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Abraham and Mary Lincoln

Abraham and Mary Lincoln

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Kenneth J. Winkle


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Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

For decades Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s marriage has been characterized as discordant and tumultuous. In Abraham and Mary Lincoln, author Kenneth J. Winkle goes beyond the common image of the couple, illustrating that although the waters of the Lincoln household were far from calm, the Lincolns were above all a house united. Calling upon their own words and the reminiscences of family members and acquaintances, Winkle traces the Lincolns from their starkly contrasting childhoods, through their courtship and rise to power, to their years in the White House during the Civil War, ultimately revealing a dynamic love story set against the backdrop of the greatest peril the nation has ever seen. 

When the awkward but ambitious Lincoln landed Mary Todd, people were surprised by their seeming incompatibility. Lincoln, lacking in formal education and social graces, came from the world of hardscrabble farmers on the American frontier. Mary, by contrast, received years of schooling and came from an established, wealthy, slave-owning family. Yet despite the social gulf between them, these two formidable personalities forged a bond that proved unshakable during the years to come. Mary provided Lincoln with the perfect partner in ambition—one with connections, political instincts, and polish. For Mary, Lincoln was her “diamond in the rough,” a man whose ungainly appearance and background belied a political acumen to match her own. 

While each played their role in the marriage perfectly— Lincoln doggedly pursuing success and Mary hosting lavish political soirées—their partnership was not without contention. Mary—once described as “the wildcat of her age”—frequently expressed frustration with the limitations placed on her by Victorian social strictures, exhibiting behavior that sometimes led to public friction between the couple. Abraham’s work would at times keep him away from home for weeks, leaving Mary alone in Springfield. 

The true test of the Lincolns’ dedication to each other began in the White House, as personal tragedy struck their family and civil war erupted on American soil. The couple faced controversy and heartbreak as the death of their young son left Mary grief-stricken and dependent upon séances and spiritualists; as charges of disloyalty hounded the couple regarding Mary’s young sister, a Confederate widow; and as public demands grew strenuous that their son Robert join the war. The loss of all privacy and the constant threat of kidnapping and assassination took its toll on the entire family. Yet until a fateful night in the Ford Theatre in 1865, Abraham and Mary Lincoln stood firmly together—he as commander-in-chief during America’s gravest military crisis, and she as First Lady of a divided country that needed the White House to emerge as a respected symbol of national unity and power. 

Despite the challenges they faced, the Lincolns’ life together fully embodied the maxim engraved on their wedding bands: love is eternal. Abraham and Mary Lincoln is a testament to the power of a stormy union that held steady through the roughest of seas.


Kenneth J. Winkle is the Thomas C. Sorensen Professor of American History at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of The Politics of Community: Migration and Politics in Antebellum Ohio, The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln, and The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War.


“Winkle explains the strange dichotomy of their relationship: Mary was a strong asset to Lincoln’s career but at the same time proved detrimental.” —Joseph A. Truglio, Civil War News
Abraham and Mary Lincoln by Kenneth J. Winkle descriptively assesses the complex and sometimes controversial marriage of America's ‘First Family’ beginning with their contrasting childhoods, courtship, the ‘lawyer Lincoln’ years, and their White House tenure which ended tragically with the assassination of Lincoln at the close of the Civil War.’ —James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review

"[Winkle] offers a remarkably clear analysis of the antebellum Lincolns as a middle-class household in a period of economic transition, depicting them as a family that both embodied and sometimes challenged Victorian-era conventions. Winkle’s chapters on the wartime period are especially effective as social history and provide a useful companion to Burlingame’s volume on the Lincoln presidency."—Matthew Pinsker, Journal of the Civil War Era

"This is an excellent introduction to the Lincoln marriage, a relationship that Winkle shows revealed Lincoln's character and qualities as fully as the ordeal of war. Thanks to Winkle's wide reading and deep knowledge of nineteenth-century society and culture, we can see, too, how the patterns and outlines of their relationship were remarkably ordinary." —Martin P. Johnson, Journal of Illinois History

“Evenhanded and well researched, Kenneth Winkle’s Abraham and Mary Lincoln is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the Lincolns— both as individuals and as partners. Winkle knows the historical context of their lives and presents their relationship in lively readable prose. This book is a striking success.” —Jean H. Baker, author of Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography 

“Kenneth Winkle’s treatment of Lincoln’s courtship and marriage provides valuable perspective on the distinctive social dynamics of Lincoln’s America.” —Douglas L. Wilson, author of Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words 

“The final words of this superb and balanced study neatly sum up Kenneth Winkle’s own achievement in writing it: he has shed new and original light on ‘a fascinating and enigmatic marriage.’ Winkle chooses no favorites, takes no sides, and eschews psychobabble. The result is an adept look at one of the most closely observed marriages in American history.” —Harold Holzer, chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation

"Kenneth Winkle is one of the top Lincoln scholars in the country and this exploration of the Lincoln marriage is masterful--carefully researched and written, judicious in its analysis and thoughtful about providing context for a complicated and fascinating partnership." —Matthew Pinsker, Pohanka Chair for Civil War History, Dickinson College