Friday, September 14, 2007 09/14/07-Lincoln's Girlfriend

In today's excerpt, in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, William Herndon, Lincoln's lifelong friend and law partner, determines to write a biography, and uncovers the Ann Rutledge story:

"No one, [Herndon] thought, quite appreciated Lincoln the way he did. He resolved to set the record straight by writing the true Lincoln biography--telling 'the inner life of Mr. L.,' as he put it. ... Yet he also knew there were facts of Lincoln's life he didn't know. So Herndon began digging, and over the next two years he performed one of the greatest feats of research in American history; it is impossible to imagine the great body of Lincoln literature without it. Herndon traveled to the scenes of Lincoln's boyhood and young manhood in Indiana and Illinois and picked through the ruins of the cabins where the Lincolns had lived. He sought out the surviving countryfolk who had watched Lincoln grow up. He prodded there memories and painstakingly set down their recollections. ...

"Herndon's cache of notes and letters eventually grew to several thousand pages. He knew the value of what he had collected. In his rush to release it to the world he postponed writing a full biography and planned instead a series of lectures in Springfield. The first three, on the 'character,' 'patriotism,' and 'statesmanship' of Lincoln were great popular successes and soon published as pamphlets. ...

"The reception to his fourth lecture in Springfield alarmed him. A few old residents of New Salem had told Herndon the story of a star-crossed romance between young Lincoln and the daughter of a local tavern owner, Ann Rutledge, who had taken sick and died in 1835 before they could be married. ... To Herndon ... it explained many aspects of Lincoln's character that Herndon found otherwise unaccountable: the great man's recurring melancholy, his fatalism, and above all his marriage, undertaken by default, to a woman Herndon thought unworthy of him. ...

"When Herndon made this the subject of his next lecture, Springfield was scandalized. Friends loyal to the widow turned on him. The widow herself was deeply wounded. 'This in return for all my husband's kindness to that miserable man,' Mary Lincoln wrote to a friend. 'Out of pity he took him into his office, when he was almost a hopeless inebriate and ... he was only a drudge in the first place.' "

Andrew Ferguson, Land of Lincoln, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007, pp. 56-58. pp. 165-7.


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