LINCOLN, Mary Todd (1818-1882), First Lady. Autograph letter signed ("Mrs. A. Lincoln") to Congressman Nathaniel P. Banks (1816-1894), "Frankfort on the Main, Germany," 4 December 1868. 4 full pages, large 8vo, a small tear mended, a few minor stains, otherwise in good condition.
THE WIDOW LINCOLN, INVOKING "THE REMEMBRANCE OF MY MARTYRED HUSBAND," PLEADS FOR A PENSION
One of the first letters written by Mary Lincoln from Germany. The First Lady had been heavily in debt when she left the White House. Rather grudgingly, Congress had granted her the unpaid portion of her late husband's salary for 1865. This sum proved adequate for a few years, and in the Fall of 1868, on the advice of doctors, she journeyed to Germany, took a room in a modest hotel, placed Tad in a highly regarded school and visited the spas. But even living in "plainest style" placed a strain on her modest means. "The notion that she could live more comfortably and cheaply abroad was dispelled in short order; if anything, she was more painfully conscious of her limited means than ever before" (Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 490-491). At this juncture, Mrs. Lincoln learned of a bill granting her a pension, to be introduced in Congress in January 1869. "Long before that date, Mrs. Lincoln was back in harness, lobbying for herself," and "composed a series of letters to individual congressmen and one to the Senate as a body, mining the old veins of her husband's sacrifice and of her straightened circumstances." (Ibid.) She writes, "Suffering from ill heath caused by great mental distress, by the advice of physicians, I have come over to Germany, to place my son in school here & to endeavor by change of climate to have my condition a little improved. I am now ordered to the South of Europe, but with my limited income, cannot go without Congress will kindly grant me a small pension, say $3,000 a year. Surely, the remembrance of my martyred husband, will cause them to remember his widow in her ill health and sorrow!"
She appeals to Banks: "Will you not dear General, use your great influence & have Congress grant me a pension? Pardon me for thus troubling you, only the necessities of the hour, the great expenses I am called upon to encounter in this strange land, where they are harboring the idea that Congress has bestowed a pension upon me & money is nothing to me--alas! Alas! How different it is! The smallest sum spent by me has to be so rigidly considered! And physician's bill, hotels bills, living in the plainest style are so formidable to those who have so little to expend. I almost doubt my own identity, when I think over the present & the time when the smallest wish was anticipated by a most indulgent husband!" In closing, she again pleased with Banks to his support: "Hoping you will exert your influence & feeling assured your noble heart will cause others to feel as you do...."
Her correspondent, N.P. Banks (1816-1894), was a Democrat, former Union general and Massachusetts Governor, now a Massachusetts Congressman. In private letters during the war, Mary Lincoln had dismissed him as "a weak failure, over-rated, and a speculator." Published (excerpt only) in Turner and Turner, p.492.