There were no ceremonies to mark the day when Mary Todd Lincoln left the White House. She had remained secluded in her room for a month following her husband's assassination, too distressed to attend his funeral. Now she and her son Tad boarded a train to Chicago, Illinois, leaving the White House for the last time. They would not stay in Chicago for long. Mary was restless, and many believed her grip on reality was slipping. She moved from hotel to hotel, resided with her sister, and even stayed in a mental institution for a short time. Mary Todd Lincoln would live a shattered and isolated life until her death in 1882, 17 years after her husband's death.

Mary and Abraham Lincoln's life together is a remarkable story. It is the story of a poor hayseed and a wealthy society girl, of affection that transforms unhappy childhoods, and of tragedy and still more tragedy. Is it more amazing that Abraham Lincoln, a man with one year of formal schooling, would aspire to learn law, run for state office, and seek the presidential nomination? Or that Mary Todd, a cultured woman with a classical education, believed in his ambition long before he had reached it? Together they would find love, raise a family, run for political office, and eventually occupy the White House.

Throughout Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided, one is struck anew by the enormous strain the office of the presidency exacted from Lincoln. He took his responsibilities seriously, and felt weighed down by the harshness of the war. He often lost sleep and neglected to eat, leaving him with a careworn and disheveled appearance. Newspapers openly questioned his fitness as president, and his cabinet believed him to be incompetent. It is a terrible irony that he would only live for five days after the war finally ended. It is also ironic that the president, who was so unpopular in 1864 that many believed he would lose re-election, would become a mythic figure beloved by everyone. Perhaps these ironies make it more disconcerting that few would remember or befriend his beloved wife when she most needed comfort.

Mary Todd Lincoln's life is easy to understand and sympathize with today. Although she had her own views on politics (which was very unusual for a woman during her time), her role would remain tied to the position of her husband. It was paradoxical then that she became even more isolated when her husband became president. She could re-decorate the White House or plan an event, but her husband, who had once sought out her opinion on political issues, had little time for her. She was cut off from her family who supported, fought, and died for the Confederacy, while Northerners complained about her presence in the White House. Her isolation deepened when Willie, her favorite child, died. Mary searched wide for comfort, holding séances in the White House and spending excessively during shopping trips. Under these circumstances, it is amazing that she remained lucid for as long as she did.

Abraham and Mary Lincoln would find themselves trapped at the center of the worst crisis the United States has ever faced. It affected their lives and relationship; it would have affected anyone's lives and relationship. While neither of their lives was particularly happy, they seemed to find consolation from their disappointments in one another. Mary's knowledge of politics and culture helped to transform Lincoln from a backwoods farmer to a man of culture; his ambition gave her the society and importance she desired. Both would grow apart during the White House years, but their love continued. Once the war was over, Lincoln's demeanor changed and he spoke of their future together; intoxicated by his words, she clung to his arm like a schoolgirl on the night they visited Ford's Theater. Although their story would not have a happy ending, they had achieved great and lasting things. Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided is a moving story of two extraordinary people.

Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.


David Grubin-Director, Producer, & Screenwriter

Allyson Luchak-Senior Producer

Geoffrey C. Ward-Screenwriter

James Callanan-Cinematographer

Michael Bacon-Music

David McCullough--Narrator

Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided is a three part American Experience series.

The first episode in the series airs February 19th on PBS

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