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Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage

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Mary Todd Lincoln is probably the most maligned of famous women in our nation's history. The truth about the President's wife has for years been hidden under a mountain of myth built up largely by Lincoln's biographer and law partner, William H. Herndon. Now for the first time the true woman beneath that myth is presented in a warmly sympathetic biography based on new Mary Todd Lincoln is probably the most maligned of famous women in our nation's history. The truth about the President's wife has for years been hidden under a mountain of myth built up largely by Lincoln's biographer and law partner, William H. Herndon. Now for the first time the true woman beneath that myth is presented in a warmly sympathetic biography based on new research. When the veil of legend surrounding her is torn aside, and entirely new picture of a woman and a marriage emerges.


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Mary Todd Lincoln is probably the most maligned of famous women in our nation's history. The truth about the President's wife has for years been hidden under a mountain of myth built up largely by Lincoln's biographer and law partner, William H. Herndon. Now for the first time the true woman beneath that myth is presented in a warmly sympathetic biography based on new Mary Todd Lincoln is probably the most maligned of famous women in our nation's history. The truth about the President's wife has for years been hidden under a mountain of myth built up largely by Lincoln's biographer and law partner, William H. Herndon. Now for the first time the true woman beneath that myth is presented in a warmly sympathetic biography based on new research. When the veil of legend surrounding her is torn aside, and entirely new picture of a woman and a marriage emerges.

30 review for Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage

  1. 4 out of 5

    HR-ML

    ***********SPOILERS************** My Kindle version had 572 pages. This served as a dual biography of Abe & Mary Todd Lincoln (hereafter A&M). He called her "Molly" & she "Mr. Lincoln." Once they had children, they preferred to call each other "Father" & "Mother." Letters, interviews & news articles comprised the source material. The author seemed diligent in assessing authenticity of material. Some letters alleged- ly from Mary to Abe used the greeting "Dear Abe" when she ***********SPOILERS************** My Kindle version had 572 pages. This served as a dual biography of Abe & Mary Todd Lincoln (hereafter A&M). He called her "Molly" & she "Mr. Lincoln." Once they had children, they preferred to call each other "Father" & "Mother." Letters, interviews & news articles comprised the source material. The author seemed diligent in assessing authenticity of material. Some letters alleged- ly from Mary to Abe used the greeting "Dear Abe" when she never called him by his 1st name. The author concluded that A&M had a happy union, with some bumps in the rd & Abe admitted indulging his wife & sons. The author (hereafter RPR) described Abe as absent minded IE he needed reminders to: wear weather approprite clothes, use an umbrella & take meals. RPR described Mary Todd as bouyant, well-read, good conversationalist who lacked emo- tional control. He had little formal education, taught himself the law, carried debt, & was prone toward melancholy & she had a good education & an aristo family. Both were Kentucky born but met in Springfield, Illinois. Both enjoyed reading, plays, theatre. The Todds didn't consider Abe good enough for Mary. A&M's 2 sons died of illness prior to Abe's death. Two sons remained. Abe's 1st law partner happened to be John Todd Stuart, Mary's cousin. Yrs later Abe set up his own practice as sr lawyer with jr lawyer, William Herndon, who received the same rate of pay. This lasted 16 yrs. A & M did not serve "spirits" in their home & thought Herndon a heavy drinker (he & Mary clashed and he never received an invite to the Lincoln's home). For 10 week periods, 2x a year, Lincoln road the lawyer circuit in various Illinois counties. Mary missed him terribly. After ea. absence, he returned to his law practice. Many thought Abe 'not pretty' but a great orator. He ran for US House (won) & US Senate (lost). In time his opinion on slavery evolved IE he wanted to prevent expansion of slavery to US western territories (before statehood) to he wanted slaves freed. Abe joined the Whig party & when it eventually dissolved he became the 1st Republican US President. Some of Abe's own party tried to discredit him: spreading rumors of Mary as Confederate spy in the White House! Ridiculous because A&M brought food/ blankets/ comfort to wounded Union troops. Many wanted appointments and favors from Abe as POTUS, including Herndon who Abe offered a short job assignment (1 month). Abe reportedly thought Herndon too unreliabe (because of drink) to have a more serious WH or other federal job. RPR discussed Mary's mental state. Abe generally got Mary to laugh to get her out of her anxiety spells. After the death of their 2nd son Willie, Abe reportedly feared Mary had "partial insanity"& told Mary she didn't want a sanitarium stay (not said as a threat). Later, a psych MD theorized Mary had mania, but only in regard to overspending. Mary displayed paranoia and hallucinations. After her eldest son Robert, consulted with her cousin JT Stuart, they put in motion Mary's insanity hearing of May 1875. Robert used as evidence, his mother walked around with $57 K worth of securities in her pocket. He feared for her safety. Mary was ordered sent to a sanitorium & the court appointed Robert her conservator. She was 'restored to sanity' in June 1876. RPR explained the court used sane or insane as a legal term only. Lincoln was murdered by actor/ Confederate spy John Wilkes Booth in 1865 @Ford's Theatre in DC. General Grant and spouse declined the theatre invite. The shot to the back of his head, resulted in a bullet lodged in Abe's inoperable Rt eye. (A later book I read said this bullet was recovered). Abe had a dream RE his death a few nights before it happened. Mary didn't leave her WH bedroom for weeks after her be- loved's murder. A&M's friend Senator Sumner helped Mary secure a yrly government pension of $3K, starting July 1870, later increased to $5K annually. Herndon tried to profit from his 'good friend' Abe's death, via lectures and a book. When he heard conflcting accounts on Lincoln's life, he chose the most controversial. He accused Lincoln of- being born illegitimate (untrue,) being a non-Christian (Abe used the Bible for solice,) Abe only loving (friend) Mary Owens (untrue-both plutonic only?) : excluding true love wife Mary, wife Mary receiving gifts for WH favors & stealing WH furniture (untrue). Mary proved vulnerable to unscrupulous males IE the White House head gardener, secret reporter embeded in the WH, Henry Wikoff, who posed as wife Mary's 'social advisor' & so on. Herne's accusations and slighting the character of A&M, with little or no proof, only made mentally fragile Mary's life harder. Also it made some question Lincoln's legacy. It felt vengeful on Herndon's part.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I found this book different from others written about Mary Todd Lincoln (MTL) in that the author labored vigorously to refute many of the criticisms of MTL. This is a very long book, perhaps it took a long time to dispel criticisms and myths. A friend asked me how this book read being over 500 pages, my reply was that is waxes and wanes. I confess I skimmed many pages. I grew up in Illinois in Logan and Macon counties and in my childhood Lincoln was greatly revered, school trips and FHA field I found this book different from others written about Mary Todd Lincoln (MTL) in that the author labored vigorously to refute many of the criticisms of MTL. This is a very long book, perhaps it took a long time to dispel criticisms and myths. A friend asked me how this book read being over 500 pages, my reply was that is waxes and wanes. I confess I skimmed many pages. I grew up in Illinois in Logan and Macon counties and in my childhood Lincoln was greatly revered, school trips and FHA field trips were almost always to New Salem or Springfield to learn about our great statesman. MTL was seldom mentioned and when she was, it was to say she had “mental” problems. Randall did convince me that Mary was more than just a blip on the page of Lincoln’s life, that she was a main player in his personal and political life and that he loved her deeply, as she did him.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sigrid

    Wonderful ! A fascinating study that almost makes you feel guilty as if you are window peeking into their very private moments. So enjoyable and hard to resist. You want to both cheer for Mary and/or then to chastise her gently as her life unfolds in this extraordinary defense of a remarkable woman and her family as she endured character assassination and misunderstandings. I highly recommend this book that is both well researched and explanatory and reads like a novel. Easy to enjoy for history Wonderful ! A fascinating study that almost makes you feel guilty as if you are window peeking into their very private moments. So enjoyable and hard to resist. You want to both cheer for Mary and/or then to chastise her gently as her life unfolds in this extraordinary defense of a remarkable woman and her family as she endured character assassination and misunderstandings. I highly recommend this book that is both well researched and explanatory and reads like a novel. Easy to enjoy for history buffs and for those who like a good gossipy look into the lives of others.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol Mccreath-Ray

    A Very Good Read I found this book very insightful. Even though published a while ago, it appears well researched. What impresses me the most, I think, is I've not read a book on Mary Lincoln that has this much information about her. I find it awful that many rumors about Mrs. Lincoln, stemming from her husband's former law clerk, are still circulated today! The authors writing style and language reflect the time it was written and are a bit different from today's styles, however, anyone who has A Very Good Read I found this book very insightful. Even though published a while ago, it appears well researched. What impresses me the most, I think, is I've not read a book on Mary Lincoln that has this much information about her. I find it awful that many rumors about Mrs. Lincoln, stemming from her husband's former law clerk, are still circulated today! The authors writing style and language reflect the time it was written and are a bit different from today's styles, however, anyone who has a sense of history can cope. A very, very, good read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom072805

    Even with her sometimes over-focus on Lincoln writer, Herndon and the ill he did Mrs. Lincoln; and he did do her ill, this was an outstanding piece of work! Vivid writing, well researched and argued, wonderful vignettes of each and every family member transported me completely into their 19th century time, place and station.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    Holy cow. Its rare for a book of any genre to leave me with shivers and make me feel as though I am saying goodbye to a dear friend. This book has done just that. Mrs. Randall clearly had a masterful grasp on the subject matter. I leave this book having learned a vast amount about a lady long admired and her adored husband; whom I have been obsessed with since my early teens. (Im nearly 41 now). Perhaps most exciting and refreshing to me is that the author treated this fine woman with the Holy cow. It’s rare for a book of any genre to leave me with shivers and make me feel as though I am saying goodbye to a dear friend. This book has done just that. Mrs. Randall clearly had a masterful grasp on the subject matter. I leave this book having learned a vast amount about a lady long admired and her adored husband; whom I have been obsessed with since my early teens. (I’m nearly 41 now). Perhaps most exciting and refreshing to me is that the author treated this fine woman with the respect and understanding denied her in life. History has mistreated Mary Todd Lincoln. We have done her and her great husband (who loved her deeply) a grand disservice. This book is many things, but most compelling is that it’s ultimately a love story, about two people clearly bonded by a mutual adoration and respect that few of us are lucky enough to find. It’s an absolute must read for anyone with an interest in the Lincolns. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dede Ranahan

    Welcomed new information (to me) about Mary Lincoln. The author's approach left me wanting - it was something between a biography and a research treatise. As a mental illness advocate, I found the references to Mary's being mentally ill and how it was manifest in her life poorly defined and confusing. Would have liked the author to evidence more knowledge about mental illness, as it is recognized today, side by side with attitudes of the 1860s.

  8. 4 out of 5

    sylvia nash

    O truly loved this book . I must admit that I knew virtually nothing about Mary Lincoln and was shocked that she had been so aligned after her husbands life.it is so hard to understand how someone can be accused of mental illness of they simply cannot handle their finances.also, the. Mary lincoln. It disgusts me that the people had no feelings for this woman when she lost her husband and had e previously lost a son.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gabby

    Surprising Having heard the stories of the insanity of Mary Todd Lincoln I was pleasantly surprised by the very logical explanations of why she might have behaved as she did. Mary Lincoln was a complicated woman perhaps some mental illness but certainly not insane. Excellent story of 2 giants in American history

  10. 4 out of 5

    daniel fink

    Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage This is a well-written portrayal of a misunderstood woman who was a loving wife and staunch patriot. Finally she will be remembered for the outstanding woman she was. She and husband, Abraham Lincoln, will remain in history as the greatest couple ever.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Den

    Very interesting book. I knew it would be a tough read, but sometimes the old English added to the craziness. However, you do get a great glimpse into Mary's life. The good, the bad and the crazy. This book truly makes you realize how far in some aspects our society has come in helping people. Although, it also shows how the needle has not always moved on some issues. I recommend it!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anilou

    Mary, Public and Private Mary Lincoln was much maligned during and after the Civil War. The press would take a small incident and blow it out of proportion. And the haters rejoiced. Too, the public believed Mary Lincoln sided with the South. Nothing could have been farther from the truth: The president's wife was as much a patriot as the president himself, single minded in defense of a reunited America. Mary was intelligent, kind, and fiercely devoted to her husband and their beloved sons. This Mary, Public and Private Mary Lincoln was much maligned during and after the Civil War. The press would take a small incident and blow it out of proportion. And the haters rejoiced. Too, the public believed Mary Lincoln sided with the South. Nothing could have been farther from the truth: The president's wife was as much a patriot as the president himself, single minded in defense of a reunited America. Mary was intelligent, kind, and fiercely devoted to her husband and their beloved sons. This is not to say there were no marital scraps or disagreements ever. Far from it. Mary was high-strung and emotional. Abraham knew this. He protected and defended her from the fallout that invariably followed each disagreement. The phrase 'Love Is Eternal" is etched on Mary's wedding ring. It is inscribed on her heart, too, and that of Abraham Lincoln.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christina Knaub

    Remarkable book I have always been interested in the life of Mary Todd Lincoln . This book gave me a whole new opinion of her. It shows how messed up politics are even today. Their marriage was so loving. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Coustin

    Great Anyone that wants to know more about President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary should read this book I am from Springfield,I'll and know quite a bit about the Lincoln s but this book was so well written that I found a new prospective just by reading it

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jane Thompson

    Civil War Story This is an interesting, well researched work. While the author foes a good job of rehabilitating her, I think it would make more sense for a historian to present her with bipolar disorder. This makes perfect sense and it's characterizations match her symptoms

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    Still one of two basic books on Mary, the other being Jean Baker's 1988 biography. I have run across my OLD copy of Randall's book at a current library sale-I had passed it on to a now deceased friend and my purchase it back though it is an old book club copy. Reunited?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt Norris

    Great book, great history refresher lesson!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary Hazard

    This book gave me a very balanced and different perspective on Mary Todd Lincoln, what an interesting but bittersweet life she lived in tremendously stressful times. The author makes a compelling and, I think, winning case that Mrs. Lincoln was unfairly branded with a lot of negative titles by primarily a bitter former employee of her husband's law office. Growing up a privileged young woman she nonetheless appears to have married for true love and was a devoted wife to her husband. The trials This book gave me a very balanced and different perspective on Mary Todd Lincoln, what an interesting but bittersweet life she lived in tremendously stressful times. The author makes a compelling and, I think, winning case that Mrs. Lincoln was unfairly branded with a lot of negative titles by primarily a bitter former employee of her husband's law office. Growing up a privileged young woman she nonetheless appears to have married for true love and was a devoted wife to her husband. The trials and tribulations of their lives - loss of a small child before the White House and then one tragically dying during their White House years, the Civil War and it's personal toll on them both from the terrific loss of life but also the tearing apart of her own family, as well as the constant torment of the press and public believing her to be the worst kind of person - and a traitor to her nation because of her Southern roots. That she endured as well as she did for as long as she did is testament to a strong will, but one that finally reached it's own limits with her husband's assassination and subsequent years of worrying about money, losing her third child as he was just becoming and adult - it finally did her in and she descended into a cloud of melancholy and despair. The reason for my 3 star review is that I felt, to some degree, that this was a hard read from the viewpoint of being a bit dry and going over the same ground. I read this book in nuggets and wanted to finish it but was not compelled to do so from a point that it was an incredible page turner. That may be me and not the book's fault at all. As stated at the beginning, this author did an incredible job of addressing stories told about Mary Lincoln in a methodical and well supported manner. It is a good book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pam McCallister

    Great book

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve Robbins

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  23. 5 out of 5

    Janis L. Lowe

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne M. Miller

  25. 4 out of 5

    James

  26. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Brown

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary marrano

  28. 4 out of 5

    Byron barrows

  29. 4 out of 5

    Blubonnet1

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ann McFarren

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