Print Version


I found Mr. Lincoln living in a handsome, but not pretentious, double-two story house…neatly but not ostentatiously furnished… 
- New York Evening Post, May 23, 1860

Raised in a wealthy family, Mary Lincoln’s tastes were expensive and often influenced by French fashions.  Mr. Lincoln’s tastes reflect his frontier upbringing: He spent his early years in one or two-room cabins, never had much money and was unconcerned with fashion or formal etiquette. 

The Lincolns’ house, the only home they owned, reflects a combination of the two.  They had four sons but one died at three. The furnishings were chosen for sturdiness rather than style and reflected the tastes of a prosperous mid-19th century American family. They used the parlors for entertaining and for Mr. Lincoln to meet with clients. Books were important to both Abraham and Mary, and a large bookcase dominated the back parlor.  Shells, flowers, and prints and busts of famous people reflected their broad interests.  The sitting room was the boys’ play area.  The family had dogs and cats.  They had friends over for strawberries and cream parties, and went to the nearby church to see the tree on Christmas Day. 

Upstairs, the many bedrooms allowed for overnight guests or to meet with Mr. Lincoln in his room across the hall if Mrs. Lincoln was entertaining downstairs.  Mrs. Lincoln’s room was the literal and figurative center of the home.  Across from her room, oldest son Robert’s room, later taken over by his younger brothers, provided a quick access to the roof over the back porch for mischief.  The hired girl occupied a small, plain room at the end of the hall.


My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I, a poor nobody then, fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out.  Abraham Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln grew up in comfortable surroundings. As was typical for well-to-do Kentuckians, her family owned slaves. Mary had 12 years of schooling, including finishing school. The vivacious young woman spoke fluent French. She had several suitors when she moved to Springfield to stay with her sister Elizabeth Edwards. One was the popular Stephen Douglas who was later a political opponent of Abraham Lincoln. But it was the rough lawyer and fellow Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln who caught her fancy at a party held at the Edwards’ home.  Both enjoyed politics and reading.  The fact that Mary was a family friend of Lincoln’s idol, Henry Clay, enhanced her charms for Lincoln.
Family Life
Mary had a quick temper that flashed and waned.  Lincoln was inclined to brood and keep things to himself.  This led to a turbulent courtship and a broken engagement on January 1, 1841.  After 18 months apart, they were reunited through the help of mutual friends and married on November 4, 1842. 

Kiss and love the dear rascals.
- Abraham Lincoln in letter to Mrs. Lincoln, July 2, 1848

Children followed; Robert Todd in 1843, Edward Baker in 1846, William Wallace in 1850 (after Eddie died early that spring), and Thomas in 1853.  The Lincolns were lenient parents and often upset friends and neighbors by allowing the boys to be rowdy and disturb conversations.  In an era when children were supposed to be seen and not heard, and work to help their parents, the Lincoln boys were spoiled.  They had expensive toys like a stereoscope, a photograph viewing device that made the pictures appear three-dimensional.  Mary had birthday parties for the children, remarking one year that she had just finished hosting a party for Willie in which “some 50 or 60 boys and girls attended the gala.”

The young Lincoln boys, Robert, Willie and Tad, were frequently underfoot.  When not playing around the house, they attended school, acquiring considerably more formal education than their father.  Robert was considered an average student, needing a year of prep school in New Hampshire before attending Harvard University.  Willie was bright, and wrote poems and short stories.  Tad had more challenges in school and did not learn his alphabet until the family was in the White House. 

All three Lincoln boys were popular with their friends, especially the youngest two who were often the ringleaders in pranks.  A favorite activity was hiding behind a high fence and using a stick to knock men’s hats off.  Willie and Tad were also caught behind the sheriff’s barn across the street smoking cigars.  The neighborhood children enjoyed rolling wooden hoops down the street to see who could keep the hoops rolling the longest.  There were always cats around, and a special dog named Fido kept them company.

When not entertaining, Mary was at a sewing table working on the boys’ clothes, Mr. Lincoln’s shirts, and some of her own undergarments and simpler day dresses.  Her schooling would have made her proficient in embroidery but she seemed to prefer plain sewing.  With three growing boys and Mr. Lincoln’s carelessness when it came to his appearance, she was constantly darning or making new clothes to make sure everyone was properly outfitted.  Mary liked stylish clothes and had dresses made in Springfield.  Godey’s Lady’s Book provided illustrations of the latest fashions, gossip, and literature.

Food and Entertaining
Mary loved entertaining.  Living in the state capitol and being married to a politician and popular lawyer meant there was always an event to attend or host.  Springfield ladies held strawberry and cream parties in season. Groaning buffet tables on New Year’s Day were widespread.  Mary’s lively wit and southern hospitality made her a popular hostess.  She once held a party to which 500 people were invited. But as it rained that night and there was a society wedding in a nearby town, only 300 people came.  While these were essentially social occasions, Mary used these events to study people.  She considered herself a good judge of character and gave her husband tips on dealing with people that he greatly appreciated. 

Mary’s main homemaking interest appeared to be cooking, especially making sweets.  The cookbooks she purchased after getting married are in the Presidential library in Springfield.  Her white almond cake was one of Mr. Lincoln’s favorite desserts.  She had brought the recipe from her favorite bakery in Lexington, Kentucky.  Mary baked the white cake for Abraham Lincoln when they were courting, as a Springfield housewife, and when she was First Lady.  Today, there are many versions of it, including the one listed below.

Mr. Lincoln enjoyed oysters, venison, corned beef and cabbage, and the Midwestern foods, including beef, pork, chicken, potatoes, and corn.  The family also enjoyed corned beef, pan-fried steak, chicken and pork, and fruits and vegetables.  They had a large backyard garden with apple trees and currant bushes.  The market was a block away so Mary probably got most of her non-homegrown foods there. 

The Lincolns purchased macaroon pyramids (macaroon cookies stacked in a pyramid and covered with caramelized sugar drizzle) from local confectioners when they had a big party. Mary often served strawberries and cream, probably with cookies.  Oral tradition had it that the neighborhood children were guaranteed a cookie or donut from Mrs. Lincoln when they played with the Lincoln boys.  With Mary's copious amounts of sugar purchased, there were plenty of cookies.  During the course of one week in 1849, Mary purchased 13 pounds of sugar!

Lincoln's inaugural luncheon menu consisted of mock turtle soup, corned beef and cabbage, parsley potatoes, blackberry pie and coffee.  (Source; The American Heritage Cookbook, 1964).  The menu from the party held by the Lincolns in February 1862 shortly before Willie Lincoln died appears in The White House Cookbook by Janet Halliday Ervin (1964).  It was an elaborate menu, especially when compared to the inaugural lunch.  It consisted of champagne punch, stewed scalloped oysters, boned truffle-stuffed turkey, pate de fois gras, aspic of tongue, Canvasback Duck, Partridge, Fillet of Beef, Ham, Venison, Pheasant Terrapin, Chicken Salad, Sandwiches and Jellies, Cakes & Ices.

Mary Todd Lincoln's White Cake
(Recipe from Lincoln's Table by Donna D. McCreary was adapted by Janice Cooke Newman)

1 cup blanched almonds, chopped in a food processor until they resemble a coarse flour
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectionary sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.
  • Cream butter and sugar. Sift flour and baking powder 3 times. Add to creamed butter and sugar, alternating with milk. Stir in almonds and beat well.
  • Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter. Stir in vanilla extract.
  • Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Turn out on a wire rack and cool. When cool, sift confectionary sugar over top

A basic white frosting sprinkled with almonds was also popular.


Now He Belongs to the Ages.
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on Lincoln’s death, April 15, 1865

Since his death, Lincoln has been immortalized in hundreds of ways, especially in Springfield, Illinois.  His home, visited by soldiers from nearby Camp Butler as early as 1861, was opened as a “shrine” in 1887 by the State of Illinois.  Bridges, schools, cities, counties, and toys are just some of the things named for Lincoln.  Six National Park units are specifically associated with Lincoln, including the Springfield home he lived in for seventeen years, which became a National Historic Site in 1972.

Lincoln’s legacy also included some unique aspects.  He is the tallest president and one of the earliest presidents to be photographed, and the first to have a beard while in the White House.

Lincoln is the only President to hold a patent, having created a device to re-float stranded boats in 1849.  But he is better remembered for his actions as President, memorialized through thousands of books, statues, and portraits.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Lincoln Home every year to learn more about the man who fought for the ideals of freedom and democracy.  Even during Lincoln’s life, when he was an attorney turned president-elect, people came to Springfield at Eighth and Jackson Streets to learn more about Lincoln, his family, and his home.  Reporters and photographers also came, charged with telling the rest of America, through words and images, about Abraham Lincoln.  Print makers used the photographs to make Lincoln’s image available in inexpensive prints.  Small copies of the photographs mounted on cards (carte-de-visite) were sold around the country and collected in family photo albums.

Abraham Lincoln and the sites connected to some part of his life have proven to be popular even 140+ years after his death.  Souvenir hunters collected items from the trees in the yard around the house, or adaptively reused materials gleaned from the other farms where he grew up, or homes he had been in.  In 1909, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, thousands of items were created to commemorate the event, most notably the U.S. one cent coin, more commonly known as the penny.
Lincoln is still a popular subject for souvenirs.  His image is used in ornaments, dolls, or as an advertisement for sleep aids.  Lincoln Logs, designed as a tribute to Lincoln’s early years living in a log cabin, continue to be one of the most popular toys in the world.  A quick search on “Lincoln” at an internet auction site turns up everything from books to t-shirts to postcards to musical recordings.  The Lincoln name is used for cities, counties, cab companies, and cars.  A cross-country highway bears his name.  “Abraham Lincoln” has appeared in numerous films and television shows as diverse as the classic Henry Fonda film Young Mr. Lincoln to a Star Trek episode.  It is rare that something that has the Lincoln name is not in some way trying to connect to Abraham Lincoln and the quality he is best know for: honesty.
Lincoln and the Lincoln Home are used on a variety of memorabilia including a glass bust from the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia, a brick with Lincoln’s profile, a credit card, Christmas ornaments, figurines, toys, bank checks, and newspapers.  Sometimes the items are even made from a part of the Lincoln Home including a pin tray made from gutter material, or canes made from limbs of the trees in the Lincolns’ yard.
It is easy to recognize the Lincoln Home on items because it has remained virtually unchanged since Lincoln’s time.  Photographic views of the Lincoln Home show mostly cosmetic changes outside.  The Lincoln Home has been painted white, yellow, and a variety of light and medium browns.  At some point in the home’s history there has been a tall flagpole in the front corner, cannons in the back yard and pointed at the house, trees and bushes that nearly obscured the house, a striped awning over the front door, an enclosed front and screened back porch.
Inside, the house has been a “museum” of randomly placed Lincoln objects, an overstuffed Victorian home with so many items that artifacts are placed on top of other items, and finally returned to the appearance of a family home.


Abraham Lincoln matured from a young man and private citizen into the President-elect during his 24 years in Springfield, Illinois.  His upbringing in rural Kentucky, southern Indiana and the Illinois prairie shaped him.  In 1831, at 22, Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois.  In 1834 he was elected to the first of five terms to the Illinois legislature.  Fellow legislator Stuart encouraged him to study law.  In 1837, the self-taught lawyer rode into Springfield, Illinois with all his belongings in two saddlebags.

In 1842 he married Mary Todd, and together they raised a family at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets.  He built a successful legal practice and was considered one of Illinois’ best courtroom attorneys.  A member of the Whig Party, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. 

After serving in Congress, he returned to Springfield and dropped out of politics.  Lincoln’s interest in politics was rekindled in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (for more information see allowing the spread of slavery to new states, a measure Lincoln vehemently opposed.  The Act’s main supporter was Illinois’ Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s long-time political rival. Lincoln joined the newly formed Republican Party and ran against Douglas for the Senate seat in Illinois in 1858.  Although he lost the election, the debates brought him national recognition.

Initially Lincoln did not consider himself presidential material.  He later changed his mind.  The 1860 Republican Party convention selected him as their candidate.  On November 4, 1860, he was elected president.  Lincoln’s belief in freedom and democracy” and his firm belief that the “Union must and shall be preserved” propelled him to the White House and sustained him through four long years of civil war.

On April 14, 1865, the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he became a martyr sacrificed for the causes of the Civil War.

The funeral train took 20 days to travel from Washington, DC to Springfield, Illinois.  There were 13 funerals en route.  Lincoln's body was returned to Springfield for burial in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the “quiet place” he told Mary he wanted for his final resting place.  The entire city was in mourning.  Thousands descended on Springfield, looking for a way to connect to Lincoln and to take something with them that belonged to Lincoln, to his city, to the place he described when leaving as “to this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

As word of Lincoln’s assassination spread in Springfield, businesses and houses were draped in mourning, including the home the Lincolns still owned. 

The Lucian Tilton family, who rented the house from the Lincolns, dressed the house in a simple mourning drape and began to receive the thousands of visitors who wanted to pay their respects.

The City of Springfield provided elaborate decorations for the Lincoln home.  Ropes of evergreens hung at the corners of the house and create an arch over the front gate.  Black flags and curtains, accented with white ribbon, were placed at each window, and festoons and rosettes covered the cornice near the roof. 

According to a local newspaper article, there were people “who attempted to turn the occasion into a means for financial profit, by taking photographs of the house, horse, and dog and selling them….”  Mourning badges and ribbons were also sold.  Lincoln’s body arrived in Springfield on May 3.  For 24 hours, Lincoln’s body lay in the Hall of Representatives at the State House in a coffin “heavily fringed with silver... The outside of the coffin is festooned with massive silver tacks…and the outer edges are adorned with silver braid, with five tassels...” (Illinois State Journal).

The coffin closed for the last time and was loaded onto the hearse.  It was extremely hot and everywhere lilac bushes were blooming, making the still, humid air almost suffocating with the scent.  People gradually fell into place behind the hearse as the procession, led by Major General Joseph Hooker, began to move through Springfield.  It passed the Governor’s Mansion and the Lincoln Home before heading to Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Soldiers; Lincoln’s horse, Old Bob; the six pallbearers, and finally the Lincolns’ oldest son, Robert with cousins Lizzie Grimley and John Hanks, led the rest of the mourners.  Away in the back were the “colored persons,” including Lincoln’s friend and barber, William Florville.  The procession took so long that the last of the walkers did not make it to the tomb before the services were over.

Mary Lincoln was too distraught to leave Washington and kept her youngest son, Tad, with her for company.  Away in the back were the “colored persons,” including Lincoln’s friend and barber, William Florville.  The procession took so long that the last of the walkers did not make it to the tomb before the services were over.

Waiting at the cemetery was the coffin of third son, Willie, who had died in the White House.  His coffin had been brought with Lincoln’s across the country.  The choir sang and then the minister read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, spoken by President Lincoln just weeks before:  With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow , and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.  It was if Lincoln had left them directions for continuing his work. 

Lincoln the Lawyer
I had studied the law and removed to Springfield to practice it
- Abraham Lincoln

While running for the Illinois legislature in 1834, Lincoln met John Todd Stuart, a fellow Whig also running for office, who loaned Lincoln some law books.  Lincoln studied enthusiastically.  He got his law license in September 1836 without attending law school or passing the bar as it is known now.  Instead, he was declared to have a “good moral character” and was examined by the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Court issued Lincoln a license to practice law in any state court.  He came to Springfield to work with John Todd Stuart in April 1837.  Four years later, Lincoln became junior partner to Stephen Trigg Logan.  By 1844 he was the senior partner with William Herndon.

Lincoln rapidly gained respect and fame for his courtroom skills. Law offices around the town square often saw law clerks gathered around listening to Lincoln’s stories. It was a skill that stood him in good stead in front of a judge.  Lincoln handled a variety of cases, including several as a de-facto corporate lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad. This work once earned the Lincoln-Herndon partnership $5,000 in legal fees.  Lincoln handled disputes over property, divorces, even murder.  One case had Lincoln on the master's side in a fugitive slave case but another had him defending a free black man from being declared a fugitive slave.  Lincoln won and lost cases, some went to the Illinois Supreme Court.  Several cases affected Illinois Constitutional law, but most cases covered debt collection and contracting. 

Lincoln also maintained a practice in the federal courts where he represented as many out-of-state clients as Illinois residents including one case between transportation companies in St. Louis and Chicago that helped establish railroad prominence in the state.  He even argued one case at the U.S. Supreme Court while he was in Washington serving as a congressman, and was an attorney-of-record for four more.  Most of his legal fees, which he split evenly with his partner, averaged $15-20 per case, but Lincoln was considered very successful. Current scholarship shows that he was involved in at least 5,173 cases in his 24-year career.  Studies of his legal work are still on-going 150 years after he stopped practicing (see 

Lincoln “rode the Illinois circuit.”  As the state was rural and sparsely populated, most counties did not have a full-time judge.  He was one of the lawyers and judges who came to town twice a year to try cases.  Lincoln worked on the 8th Judicial Circuit.  It covered 14 counties and 10,000 square miles, the size of Maryland.  Although he was away from home for three months at a time on these circuit trips, he enjoyed the time with colleagues.  He also used the time to politick for the Whig party and even took the stump for himself once in a while.

Lincoln’s legal knowledge stood him in good stead during the presidency.  To bring about the end of slavery, he made sure that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 contained the strongest legal text possible.  His past skills in persuading juries were put to the test to convince his skeptical cabinet that it was even possible for the President to issue the document.  Some have argued that it did not free a single slave.  However, Lincoln insisted on issuing it although he admitted it “had no constitutional or legal justification, except as a military measure.”  But the proclamation started the legal process to fulfill his wish that “all men every where could be free.”  It became the most important document of his presidency.

The Taste is in my mouth a little…
- Abraham Lincoln when asked about running for the Presidency in April 1860

Lincoln was elected to a several terms as a state legislator and served one term in Congress.  He argued cases for and against slave holders, and worked as a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad.  Lincoln supported the Whig party and later the Republican Party, politicking for presidential candidates, senators, and the county auditor before running for the Senate himself in 1854 and 1858. In 1858, he ran against Stephen Douglas, his old friend and a rival for Mary Todd’s affections. 

Although Lincoln lost the campaign, the seven debates they held around the state brought him national attention.  In May 1860, at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, he was nominated for President over better known candidates.  Lincoln was elected on November 6, 1860.  For four long years, Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War, and won a second term. Tragically, he was assassinated on April 15, 1865; six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered, effectively ending the Civil War.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the newly formed Illinois Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas was a well-known national politician who attracted attention everywhere.  Lincoln hoped to use some of that fame for himself so he challenged Douglas to a series of debates around the state.  Douglas agreed to seven debates starting in Ottawa in August.  Throughout September and October, they met in Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton.  Huge crowds attended the debates, standing for up to three hours to listen attentively and cheer on their favorite.  The race captured the country’s attention and catapulted Lincoln to national prominence.  However, he did not win the election.

Before the Nomination
In February 1860, Abraham Lincoln traveled to the Northeastern U.S., giving lectures supporting the Republican Party platform.  The 1858 debates gave him recognition and some fame.  Lincoln’s public speaking skills were well known.  However, his plans for running for the Presidency were not.  He was not as well known as the front runners, including William H. Seward, Edward Bates, and Salmon P. Chase.  Lincoln had not decided to run yet, but he hinted at his interest in a letter to U.S. Senator Lyman Trumball in April 1860 when he said, “The taste is in my mouth a little; and this, no doubt, disqualifies me, to some extent, to form correct opinions….Now, as to my opinions about the chances of others in Illinois. I think neither Seward nor Bates can carry Illinois if Douglas shall be on the track.”

When the Republicans held their convention in Chicago in May 1860, Lincoln did not attend, but asked his supporters to try to make him everyone’s second choice.  When the ballots were cast without a majority, he hoped people would switch to their second choice to ensure a candidate most of the party supported.  His gamble worked and he received the nomination. 
The 1860 Campaign
After the Convention, a group of Republican Party delegates visited Springfield on the afternoon of May 19, 1860.  Lincoln met them at his home and invited them into the formal parlors.  When offered the nomination, he asked to have a few days to think about it, and formally accepted four days later.  By then, Springfield was in a frenzy of campaigning.  Artists, photographers, and reporters visited by the score to try to get to know more about him and provide readers with images of Lincoln’s world.  Their images and reports were distributed around the country.  Biographies and even a couple short autobiographies were published.  By this time, 3 other candidates were also running for office.  Stephen Douglas was the Democratic choice, but the party was split along policy and ideological lines and two other candidates, John Breckenridge and John Bell were also nominated.  With this split, Lincoln’s victory was virtually assured.
All through that long hot summer, Lincoln remained mostly in Springfield, developing his plans should he win.  Rallies were held, campaign medals and banners were created and distributed, and Lincoln posed for artists.  The casting made of his face and hands for a bust by Leonard Volk (the hands were probably cast in the dining room of the Lincoln Home) are some of the most reproduced items of his campaign.  Lincoln corresponded with many of his associates from his one term in the House of Representatives in 1847-49, including Alexander Stephens, who later became Vice President of the Confederate States.  He hired two secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, to help answer the letters and telegrams that covered his small desk, finally conceding that he needed a larger, more public space to meet with the public.  He then moved into the Governor’s Office at the State Capitol building.

The Election
On Election Day, November 6, 1860, Lincoln cast his vote at the Court House; worked in his office at the State House; dined at home; waited for results at the telegraph office; and heard of the election results that declared him the winner at Watson’s Confectionery Store downtown.  He ran home saying, “Mary, Mary, We’re elected!!!”  Shortly thereafter, preparations began to move the Lincoln family to Washington.  But in the South, the states began to talk of secession.  Before Lincoln was even inaugurated on March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded.  Civil war began and lasted for four years, ending only days before an assassin’s bullet tragically ended Lincoln’s life.  Lincoln served just over a month of his second term.