Marrying Mary

November 2007


On November 4, 1842, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were married in her sister’s front parlor in Springfield, Illinois. The accepted story is that the pair met at a social gathering when Lincoln said, “Miss Todd, I want to dance with you in the worst way.” After the dance, Mary exclaimed that Lincoln did in fact dance with her in the worst way.


I like Irving Stone’s version better. He writes that Mary attended a political debate at the Sangamon County Court building one evening and was in the midst of listening to Edward Baker speak of land office corruption, when many democrats in the audience began yelling, “Pull him down” to get Baker off the stand. No one knew that Lincoln was in the room above studying his law books. Suddenly, the trap door above the speaker opened and feet, naked calves, and long legs gradually appeared. Following that, a long scrawny torso, neck, and arms. The last thing to appear was a gaunt, homely face as Lincoln jumped the remaining few feet to the speaker’s stand. Lincoln spoke calmly to the angry crowd, expressing that “This is a land of free speech. Baker has a right to speak, and if you take him off the stand you’ll have to take me too.”


Lincoln was thereafter invited to social gatherings that Mary also attended. Mary was pursued by many beaus, but set her sights on Lincoln. She saw something in him that she identified with. Both had lost their mothers at a young age, and both felt isolated from those around them. Just over a year after their first meeting, Mary and Abraham were engaged.


On January 1, 1841, Lincoln broke his engagement to Mary. Later, Lincoln referred to the date as The Fatal First. Much debate remains as to why the engagement was broken. Lincoln’s friends said he went into deep depression and they had to remove sharp objects from his room. Author ThomasKeneally went as far as to say that Lincoln thought he may have had syphilis and therefore did not want to marry.


Slowly, after more than a full year passed, Lincoln and Mary began seeing one another again, brought back together by their mutual friends, Simeon and Eliza Francis. A few months later, on November 4, Mary surprised her sister by announcing that she would be marrying Lincoln that evening at 5 o’clock in the parlor. Lincoln had the words “Love is Eternal” inscribed inside Mary’s ring.


Mary died in 1882, in the same house in which she was married. She is entombed along with her husband in the Lincoln tomb. She still wears her wedding ring.