourteen.

He did not like the names Abraham, Abe or Old Abe, preferring simply to be called “Lincoln.”

He had an older sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Thomas, who died in infancy. Sarah died at age 19.

The first town named after him was the capital of Logan County in Illinois in 1853. He warned the townspeople that, “Nothing named Lincoln ever amounted to much.” (This may be why Ford doesn’t use Lincoln as a spokesman in its ads.)

Lawyer Lincoln made 300 appearances before the Illinois Supreme Court.

He was once challenged to a duel but the challenger accepted his apology when the much taller and smarter Lincoln chose broadswords as the weapons for the duel.

Lincoln first spoke out against slavery in a speech to the Illinois State Legislature in Vandalia in 1837. In his Second Inaugural, he said that slavery was the cause of the war. He was right.

Molly, Puss, Little Woman, Child Wife and Mother were pet names Lincoln had for his wife Mary.

He was born in 1809 and she in 1818, marrying him November 4, 1842 – inside her wedding band were the words, “Love is eternal.”

Lincoln’s secretaries called Mary “The Hellcat.” They affectionately called him, “The Tycoon” and “The Ancient.”

In their days as lawyers, Secretary of War Stanton once called the president, “A long armed ape.”

The Lincolns had four children: Robert, Edward (Eddie) who died at age 4, William (Willie) who died at age 12 and Thomas (Tad) who died at age 17.

Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert was a lawyer, a secretary of war, a minister to England and president of the Pullman Railroad Car Company. (More on Robert Todd Lincoln.)

Robert had three children: Abraham, Mary and Jessie. Robert died in 1926, his wife, Mary, in 1937. Robert’s son, Abraham, died at age 17 of blood poisoning. His grandson Robert Lincoln Beckwith, the last direct descendant of the president, died in 1985.

It took 233 votes to win the Republican nomination in 1860. Lincoln was second to William H. Seward on the first and second ballots. He pulled ahead on the third ballot with 231 votes and then won the nomination when D.K Cartter switched four Ohio votes from Ohio’s Salmon Chase to Lincoln.

He earned $25,000 a year as president. His secretary, Nicolay, earned $900 a year.

Lincoln rarely used profane language although he would occasionally use it in a joke. He used humor to cope with melancholia and depression – he called these afflictions “The Hypo,” for hypochondria.

He is the only president to hold a patent – no. 6649 – for a device to lift boats over shoals.

Nicolay and Hay are the best known Lincoln secretaries but he had four more – but never more than two or three at one time (no West Wing).

Lincoln was well-versed on the Bible and Shakespeare.

Robert said he never named a favorite song but he was known to have liked “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Marseillaise,” “Your Mission” and “The Soldier’s Chorus.” The president also said that “Dixie” was one of the best tunes he ever heard.

The famous “Bixby Letter,” in which Lincoln is said to have written his condolences to the widow Bixby who lost five sons in the war, may have been written by Hay. The letter, despite the copies you may have seen or bought on crinkly brown paper, does not exist today – you may want to request a refund. It may be just as well it doesn’t exist. Of her five sons, Mrs. Bixby actually had two die in combat, one was dishonorably discharged, one was a deserter and one was unaccounted for.

The president was ill with “varioloid,” a mild form of smallpox, when he delivered the Gettysburg Address and would spend three weeks in quarantine when he returned to the White House.

His favorite recreations as president were taking carriage rides with Mary and attending the theater. As a congressman in Washington, Lincoln enjoyed bowling – no record as to whether he wore a bowling shirt or bought beers for the boys.

The last written words of Lincoln exactly as he wrote them were, “Allow Mr. Ashum & friend to come in at 9. A. M. to-morrow.”

Mary Todd Lincoln

The president told Mary he considered April 14th to be the day the war ended. That night he was shot in the back of his head, above and behind his left ear, at Ford’s Theatre with a single shot derringer between 10:15 and 10:20 PM. Unfortunately, his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, broke his ankle and not his neck in making his escape.

“Wilkes,” as he preferred to be called, was shot the morning of April 26th by cavalryman Thomas Corbett. Initially crippled from the neck down, he soon died. Corbett was later committed to an insane asylum.

Booth was first buried at the Washington Arsenal and later at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore – where I like to think his grave attracts dogs in need of relief.

Fourteen doctors attended Lincoln before he died April 15th at 7:22 AM lying diagonally across a bed in a back bedroom of the Petersen House across from the theater. He never regained consciousness – “He is gone,” said a Dr. Barnes.

Stanton asked the Reverend Gurley to say a prayer which was not recorded. Stanton then spoke the words that were later slightly edited to, “Now he belongs to the ages.” He was right.

The contents of Lincoln’s pockets the night he was shot were two pairs of spectacles and cases, a lens polisher, a cuff button, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, a brown leather wallet containing a five dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings.

Lincoln died without a will. Supreme Court Justice David Davis, who took no money for his work, handled his estate. Judge Davis did his work well, raising the value of Lincoln’s estate from $83,343.70 to $110,974.62 in two years before it was divided equally between Mary, Robert and Tad.

Mary did not drive her husband to the poor house – his net worth increased by some $66,000 while he was president.

She did overspend some public money. Congress appropriated $20,000 to be spent over four years to refurbish the Lincoln White House. Mary spent $26,700 the first year. Congress covered the deficit.

The first Lincoln penny was issued August 2, 1909. It was controversial because it was the first coin to have the likeness of an American on it – some thought that to be a monarchical practice.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. was dedicated on May 30, 1922 – it cost three million dollars or three hundred million Lincoln pennies. Its 36 columns represent the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.

Lincoln is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. His remains were buried six times before being permanently entombed – ultimately in concrete to prevent further attempts to steal his body.

May he rest in peace.

Note: The above is based on many sources with particular attention paid to two books:

Abraham Lincoln: The Complete Book of Facts, Quizzes, and Trivia by Gordon Leidner

A. Lincoln: His Last 24 Hours by W. Emerson Reck