Robert Todd Lincoln

August 2010


The first child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln was born August 1, 1843, nine months after their wedding night. By tradition of the time, Robert was given his motherís maiden name for his middle name. Of the four sons born to the Lincolns, Robert was the only child to live into adulthood.


Robert attended Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. He left school briefly to fight in the Civil War. Robert held the rank of captain while serving under the watchful eye of General Grant. In 1867, Robert began his law practice. After much success, he was drawn to national politics. He served as Secretary of War from 1881Ė1885 under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. He also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1889Ė1893.


Robert considered himself unlucky to presidents. He declined his fatherís invitation to the theater the night Lincoln was shot in April 1865. Robert was with Garfield when he was shot in July 1881. In 1901, Robert was attending the Pan-American Exposition in New York where McKinley was shot.


In 1875, Robert believed his mother was insane, and had her committed. Friends fought for her release and after three months, Mary was declared sane and she relocated to France. After five years abroad, Mary returned to Illinois. She died two years later.


Robert devised the plan for his fatherís unusual re-burial in 1901. After a gang of counterfeiters attempted to steal Lincolnís body for ransom in 1876, Robert urged cemetery officials to ensure nothing further could disturb his fatherís rest. Cemetery caretakers began rotating Lincolnís coffin around the cemetery. At one point, his body was being stored in the tombís basement behind a stack of wood and debris. Years later when Robert was working as president for the Pullman Car Company, he requested a final burial for his father. George Pullman had not been a well-liked man and decided that for his own burial, his coffin would be sealed in concrete so none of his enemies could desecrate his body. Robert thought the idea would also work for his father. So, in 1901, Lincolnís coffin was opened one last time to verify his identification, and then he was buried ten feet under the floor of his tomb, his coffin packed in a steal cage and surrounded by concrete. Lincoln still securely rests there today. The bodies of Mary and sons Eddie, Willie, and Tad also rest in the tomb, but above ground.


Robertís last public appearance was at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, in 1922. He died in 1926 at his Vermont estate, Hildene. As a Civil War veteran, Robert is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.