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Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case

Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
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    Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case
    Book Description:

    In 1875 Mary Lincoln, the widow of a revered president, was committed to an insane asylum by her son, Robert. The trial that preceded her internment was a subject of keen national interest. The focus of public attention since Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Mary Lincoln had attracted plentiful criticism and visible scorn from much of the public, who perceived her as spoiled, a spendthrift, and even too much of a Southern sympathizer. Widespread scrutiny only increased following her husband's assassination in 1865 and her son Tad's death six years later, after which her overwhelming grief led to the increasingly erratic behavior that led to her being committed to a sanitarium. A second trial a year later resulted in her release, but the stigma of insanity stuck. In the years since, questions emerged with new force, as the populace and historians debated whether she had been truly insane and subsequently cured, or if she was the victim of family maneuvering._x000B__x000B_In this volume, noted Lincoln scholar Jason Emerson provides a documentary history of Mary Lincoln's mental illness and insanity case, evenhandedly presenting every relevant primary source on the subject to enable a clearer view of the facts. Beginning with documents from the immediate aftermath of her husband's assassination and ending with reminiscences by friends and family in the mid-twentieth century, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History compiles more than one hundred letters, dozens of newspaper articles, editorials, and legal documents, and the daily patient progress reports from Bellevue Place Sanitarium during Mary Lincoln's incarceration. Including many materials that have never been previously published, Emerson also collects multiple reminiscences, interviews, and diaries of people who knew Mary Lincoln or were involved in the case, including the first-hand recollection of one of the jurors in the 1875 insanity trial. _x000B__x000B_Suggesting neither accusation nor exoneration of the embattled First Lady, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History gives scholars and history enthusiasts incomparable access to the documents and information crucial to understanding this vexing chapter in American history._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09417-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Shortly before Mary Lincoln was declared insane by a Chicago jury in May 1875, one resident summed up the public knowledge and feeling in the city about the former first lady in a letter to a friend:

    We are sorry to hear that poor Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, who lives here, has had a nervous breakdown. One can hardly wonder at it, with all she has been through. Being in the White House during the civil war was enough of a strain, even without the tragic death of her husband, to which she was a witness. It must have been awful...

  5. Editorial Note
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Chapter 1 April 1865–May 1875
    (pp. 1-12)

    The specific time and cause of the onset of Mary Lincoln’s mental troubles is debated and debatable, but, until the late twentieth century, the general consensus by citizens, journalists, family and friends, and even Robert Lincoln, was that President Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, was the catalyst that drove Mary Lincoln insane.

    The first three selections, written within a month after the shooting, were penned by two Lincoln family friends (Anson Henry and Horatio Taft) and by the commissioner of public buildings (Benjamin French); the latter encountered Mary Lincoln on a nearly daily basis....

  7. Chapter 2 Trial of 1875: Newspaper Reports
    (pp. 13-41)

    On May 19, 1875, former First Lady Mary Lincoln was tried in Cook County Court on the charge of insanity. Leonard Swett and B. F. Ayer—two of Chicago’s most eminent attorneys—acted for Robert; Isaac N. Arnold, former congressman and a friend of Abraham Lincoln, represented Mary. Under the Illinois State insanity statute, a defendant (Mary) was not legally required to have an attorney, but Robert Lincoln and Leonard Swett procured one for her anyway. During the three-hour trial, eighteen witnesses testified against Mary Lincoln: physicians, shopkeepers, hotel employees, and her own son. The jury, comprising twelve of the...

  8. Chapter 3 Trial of 1875: Correspondence
    (pp. 42-50)

    After the trial, Robert received letters of support from his mother’s cousins and from David Davis. One of the most interesting, and most important, letters of the entire insanity period was written to David Davis by Leonard Swett a few days after the proceedings, in which Swett details to Davis everything he personally witnessed before, during, and after the trial....

  9. Chapter 4 Trial of 1875: Newspaper Editorials
    (pp. 51-59)

    Newspapers around the country, but especially in her hometown of Chicago, not only reported on Mary Lincoln’s insanity trial but also offered their editorial comments on it. The majority feeling was that Mary had been insane for a long time and deserved nothing but sympathy and understanding, while her son Robert had done his brave and manly duty in having his mother committed....

  10. Chapter 5 Suicide Attempt
    (pp. 60-71)

    Perhaps the most astonishing moment of the insanity case occurred in its aftermath. The morning after the verdict, Mary Lincoln evaded the guards outside her hotel room, went to three local pharmacies to obtain lethal drugs, and tried to commit suicide. Luckily, an astute pharmacist knew who she was and foiled her plan.

    Mary’s preeminent biographer, Jean Baker, believes that there was no suicide attempt; that the story was planted in the newspapers by Robert Lincoln as an “exculpation of filial treachery.”¹ The multiplicity of sources, as well as the variations in each story (which would not exist if all...

  11. Chapter 6 May–July 1875
    (pp. 72-95)

    On May 20, 1875, Mary Lincoln, accompanied by her son, traveled ninety miles to Batavia, Illinois, to begin residence at her new home, Bellevue Place sanitarium. Bellevue Place was a three-story limestone structure set on twenty acres of secluded and manicured grounds. The interior of the building was bright, spacious, and cozy, intending to create a homelike and relaxing atmosphere. The inmates all were high-class female patients who were typically nervous invalids, many suffering depression, whose families wanted better care and more privacy than state asylums offered. Bellevue was equipped for twenty-five to thirty patients, but only twenty were there...

  12. Chapter 7 August 1875
    (pp. 96-137)

    August was the seminal month of Mary Lincoln’s time at Bellevue Place, when her protests about her situation and her desire to leave Batavia—amplified and publicized by the Bradwells—reached their climax, both publicly and privately....

  13. Chapter 8 September–December 1875
    (pp. 138-166)

    Robert Lincoln returned home from his summer vacation on September 1, and immediately began taking steps to investigate the possibility of removing his mother to the Edwards home in Springfield. Clearly, Robert had been considering this action while in New Hampshire, probably after receiving the letters from Patterson and Elizabeth Edwards while there. The first person he wrote was Dr. Patterson....

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. Chapter 9 January 1–May 21, 1876
    (pp. 167-177)

    The holiday season and start of a new year did nothing to change Mary’s condition. In fact, as 1876 began, Mary seemed to grow worse. She not only threatened her son’s life, but also started to carry a pistol in her pocket. Robert had to decide whether to allow his mother to continue living in Springfield or return her to Bellevue Place sanitarium....

  16. Chapter 10 Trial of 1876
    (pp. 178-185)

    As June 1876 approached, Mary Lincoln—with the assistance of her brother-in-law Ninian Edwards—continued to push avidly for a second trial, the removal of her conservator, and the return of her bonds and power to control her own property. The records show that Robert Lincoln had no plans to oppose a second trial, especially after receiving advice to the same effect from his mentor David Davis....

  17. Chapter 11 June–September 1876
    (pp. 186-201)

    Even though Mary Lincoln now had control of her own property, her antipathy toward her son had not lessened. She, in fact, immediately sought to exact revenge against Robert for his actions by printing accusations against him in the newspapers, by accusing him of thievery and double dealing, by threatening lawsuits against him, and, ultimately, by cutting off all communication with him....

  18. Chapter 12 October 1876–June 1882
    (pp. 202-207)

    There is no evidence that Mary Lincoln traveled to California with her sister in August 1876 as she proposed, but in September she did leave Springfield—secretly, in fear that Robert would have her arrested and returned to Bellevue Place—for what was a self-imposed exile in Europe. “I cannot endure to meet my former friends Lizzie,” she supposedly told her sister Elizabeth Edwards. “They will never cease to regard me as a lunatic. I feel it in their soothing manner. If I should say the moon is made of green cheese they would heartily and smilingly agree with me....

  19. Chapter 13 Posthumous
    (pp. 208-220)

    Mary Lincoln died on July 16, 1882, after suffering what was probably a stroke. Her body was laid out for viewing in the parlor of the Edwardses’ home, the same room in which she was married, and her funeral was held in the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield on July 19, 1882. It was characterized as nearly the largest funeral in the city’s history, second only to that of her husband.¹ Mary’s casket was placed in the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery....

  20. Appendix: Abraham Lincoln’s Comments on His Wife’s Sanity
    (pp. 221-224)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 225-228)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-232)
  23. Index
    (pp. 233-238)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)