Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge
An Old Salem Romance
The story of the love of Abraham Lincoln for Ann Rutledge and the overwhelming grief of Lincoln when Ann died was told by William H. Herndon in 1866 and afterward. His story has been confirmed by all the early biographers and by nearly all the leading writers on the life of Lincoln since that time.
A BIT ABOUT ANN RUTLEDGE
Ann Mayes Rutledge was born near Henderson, Kentucky, on January 7, 1813. Ann was 3 of 10 children born to Mary Ann Miller Rutledge and James Rutledge. In 1829, her father, along with John M. Cameron, founded New Salem, Illinois.
|A likeness of Ann Rutledge by artist and historian George S. Stuart was created from her physical description mentioned in historical records. No known painting of Ann Rutledge exists from life.|
The story goes that Ann Rutledge was engaged to marry John MacNamar, a dubious character who left for New York and promised to marry her upon his return. Ann was eighteen years old when Abraham Lincoln arrived in New Salem late in July 1831. Rutledge and Lincoln met after this and supposedly fell in love. While MacNamar was away Ann promised to marry Lincoln after MacNamar released her from their betrothal. For a time Rutledge and MacNamar exchanged letters, but his letters became more formal and "less ardent in turn" and eventually ceased completely. MacNamar never returned before her death.
Many of the facts of her life are lost to history, but many historians believe that she was the first love of Abraham Lincoln. The exact nature of the Lincoln–Rutledge relationship has been debated by historians and non-historians since 1865.
In 1835, a wave of typhoid hit the town of New Salem. Ann Rutledge died at the age of 22 on August 25, 1835.
WILLIAM H. HERNDON LECTURE, 1866
"Abraham Lincoln loved Miss Ann Rutledge with all his soul, mind, and strength. She loved him dearly, tenderly, and affectionately. They seemed made in heaven for each other, though opposite in many things."
Herndon states in the same lecture that after Ann's death:
"He sorrowed and grieved, rambled over the hills and through the forests, day and night. He suffered and bore it for a while like a great man—a philosopher. He slept not, he ate not, joyed not. This he did until his body became emaciated and weak, and gave way.... In his imagination he muttered words to her he loved ... Love, future happiness, death, sorrow, grief and pure and perfect despair, the want of sleep, the want of food, a cracked and aching heart, and intense thought, soon worked a partial wreck of body and of mind ..."Did this dread calamity, of which I have spoken, crush him and thus modify, if it did not change, his nature? ... He got well and bade adieu, for a short season, to Bolin's kind roof and generous hospitality. Mrs. Bolin Green still lives, etc."
HERNDON'S LINCOLN 1889
The most astonishing and sad sequel to this courtship was the disastrous effect of Miss Rutledge's death on Mr. Lincoln's mind. It operated strangely on one of his calm and stoical make-up. As he returned from the visit to the bedside of Miss Rutledge, he stopped at the house of a friend, who relates that his face showed signs of no little mental agony. ''He was very much distressed/' is the language of this friend, "and I was not surprised when it was rumored subsequently that his reason was in danger." One of Miss Rutledge's brothers says: "The effect upon Mr. Lincoln's mind was terrible. He became plunged in despair, and many of his friends feared that reason would desert her throne. His extraordinary emotions were regarded as strong evidence of the existence of the tenderest relations between himself and the deceased." The truth is Mr. Lincoln was strangely wrought up over the sad ending of the affair. He had fits of great mental depression and wandered up and down the river and into the woods woefully abstracted — at times in the deepest distress. If, when we read what the many credible persons who knew him at the time tell us, we do not conclude that he was deranged, we must admit that he walked on that sharp and narrow line that divides sanity from insanity. To one friend, he complained that the thought "that the snows and rains fall upon her grave filled him with indescribable grief." He was watched with special vigilance during damp, stormy days under the belief that dark and gloomy weather might produce such a depression of spirits as to induce him to take his own life.
When we read what the many credible persons who knew him tell us, we do not conclude that he was deranged, we must admit that he walked on that sharp and narrow line that divides sanity from insanity. To one friend, he complained that the thought "that the snows and rains fall upon her grave filled him with indescribable grief."
... His condition finally became so alarming his friends consulted together and sent him to the house of a kind friend, Bowlin Greene, who lived in a secluded spot hidden by the hills, a mile south of town. Here he remained for some weeks under the care and ever-watchful eye of this noble friend, who gradually brought him back to reason or at least a realization of his true condition.
HERNDON AND WEIK THE TRUE STORY
OF A GREAT LIFE 1892
The courtship with Anne Rutledge and her untimely death form the saddest page in Mr. Lincoln's history. I am aware that most of his biographers have taken issue with me on this phase of Mr. Lincoln's life ... I knew Miss Rutledge myself, as well as her father and other members of the family, and have been personally acquainted with every one of the score (a score=20) or more of witnesses whom I at one time or another interviewed on this delicate subject. From my own knowledge and the information thus obtained, I, therefore, repeat that the memory of Anne Rutledge was the saddest chapter in Mr. Lincoln's life ...
Lincoln used to escort her to and from these quilting bees, and on one occasion even went into the house — where men were considered out of place — and sat by her side as she worked on the quilt ...
Although the attachment grew and daily became an intense and mutual passion, the young lady remained firm and almost inflexible. She was passing through another fire. A long struggle with her feelings followed, but at length, the inevitable moment came. She consented to have Lincoln, provided he gave her time to write to John MacNamar and obtain his release from her pledge ... To one of her brothers, she said: "As soon as his studies are completed, we are to be married." ... Late in the summer, she took to her bed. A fever was burning in her head. Day by day, she sank until all hope was banished. During the latter days of her sickness, her physician had forbidden visitors to enter her room, prescribing absolute quiet. But her brother relates that she kept enquiring for Lincoln so continuously, at times demanding to see him, that the family, at last, sent for him. On his arrival at her bedside, the door was closed, and he was left alone with her. What was said, vows, and revelations made during this sad interview, were known only to him and the dying girl. A few days afterward, she became unconscious and remained so until her death on the 25th day of August 1835. She was buried in what is known as the Concord graveyard, about seven miles northwest of the town of Petersburg.
Books, Interviews, Letters & Manuscripts
"Life on the Circuit with Lincoln"
Henry C. Whitney 1892
"But the most important factor in the shaping of Mr. Lincoln's career and destiny, except his alliance with Mary Todd, was his infatuation for the gentle and guileless Ann Rutledge and its tragical denouement. To William H. Herndon, are we indebted for a full exposition of this life drama in a lecture delivered in 1867, and, given its effect upon Mr. Lincoln's character, it ought to be better understood than Lincoln's biographers seem willing that it should be.
"By reference to the pen sketch of New Salem, at its center, will appear the site of a hotel and two stores opposite. They are all gone now, and their very location could scarcely be traced. Yet within the radius of a few feet of this spot was enacted a drama which changed the whole current of Lincoln's nature, from a light-hearted and blithesome to a misanthropical and melancholy man; which aroused and brought to the surface the latent melancholy and depression which he inherited from his ancestry; which fastened upon and ingrained in his nature that frequent desire for solitude, and those habits of deep and earnest reflection which were the basis of his greatness and uniqueness.
"To my mind, the life and death of Ann Rutledge was not a misadventure, or in vain; but that when the veil is withdrawn from the things that are now hidden, the existence and being of this modest and unobtrusive girl of an obscure hamlet, will be hailed as one of the agents of Destiny in the salvation and regeneration of the nation."
"Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln"
Henry C Whitney
After telling the story much in the same manner as it has been told, Whitney says: Lincoln was completely prostrated and unnerved by the death of his fiancee. He took it so deeply to heart that the universal pity which had animated all breasts for the "loved and lost" was transferred to him. His friends condoled with him and tried, by every mode, to mitigate his sorrow ... His grief did not abate, and it was feared that he would be bereft of his reason. When storms would come, he would grow nervous and almost frantic ... He would steal away to the little graveyard and sit and commune with the dead for hours. His friends deemed it unsafe to leave him alone and, by strategy, induced him to stay at his old friend Bowlin Greene's till time and reflection should assuage his grief. The device measurably succeeded; he grew less excitable and less passionate in his grief and settled down to a chronic condition of apparently hopeless despair. He would sit by himself in solitude, apparently dominated by his grief, a habit he exhibited at intervals through life. He would wander off alone with no apparent aim or object and would occasionally break out in meaningless soliloquy — a habit which never left him, and of which I furnish examples in my "Life on the Circuit with Lincoln."
"The Life of Abraham Lincoln"
Ward H. Lamon 1872
"Ann told me once." says James M. in a letter to R. B. Rutledge, in coming from a camp meeting on Rock Creek, "that engagements made too far ahead sometimes failed; that one had failed (meaning her engagement with John MacNamar) and gave me to understand, that, as soon as certain studies were completed, she and Lincoln would be married."
In the summer of 1835, Ann showed unmistakable symptoms of failing health, attributable, as most of the neighborhood believed, to the distressing attitude she felt bound to maintain between her two lovers. On the 25th of August, in that year, she died of what the doctors chose to call "brain-fever/' In a letter to Mr. Herndon, her brother says, "You suggest that the probable cause of Ann's sickness was her conflicts, emotions, etc. As to this, I cannot say. I, however, have my own private convictions. The character of her sickness was brain fever (typhoid today)." A few days before her death, Lincoln was summoned to her bedside. What happened in that solemn conference was known only to him and the dying girl. But when he left her and stopped at the house of John (Sonee) Jones on his way home, Jones saw signs of the most terrible distress in his face and his conduct. When Ann died and was buried, his grief became frantic: he lost all self-control, even identity consciousness, and every friend he had in New Salem pronounced him insane, mad, crazy. "He was watched with special vigilance/' as William Green tells us, "during storms, fogs, damp, gloomy weather, for fear of an accident." At such times he raved piteously, declaring, among other wild expressions of his woe, 'I can never be reconciled to have the snow, rains, and storms to beat upon her grave' !"
About three-quarters of a mile below New Salem, at the foot of the main bluff, and in a hollow between two lateral bluffs, stood the house of Bowlin Greene, built of logs and weather-boarded. Thither the friends of Lincoln, who apprehended a total abdication of reason, determined to transport him, partly for the benefit of a mere change of scene, and partly to keep him within constant reach of his near and noble friend, Bowlin Greene ... Greene came for him, but, Lincoln was cunning and obstinate, it required the most artful practices of a general conspiracy of all his friends to "disarm his suspicions," and induce him to go and stay with his most anxious and devoted friend. But at last, they succeeded; and Lincoln remained down under the bluff for two or three weeks, the object of undisguised solicitude and of the strictest surveillance. At the end of that time, his mind seemed to be restored, and it was thought safe to let him go back to his old haunts — to the study of law, to the writing of legal papers for his neighbors, to pettifogging before the justice of the peace, and perhaps to a little surveying. But Mr. Lincoln was never precisely the same man again. At the time of his release, he was thin, haggard, and careworn — like one risen from the verge of the grave. He had always been subject to fits of great mental depression, but they were more frequent and alarming after this. It was then that he began to repeat, with a feeling which seemed to inspire every listener with awe and to carry him to the fresh grave of Ann at every one of his solemn periods, the lines entitled, "Immortality; or, Oh! Why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" ...
After Mr. Lincoln's election to the Presidency, he one day met an old friend, Isaac Cogdale, who had known him intimately in the better days of the Rutledges at New Salem. "Ike," said he, "call at my office at the State House about an hour by sundown. The company will then all be gone."
Cogdale went according to request; "and sure enough," as he expressed it, "the company dropped off one by one, including Lincoln's
"After we had spoken over old times," continues Cogdale — 'Persons, circumstances — in which he showed a wonderful memory, I then dared to ask him this question:
'May I now, in turn, ask you one question, Lincoln?'
'Assuredly, I will answer your question, if a fair one, with all my heart.'
'Well, Abe, is it true that you fell in love and courted Ann Rutledge?'
'It is true — true: indeed I did. I have loved the name of Rutledge to this day. I have kept my mind on their movements ever since and love them dearly.'
'Abe, is it true,' still urged Cogdale, 'that you ran a little wild about the matter?'
'I did, really. I ran off the track. It was my first. I loved the woman dearly. She was a handsome girl; would have made a good, loving wife; and was natural and quite intellectual, though not highly educated. I did honestly and truly love the girl and often think of her now."
A lecture delivered by William H. Herndon at Springfield in 1866 contained the main outline, without the minor details, of the story here related. It was spoken, printed, and circulated without contradiction from any quarter. It was sent to the Rutledges, McNeeleys, Greenes, Short, and many other of the old residents of New Salem and Petersburg, with particular requests that they should correct any error they might find in it. It was pronounced by them all truthful and accurate. Still, their replies, together with a mass of additional evidence, have been carefully collated with the lecture, and the result is the present chapter. The story of Ann Rutledge, Lincoln, and MacNamar, as told here, is as well proved as the fact of Mr. Lincoln's election to the Presidency.
Testimony of New Salem Folks
Robert B. Rutledge's Letter to
William H. Herndon, 1866
In 1830, my sister was seventeen years of age, and a stranger, calling himself John McNeill, came to New Salem. He boarded with Mr. Camron and was keeping a store with Samuel Hill. A friendship grew up between McNeill and Ann, which resulted in an engagement to marry. McNeill's real name was MacNamar. It seems that his father had failed in business, and the son, a very young man, had determined to make a fortune, pay off his father's debts and return him to his former social and financial standing. With this view, he left his home secretly to avoid pursuit by his parents and changed his name. His conduct was strictly honest and moral, and his object, whatever anyone may think of the deception which he practiced in changing his name, entirely praiseworthy. He prospered in business, and pending his engagement to Ann, he revealed his true name, returned to Ohio to relieve his parents from their embarrassment, and to bring the family with him to Illinois. Several years have elapsed on his return to Ohio, he found his father in declining health, and perhaps the family's circumstances prevented his return to New Salem. At all events, he was absent for two or three years. In the meantime, Mr. Lincoln paid his addresses to Ann and continued his visits and attentions regularly. These resulted in an engagement to marry, conditional to an honorable release from the contract with Mr. MacNamar. There is no doubt as to the existence of this engagement. David Rutledge urged Ann to consummate it, but she refused until such a time as she could see MacNamar, inform him of the change in her feelings, and seek an honorable release. Mr. Lincoln lived in the village. Mr. MacNamar did not return, and in August 1835, Ann sickened and died. The effect upon Mr. Lincoln's mind, as described by many eyewitnesses, was terrible. He became plunged in despair, and many of his friends feared that reason would desert him. His extraordinary emotions were regarded as strong evidence of the tenderest relations between himself and the deceased. MacNamar returned to Illinois in the fall after Ann's death.
JOHN SONEE'S NOTE TO WILLIAM H. HERNDON.
OCTOBER 22, 1866
As to the relation existing between Mr. Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, I have every reason to believe that it was of the tenderest character, as I know of my own knowledge that he made regular visits to her. During her last illness, he visited the sick chamber and, on his return, stopped at my house. It was very evident that he was plunged in deep distress. Subsequently, it was feared that reason threatened to desert her throne. It was generally understood that Mr. Lincoln and Ann Rutledge were engaged to be married. She was a very amiable and lovable woman. It was deemed a very suitable match and in every way worthy of each other.
"LINCOLN AND SALEM"
T. G. ONSTOTT, 1902
"When Mr. Lincoln boarded at the Rutledge Tavern, Harvey Ross also put up there as often as he passed through Salem. It was a hewn log house, two stories high, with four rooms above and four below. It had two chimneys with a large fireplace and not a stove in the house. The proprietor was James Rutledge, a man of more than ordinary ability and with his wife kind and hospitable. They had a large family of eight or nine children, and among them, their daughter, Anna, celebrated in song and story as Lincoln's sweetheart. She was several years younger than Lincoln, of medium size, weighing 125 pounds, and had flaxen hair. She was handsome, attractive, as well as industrious, and sweet-spirited. It was seldom that she was not engaged in some occupation — knitting, sewing, or waiting on the table. I think she did the sewing for the family. Lincoln was boarding at the tavern and fell deeply in love with the gentle Annie, and she was no less in love with him. They were engaged but had been putting the wedding off for a while as he wanted to accumulate a little more property, and she wished to attend school a while longer. Before the time had arrived when they were to be married, Miss Annie was taken down with typhoid fever and lay dangerously sick for four weeks. Lincoln was an anxious and constant watcher at her bedside. The sickness ended in death, and young Lincoln was heartbroken and prostrated. The histories have not exaggerated his pitiful grief, for he could not attend to business for quite a while. I think his whole soul was wrapped up in that lovely girl. It was his first love, the holiest thing in life, the love that cannot die. The deepest gloom settled over his mind. He would often say to his friends, 'My heart is buried in the grave with that dear girl/ He would often go and sit by her grave and read from a little pocket testament which he carried with him. What he read I know not, but I'll warrant you it was, 'Let not your heart be troubled' or John's vision on the Isle of Patmos with Anna among the white-robed throng, where sickness, sorrow, pain, and death are feared no more; where death is unknown. One stormy night he was at the house of a friend, and as rain and sleet came down on the roof, he sat with bowed head and tears trickling down his cheeks. His friends begged him to control his grief. 'I cannot/ said he, 'while storm and darkness are on her grave.' Anna Rutledge was of gentle blood and would have made him a noble wife in his humble years and in the imperial afterlife.
David Rutledge, a brother of Anna, took a course at Jacksonville college and then went to Lewistown and studied law in the office of L. W. Ross and Jno. T. Boice. He afterward married Miss Elizabeth Simms, and moved to Petersburg, and opened up a law office. He was a bright and promising young lawyer and undoubtedly would have made his mark but for his untimely death. He was buried by the side of his sister in the cemetery. His widow married C. W. Andrus, a prominent merchant of Havana.
The Rutledge family stood high in the country. Anna's father was a South Carolinian of high birth. One of his ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence. Another was chief justice of the Supreme Court under Washington's appointment. A third was a conspicuous leader in congress. So Lincoln's boyhood love was of high and gentle birth."
HISTORY OF MENARD COUNTY
R. D. MILLER, 1905
In the spring of 1831, Abraham Lincoln was on his way to New Orleans with a flatboat loaded with pork, lard, beeswax, etc., when the boat caught on the New Salem milldam. At this time, Lincoln bored an auger hole in the bottom of the boat to let the water out, which caused great respect for him from the citizens of New Salem who were gathered on the river bank watching the attempts to get the boat over the dam. Mr. Lincoln was much pleased with the country, and on his trip home from New Orleans, he stopped at New Salem and remained there until 1837.
"From the few old citizens who could remember (1905) these events distinctly and especially from old Aunt Jane Berry, younger sister of Ann Rutledge, I learned many facts concerning the life of Mr. Lincoln that are interesting in themselves and go to establish the truth of the affection between him and Miss Rutledge; ... suffice it to say that there is no doubt that if she had lived his domestic history would have been different from what it was ... the two were doubtless pledged in the indissoluble bonds of mutual love but in 1835 disease laid its cruel hand on the young girl and despite the love of friends and the skill of the ablest physicians on the 25th of August, 1835, death came to her relief and as Mr. Herndon has said: 'The heart of Lincoln was buried in the grave of Ann Rutledge/ Be this literally true or not, one thing is sure, from that time a dark shadow seemed to hang over him from which he never seemed to emerge. It is said by those having the means of knowing that ever after this, whenever opportunity afforded, Lincoln would wander alone to the little hillock raised above her ashes and sit for hours pondering in sadness ...
Mary Berry, Daughter of
John M. Berry, Rock Creek Preacher
On an occasion shortly after Ann's death, while Lincoln was visiting at the James Rutledge home on Sandridge, in passing through the room where Ann died, he was so overcome with emotion that he stood by the window and sobbed bitterly. Ann's mother — Aunt Mary, as she was called — went to him and, putting her arm upon his shoulder, told him not to let his grief over Ann's death destroy him or spoil his life, but to go on and fulfill the high promise the future had in store for him.
"Lincoln at New Salem"
Thomas R Reep, 1927
"Learning that no communication had come from MacNamar to Ann for some time after she should have heard from him, and believing, with the inhabitants of the village, that MacNamar would not return to fulfill his vows to Ann Rutledge, Lincoln felt that he could break the seal of silence placed upon his lips by his sense of honor. So, when on one of their walks about the village, Ann indicated her belief in the falseness of MacNamar and expressing her fast ebbing regard for him, Lincoln declared his love and urged his suit with all the force of a long-repressed passion, yet in gentle words coming out of his great and sympathetic heart. From this time on, the principal object of Lincoln in life was to win the love of Ann Rutledge. At every opportunity he sought to be with her; on her way to and from Sunday School; at church; at the old well near the inn, and infrequent strolls over the hills and grassy vales about New Salem, and later at her home on Sandridge, they wandered in their lover's walks until Ann Rutledge came fully to understand the greatness of the love offered her by this simple-hearted, great-souled man, and to return that love."
"In the spring of 1835, Lincoln returned to New Salem and to Ann Rutledge and took up his duties of postmaster and surveyor, resuming the study of law with greater vigor than ever. Ann had her plans completed to attend school at Jacksonville the coming year, and Lincoln was to be a candidate again in August 1836, and, if fortune smiled upon him, they were to be married that autumn. Lincoln made frequent visits to the Rutledge home on Sandridge, and Ann had frequent occasion to visit New Salem, and at such times, except when he was away surveying, she met Lincoln. The Rutledge family were friendly to his suit, and David, Ann's younger brother, was Lincoln's friend and champion."
"The world was bright and pleasant to Abe Lincoln and Ann Rutledge and every passing day brought the time for the consummation of their love nearer, when, in the last days of July 1835, Ann was attacked by a slow fever from which she sickened and was soon confined to her bed."
"Ann gradually grew worse, and feeling that the end was not far off, she asked for Lincoln, and he was sent for. It is now impossible to determine whether her cousin, McGrady, or her brother, David Rutledge, was sent after him. Lincoln was away doing a job of surveying that was quite urgent but hurried to Ann's bedside as soon as he received the word. The family retired from the parlor and left them alone together. What was said by everybody leaving, without saying a word, Ann and Lincoln knew what was not said. An hour later, Lincoln was seen to leave the room, his head bowed with grief, his shoulders shaking with sobs, and the tears streaming down his cheeks. Shortly afterward, Ann Rutledge died and was buried in the little graveyard on the land of Samuel Berry, near the home of her uncle, William Rutledge, and Lincoln was disconsolate. From her funeral, he returned to New Salem, bowed down with grief. Deserting the haunts of men, he wandered about over the hills and through the woods and by the river banks. He did not eat nor sleep. His friends, becoming alarmed at his condition and fearing for his reason, found him and took him to the home of Bowlin Green, who took him in and gave him a room. Aunt Nancy, Green's wife, mothered him and carried him sympathy and food until the poignancy of his grief was assuaged, and he came to himself again. His was too strong a character to give up wholly to despair, and, as time passed, he became his old self once more, yet his life thereafter was "somehow different."
"The Women Lincoln Loved"
By William E. Barton
It is just possible that some feeling of loyalty to her parents made Ann Rutledge desirous of not needlessly offending John MacNamar. The Rutledge tavern was a financial failure. The money which the Camerons and Rutledges had received in exchange for their farms had not availed to save their New Salem investment. The Rutledges had to give up the tavern in the fall of 1834. Where could they go? John MacNamar was not occupying or cultivating any of his farms. He was letting them lie peacefully out-of-doors and gaining their daily unearned increment while he tarried in New York State at some unknown but doubtless profitable undertaking. Whoever represented him locally in the payment of taxes and a little of necessary business permitted the Camerons to move back into their old double log house on Sandridge and occupy it as tenants by courtesy. And there the Rutledges joined them, both families living in the Cameron home.
This was the situation in the fall of 1834, and up to the time of the family's removal from New Salem, Ann was still looking for her letter. Sam Hill and Abraham Lincoln grew very interested in Ann's desire for a letter, and suddenly they discovered that they both were caring for Ann.
We do not know whether they proposed to her individually, but she made her preference apparent in some unmistakable manner. She no longer loved MacNamar, and as between prosperous Sam Hill and his tall, awkward, raw-boned clerk, she preferred Abraham Lincoln. Women make strange choices ...
"Besides his stepmother, who was a plain, God-fearing woman, he had not known many others until he came to live in New Salem. There he had made the acquaintance of the best people the settlement contained, and among them had become much attached to a young girl named Ann Rutledge, the daughter of one of the proprietors of the place. She died in her girlhood, and though there does not seem to have been any engagement between them, he was profoundly affected by her death."
These two sentences, or three, omitting the one that introduces the subject, are all that Nicolay and Hay say of Ann Rutledge in all of their ten thick volumes. https://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/p/abraham-lincoln.html
This reticence is in striking contrast with the freedom that other biographers have taken with the incident, and we may as well learn the whole truth about it if this is now possible ...
The summer of 1835 was one of unusual sickness. Typhoid malaria is what it might be called now. Ann was sick, and so was her father. And both died. She died August 25, 1835, in the Cameron house, then owned by John MacNamar. She was buried, doubtless on the following day, in the old Concord Cemetery, about a mile away from the Cameron house and quite a different place from the present Concord Churchyard ...
About one matter, we have a clear tradition, which comes through McGrady Rutledge, Ann's cousin: that he went to New Salem, informed Lincoln of Ann's serious sickness, and that Lincoln rode over about a fortnight before her death and visited her. What they said to each other, no one knows.
Ann Rutledge died, and we have no reason to doubt that Lincoln's sorrow was sincere, but he was speedily in love again, and again and still again. No one in New Salem suspected that he had loved Ann Rutledge with an incurable affection ...
Mr. Marsh, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, wrote to his brother George in that place, under the date of September 17, 1835, only a few days after the death of Ann Rutledge. He tells of receiving his brother's letter and about the carelessness of the postmaster, Mr. Lincoln, who, however, is a "clever fellow" and a friend of Marsh. He counted on Lincoln's personal friendship to save him the postage cost, and he was not in error on that point. The letter bears Abraham Lincoln's handwriting on the outer side of the sheet. Lincoln addressed the letter and wrote this frank:
"Free, A. Lincoln, P. M. New Salem, 111., Sep. 22."
Neither Marsh nor anyone else in New Salem anticipated that Lincoln would be incapacitated for business, and he was not incapacitated. A few days after he had franked the Marsh letter, Lincoln surveyed a piece of land that Mr. Marsh had purchased from Bowlin Green. The survey is in the Barrett collection. Lincoln made the survey carefully, drew the plat accurately, computed the tract's area with a clear mind, and wrote it all down in a firm hand.
On November 10 of the same year, he wrote a remarkably discriminating letter to Governor Duncan, asking for a recommendation which was his right as a member of the Legislature, and from December 7, 1835, till January 8, 1836, he was back in Vandalia attending to his duties as a member of the Legislature. And not a single soul in New Salem or Vandalia made any record then or for decades afterward that Abraham Lincoln had gone crazy over the death of Ann Rutledge.
If Lincoln needed any other cure than work and politics for such despondency as he had over Ann Rutledge in the fall of 1835, he probably had it. The best cure known to medical science for hypochondria is malaria. To burn with fever one day and sit on the next with chattering teeth is to take one's mind off all his other troubles. And when he recovers from malaria, he is likely to be thankful enough for that recovery to forget that he ever worried about anything else. In the fall of 1835, Lincoln had chills and fever. We are not certain that he needed this cure, but he had it.
We are greatly indebted to Lincoln's third and last law partner, William H. Herndon, for his invaluable knowledge of Abraham Lincoln. We also have somewhat against him on the score of prejudice and bad taste. After the death of Lincoln, he was accustomed to going to Petersburg when the court was in session there and picking up a few cases. He boarded with his brother-in-law, whose name was Miles. He had to pay only for what he drank ...
It has been assumed by most, if not all, writers on the romance of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge that if she had lived, she and Abraham Lincoln would have married and lived happily ever after. Herndon himself thought that and believed that such a match would have been unfortunate for Abraham Lincoln. He was by nature an indolent man, loving ease and unmolested comfort. Suppose he had had a tenderly affectionate wife, free from outbursts of passion, making home alluringly comfortable. In that case, Abraham Lincoln might have yielded to her seductive charm, have become a well-domesticated and uxorious husband, and never have gone far in political life.
Herndon thought it well that Ann did not live to make Lincoln as affectionate a wife as she would probably have made him ...
We do not know what would have happened if Ann Rutledge had lived. But as Herndon has set the example by telling us that her love would have ruined Abraham Lincoln by making him a too affectionate and attentive wife, we, knowing almost nothing about her, may now safely rest our conjectures on our knowledge of Abraham Lincoln.
Rev. William E. Barton, D.D.
November 15, 1930
Yours very truly,
Dear Mr. Rennick:
I thank you for your letter of invitation. I regret that I shall not be able to attend your meeting. But you may count me in hearted sympathy with the movement.
You are at liberty to quote the portion of the Chapter in The Women Lincoln Loved submitting the same to my publisher Bobbs-Merrill Co. I will gladly accept any arrangement which they deem right.
(Signed) Wm. E. Barton.
Robert E. Barton
7 Thompson Place
Larchmont, New York
December 13, 1930
Dear Mr. Rennick:
Undoubtedly, you have read of my father's death, Dr. William E. Barton, on December 7. Among the papers he had at the hospital, I found your letter of November 11, which he was unable to answer.
I am sure he would gladly give you permission to use extracts from his works (assuming only that proper credit was given), but since his books are all copyrighted, I suggest that you get his publishers' permission Bobbs-Merrill.
We intend to maintain Father's wonderful Lincoln collection and to add to it, and I shall be very grateful if you will send me, for this purpose, a copy of your report when it is published. In fact, we will always be grateful to Father's Lincoln friends for helping us to build up the collection, which meant so much to him.
(Signed) Robert E. Barton.
"Sketch of the Life of Abraham Lincoln"
Isaac N. Arnold, 1869
There is a tradition that while residing at New Salem, Mr. Lincoln entertained a boy's fancy for a prairie beauty named Ann Rutledge. Mr. Irving, in his life of Washington, says: "Before he (Washington) was fifteen years of age, he had conceived a passion for some unknown beauty, so serious as to disturb his otherwise well-regulated mind, and to make him really unhappy/' Some romance has been published concerning this early attachment of Lincoln, and gossip and imagination have converted a simple, boyish fancy, such as few reach manhood without having passed through, into a "grand passion." It has been produced in a form altogether too dramatic and highly colored for the truth. The idea that this fancy had any permanent influence upon his life and character is purely imaginary. No man was ever a more devoted and affectionate husband and father than he.
"The Life of Abraham Lincoln"
Isaac N. Arnold, 1884
In this edition, Arnold quotes the Herndon story and gives an account of the inability of Lincoln to proceed with the funeral oration over the grave of Bowlin Green. He also confirms the conversation between Lincoln and Isaac Cogdale. He then adds: "Her beauty and attractions, and her early death, made a deep impression upon him. He idealized her memory, and in his recollections of her, there was a poetry of sentiment, which might possibly have been lessened had she lived, by the prosaic realities of life."
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
"Abraham Lincoln and the Abolition of Slavery"
Charles Godfrey Leland, 1879
Lamon relates, at full length, that at this time, Lincoln was in love with a young lady who died of a broken heart in 1835, not, however, for Lincoln, but for another young man who had been engaged to and abandoned her. At her death, Lincoln seemed for some weeks nearly insane and was never the same man again. From this time, he lost his youth and became subject to frequent attacks of intense mental depression, resulting in that settled melancholy that never left him.
"Life of Lincoln"
Charles Carleton Coffin, 1893
It is a pleasure to labor because Ann Rutledge has come into his life. Never before have the spring birds been so joyful, the days so bright, the nights so calm and peaceful, the vault of heaven so lit with stars, or the air so perfumed with flowers ... August 25, 1835, Ann Rutledge enters the life eternal, and all that is mortal of her is borne to its resting-place. He is stunned by the loss and walks as in a dream. He spends the night beside her grave, heeding not the chilling wind or driving storm.
"I cannot bear to have the rainfall upon her," etc. He is overwhelmed by grief. His friends are alarmed and seek to divert his thoughts ... Little does Bolin Green know what service he is rendering to the world when he takes Abraham Lincoln to his home. It is only a log cabin, but kindness and sympathy are tenderly given within its walls until reason is once more enthroned. Years pass, but the kindness is never forgotten. When at last this benefactor passes away, and Abraham Lincoln, crowned with honor, stands by the burial casket, he cannot give utterance to the words he fain would speak in commemoration of his friend. His eyes fill with tears; with tremulous lips, he turns away, unable to control his emotions.
120 East Nineteenth Street
February 5, 1931
My Dear Mr. Rennick:
I have your letter of February 2nd, telling of the book on Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge which you are preparing. You have my permission to use anything that I may have written on the subject, providing, of course, that proper credit is given to the publishers of the books or magazines from which you make the extracts.
Have you seen a fictional account of this story I published in Collier's Weekly for February 1930—fiction, yet I think there is not a line of it, but what is based on documents that I consider trustworthy.
When your book is issued, could I get a copy of it? I am putting my Lincoln material together for my old College, and I would like to add everything of this kind that comes up.
Very truly yours,
(Signed) Ida M. Tarbell.
"The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln"
Ida M. Tarbell, McClure's Magazine, 1896
"The death of Ann Rutledge plunged Lincoln into the deepest gloom. That abiding melancholy, that painful sense of the incompleteness of life, which had been his mother's dowry to him, asserted itself. It filled and darkened his mind and his imagination, tortured him with its black pictures. One stormy night he was sitting beside William Greene, his head bowed on his hand, while tears trickled through his fingers; his friend begged him to control his sorrow, to try to forget. "I cannot," Lincoln said, "the thought of the snow and rain on her grave fills me with indescribable grief."
"He was found walking alone by the river and through the woods, muttering strange things to himself. He seemed to his friends to be in the shadow of madness. They kept a close watch over him, and at last, Bowlin Green, one of the most devoted friends Lincoln then had, took him home to his little log cabin, half a mile north of New Salem, under the brow of a big bluff."
"Here, under the loving care of Green and his good wife, Nancy, Lincoln remained until he was once more master of himself."
"But though he had regained self-control, his grief was deep and bitter. Ann Rutledge was buried in Concord Cemetery, a country burying ground seven miles northwest of New Salem. To this lonely spot, Lincoln frequently journeyed to weep over her grave. 'My heart is buried there,' he said to one of his friends."
Mrs. Jeane Berry made a statement which Miss Tarbell, in 1896, says has been preserved in a diary kept by the Rev. R. D. Miller, now Superintendent of Schools of Menard County. She declared that Ann's "whole soul seemed wrapped up in Lincoln" and that they "would have been married in the fall or early winter" if Ann had lived. "After Ann died," said Mrs. Berry, "I remember that it was common talk about how sad Lincoln was, and I remember myself how sad he looked. They told me that every time he was in the neighborhood after she died, he would go alone to her grave and sit there in silence for hours."
"In the Footsteps of the Lincolns"
Ida M. Tarbell, 1924
In 1924 'In the Footsteps of the Lincolns," Miss Tarbell says: ''But if we have no authority for saying that Lincoln Vent insane' after Ann Rutledge's death, we have every reason to believe that he had received a blow which changed his outlook on life."
This is the fire that would consume our dross,
Refine and make us richer by the loss.
"Abraham Lincoln, The Man of the People"
Norman Hapgood, 1899
"Whatever the causes, almost all who ever knew Lincoln well believed that the death of Ann Rutledge was an aggravation of the morbid tendency/' He makes practically the same statement as many others regarding Lincoln's grief and extreme distress.
William Eleroy Curtis, 1903
Lincoln's sorrow was so intense that his friends feared suicide. At this time, the profound melancholy he is believed to have inherited from his mother was first developed. He never fully recovered from his grief and, even after he had been elected President, told a friend, "I really loved that girl and often think of her now, and I have loved the name of Rutledge to this day."
"The Every Day Life of Abraham Lincoln"
Francis E, Browne, 1913
Francis E. Browne confirms the statements made by Herndon, Lamon, and others.
Brand Whitlock 1916
"After her death (referring to Ann Rutledge), there settled upon him a terrible despondency. He wandered alone in the woods along the Sangamon River that fall and winter, almost crazed with sorrow. 'The very thought of the rains and snows falling upon her grave filled him with indescribable grief/ His friends watched him, and at last, when on the very verge of insanity, Bowling Green took him to his home, nursed him back to health, and the grief faded to that temperamental melancholy which, relieved only by his humor, was part of the poet there was in him, part of the prophet, the sadness that so early baptized him in the tragedy of life, and taught him pity for the suffering of a world of men."
"The Love Affairs of Washington and Lincoln"
Elton Raymond Shaw 1923
"It was at this time that Lincoln made the greatest spiritual transition of his life, under the most severe mental and emotional strain. He endured the strain, and he came forth a purified soul from the discipline of love, but he carried the mark all his life."
"The death of Ann Rutledge drove Lincoln into a condition verging toward insanity. His friendship with Ann had meant everything to his life. It was his first contact with real Christian civilization."
He then quotes Herndon and puts his stamp of approval upon what Herndon said, and the author further comments: "Ann Rutledge was gone, but the love remained and would not depart. It was elevated into universality, a love for all humanity and that endured."
Long, long be my heart with such memories filled!
Like the vase in which roses have once been distilled.
You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will,
But the scent of the rose will cling to it still.
Nathaniel Wright Stephenson, 1922
"Sweet Ann Rutledge, the daughter of the tavernkeeper, was his first love. But destiny was against them. A brief engagement was terminated by her sudden death late in the summer of 1835 ... Its significance for after-time is in Lincoln's 'reaction.' ... A period of violent agitation followed. For a time, he seemed completely transformed ... In his place was a desolated soul, etc.," and repeats the information gathered by Lamon, Herndon, and Rankin.
I've paced much this weary, mortal round,
And sage experience bids me this declare
If Heaven a draft of heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In others, arms breathe out the tender tale
Beneath the milk whitethorn
That scents the evening gale.
Albert J. Beveridge 1928
"Neither Ann nor Abraham, it would seem, displayed any precipitancy of passion. James Short, who lived within half a mile of MacNamar's farm while the Rutledge family lived there and whom Lincoln 'came to see ... every day or two' knew nothing of love-making, much less of an engagement. Thus the affair wore on until the summer of 1835 when Ann Rutledge had 'brain fever (typhoid today).' She grew steadily worse and, realizing that she would die, asked to see Lincoln and her brother David, then a student in Illinois college. ... He must have shown distress, for James Short concluded that Lincoln's melancholy was due to love or an engagement, although he had heard of neither It would appear, indeed, that nobody told MacNamar of a love affair between Lincoln and Ann. 'I never heard any person say that Mr. Lincoln addressed Miss Ann Rutledge in terms of courtship neither her own family nor my acquaintances otherwise. I heard simply from two prominent gentlemen of my acquaintance of personal friends that Mr. Lincoln was grieved very much at her death.'"
"Abraham Lincoln Travelled This Way"
Fred L. Holmes 1930
Holmes confirms the statements of Herndon and others. This work is commended by Glenn Frank, President of the University of Wisconsin.
True love's the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the heaven.
—Sir Walter Scott
There's Something About Miss Ann Rutledge
Period Authors, Players, and Stories
William H. Herndon was a cousin of James and Rowan Herndon, who kept store in New Salem. William F. Berry purchased the interest of James Herndon in 1832, and a little later, Lincoln purchased the interest of Rowan. Lincoln had boarded with Rowan Herndon previous to that time, and it was there that he first met William H. Herndon, who was later to be his law partner for twenty years. William H. Herndon was seventeen years old when Ann Rutledge died. He knew all the Rutledges, including Ann. He was much impressed by her death and the grief it caused Abraham Lincoln, who was engaged to be married to her. He knew that Lincoln was a member of the Legislature, Captain of a company in the Black Hawk War, and a leading citizen of New Salem and respected him accordingly. After the death of Ann Rutledge, Herndon knew that Lincoln's friends had induced him to go to the home of Bowling Green, about three-quarters of a mile north of the village, and that these good friends cared for him for two weeks or so. He remembered later that it was an undisputed story that Lincoln had wandered in the woods for many days after the death of Ann; that on many dark and stormy nights he had gone to her grave to weep; that he had called Nancy Green, Ann; that for a while he seemed to be a mental and physical wreck.
Before making his lecture in 1866, Herndon wrote out all the facts as he remembered them. He then interviewed all the persons who had knowledge of these facts, including Lincoln's love for Ann and the effect of her death upon Lincoln. It was thirty-one years after the death of Ann Rutledge that Herndon made his lecture. Twenty years of that thirty-one, Herndon had been the law partner of Abraham Lincoln and probably his most intimate friend. It is quite understandable that a person like Herndon, knowing of this romance and the sad experience of his friend, would desire to know more about it. We have no evidence of conversations between Herndon and Lincoln regarding this love affair. Still, it would be hard to believe that there were no such conversations during the twenty years of that intimate association. Yet, we must remember that Lincoln was more reserved than most of us comprehend.
We know that after the death of Lincoln, Herndon concluded to lecture on the life of this man whom he knew so well; and that he went to Petersburg and other places to interview every person whose testimony would be of any value in arriving at the truth of the statements that he was to make. He made particular inquiry regarding the story of the love of Lincoln for Ann Rutledge and the effect that her death had upon him. After he had written his lecture, he furnished his statements of this romance and tragedy to all the Rutledges living and old neighbors of the Rutledges for confirmation and correction. His statements were confirmed to the extent of the memory of these relatives and friends of Ann.
In 1889 with the assistance of Jesse W. Weik, Herndon published his recollections of Abraham Lincoln, repeating his story of the love of Abraham Lincoln for Ann Rutledge and the grief of Lincoln when death took her away. His lecture had been criticized for its frankness, and in repeating the story, he gave his critics another opportunity to find fault with him and to refute the statements he had made twenty-three years before that time. In 1893 another edition of Herndon and Weik's life of Abraham Lincoln, "The True Story of a Great Life," was published in 1866, and the story of 1889 of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge was retold. After each edition and his lecture, we find many critics, but no one to refute his statements or disprove the romance or the details of the tragedy. The critics had ample opportunity to point out any error in the story of 1866 and the story in the biography of 1889, but the main facts of this story remained undeniable. There were many material witnesses alive in 1866. There were many material witnesses alive in 1889. There were many material witnesses alive in 1893.
In 1866, and for a considerable time thereafter, Herndon had the opportunity to interview practically all the persons who knew about Lincoln's infatuation for Ann Rutledge and his terrible grief when she died. Robert B. Rutledge wrote Herndon a letter in 1866, a copy of which has been furnished me by Thomas P. Reep of Petersburg, Illinois. Robert was seventeen years old when Ann died and, therefore, forty-eight years old in 1866. In his manuscript, he gave his own memory of Lincoln's love and terrible grief and submitted the statements he had made regarding those much-discussed happenings to his mother. Herndon also had an interview with Ann's sister, Sarah Rutledge Saunders, and John Sonee, a favorite neighbor of the Rutledges at whose house Lincoln stopped after leaving the bedside of Ann. He had heard through another the statement of Bowling Green and Nancy Green, who nursed Lincoln back to health and sanity, and the statements of Dr. John Allen, who "ministered to his sick soul as well as his body." He talked to Henry Onstott, who moved into the Rutledge Inn when the Rutledges moved out to Sandridge in 1833. In the cooper shop of Henry Onstott, Lincoln read by the light of the burning knots and shavings.
Herndon tells in his lecture of Lincoln's transcendent joy in his love for Ann Rutledge and his terrible grief over her death. He tells us that Lincoln gained control of himself; that within two weeks, he was nursed back to sanity by Bowling Green and his wife, Nancy. However, he must have been mourning and sobbing in November and December of that year as he said more than once that he could not bear to think of the rain and snow falling on her grave. As a rule, snow does not fall in August or September, or even October in this latitude. We find no comment of any unusual weather in these months of 1835. It is generally agreed that Lincoln stayed with Bowling Green "for two or three weeks."
When Herndon makes a statement in his discussion of this romance and tragedy, we should remember that he knew Ann and her relatives and neighbors and that even his critics have endorsed him as being the greatest authority on the life and character of Abraham Lincoln. It must be remembered that from the time he was admitted to the Bar to the time of the death of Abraham Lincoln, he was Lincoln's law partner and closest friend.
Isaac Cogdale learned directly from Lincoln that he "truly loved the girl" and that he "went a little wild" upon the occasion of Ann's death. Herndon learned this from Cogdale, Lamon learned this from Herndon and also from Cogdale. Herndon says, "the most astonishing and sad sequel to this courtship was the disastrous effect of Miss Rutledge's death on Mr. Lincoln's mind." He considers the effect strange "on one of his calm and stoical makeup." Herndon heard from many sources and had direct testimony that Lincoln, while wracked with sobs, said to William Green that he "shuddered at the thought of the rain and snow" falling on Ann's grave.
Though sad, this love story was of no national importance until one of the characters became the great President, Emancipator, and Martyr. Added to Lincoln, the war president, was Lincoln the Emancipator, Lincoln the great individual. All of these characters were magnified and glorified when, at the height of his victory, the hand of the assassin took away his life. This was a great tragedy. Not only the people of the United States but the people of all the world were hungry to learn every detail of the life of this great man who had met such a tragic death.
There might be others who could speak of Lincoln, the President; Lincoln, the Emancipator; Lincoln, the Whig; and Lincoln, the Republican; but the story of Lincoln, the lawyer; and Lincoln, the surveyor; and Lincoln, the lover of Ann Rutledge, must be written by people of Illinois; or at least, the facts upon which to base the story must be furnished by the people of Illinois. The story of Lincoln's development from the crude boy to the lawyer and legislator, and Lincoln the lover of Ann Rutledge, must come from New Salem, which we now reverently call Old Salem.
When Lincoln was nominated for President, the people knew nothing about his ancestry and very little about his early life. The world knew little of his development and education until after he had passed away from earth. However, William H. Herndon knew the story of Lincoln's early years—the toiling in the forest, the hunger for knowledge, his reading by the burning shavings in Onstott's cooper shop in New Salem, his surveying, his election to the Legislature, his love for Ann Rutledge and the effect of her death upon him. Herndon concluded to lecture upon the life of Lincoln, and it would have been difficult to have found anyone better fitted to tell the story of Lincoln's life from the time he was twenty-two years of age until he left Springfield for Washington. He knew the story, but before writing his lecture, or at least before delivering it, he investigated all the statements that he had written out.
All Lincoln biographers and most Lincoln students know the story of Henry C. Whitney and Abraham Lincoln. Judge Davis, Leonard Swett, and others were his companions at many evening chats and story-telling parties on the old Eighth Circuit. Still, Lincoln and Whitney roomed together and slept together. They were close friends. From among his old friends in Illinois, Lincoln took Ward Lamon and Henry C. Whitney with him to Washington, not alone to fill the offices to which they were appointed but to have them near him so he could confer with them. I am asking the readers who have been kind enough to pursue these lines this far to read again Whitney's chapter on Ann Rutledge in his publication of 1892, "Life on the Circuit with Lincoln," and also the chapter on Ann Rutledge in his publication of 1907, "Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln." Whitney was one of the high-minded, dignified attorneys of the Old Eighth Circuit.
Many years ago, on Lincoln's birthday in Springfield, fifteen or more men who knew Lincoln gathered together. Bunn, Thayer, Dr. Jayne, and other well-known intimate friends of the Martyred President were there. These men were unanimous in the opinion that Whitney was able, honest, and truthful; that he was a man of high character. I highly cherish the words of these men who brought to the present generation the information that could come only through these particular men. For two or three hours, either in a large group or in small groups, these men who had the authority and the information that would justify them in passing upon the books of the various writers discussed not only Whitney but Herndon, Lamon, and others. With such a recommendation, it might be well to let Whitney speak for himself. We remember that Whitney was intimately acquainted with Abraham Lincoln long before Lincoln became a national character. We also remember that the friendship of Whitney and Lincoln continued until the hand of the assassin placed the name of Lincoln among the names of the Martyrs of the world.
Whitney's statements must have great weight. Jesse W. Weik, in his individual work on Abraham Lincoln, gives us the following letter, which Henry C. Whitney wrote to Herndon: "You saw Lincoln as he was and know him far better than all other living men combined. Armed with such knowledge, it follows that you know better than others how to delineate him. You have the acuteness of vision that we attribute to Lincoln; you acquired much of his analytical power by attrition, and you thought deeply as he did. He had unbounded confidence in your intuitions and your adhesion to him. I shall never forget the day—January 6, 1859—" when Lincoln said, " 'Well, whatever happens, I expect everyone to desert me now, but Billy Herndon'."
Weik began a correspondence with Herndon early in the Seventies, which ended only with Herndon's death. Weik had five hundred pages of Herndon's manuscript in his possession.
When Ward H. Lamon speaks in "The Life of Abraham Lincoln," published in 1872, he speaks from the manuscripts of Herndon, after confirming the facts in these manuscripts and from additional information gathered by himself. He had talked with Isaac Cogdale and had learned from him that Lincoln had told Cogdale in 1861 that he loved Ann Rutledge and that he 'Vent a little wild when she died/* Lamon was a close friend of Lincoln and undoubtedly knew the truth of the statements that Herndon had made. It would be a surplus of words to repeat what he has said.
Whitney, Weik, and Lamon should be good character witnesses for Herndon. If it can be established that Herndon was truthful, then his story must stand without criticism. It may be that both Herndon and Lamon were fond of whiskey, but that is not the subject under discussion. Writers and students of today, as a matter of fact, can know nothing about the life of Abraham Lincoln in New Salem except that which we can learn from the documents before us. Herndon's training would give him sufficient experience to make the investigations he claims to have made. In the letter quoted above, Whitney wrote to Herndon that there was no one so well equipped to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. Lamon expressed his confidence in Herndon in various ways.
Robert B. Rutledge, in his letter to Herndon in 1866, above referred to, states that the effect of Ann Rutledge's death on Lincoln's mind, "as described by many eyewitnesses, was terrible. He became plunged in despair, and many of his friends feared that reason would desert him."
John Sonee, in his letter of October 22, 1866, to William H. Herndon, states, among other things, in referring to Lincoln's visit to Ann Rutledge: "During her last illness he visited the sick chamber and on his return stopped at my house. It was very evident that he was plunged in deep distress. Subsequently, it was feared that reason threatened to desert her throne."
T. G. Onstott, the son of Henry Onstott, who moved into the Rutledge Inn when the Rutledges moved to Sandridge in the fall of 1833, says that after the death of Ann Rutledge, "Lincoln was heartbroken and prostrated. The histories have not exaggerated his pitiful grief, for he could not attend to business for quite a while. I think his whole soul was wrapped up in that lovely girl. It was his first love, the holiest thing in life, the love that cannot die. The deepest gloom settled over his mind."
R. D. Miller, in his "History of Menard County," published in 1905, endorses the story of Herndon about the love of Lincoln for Ann Rutledge and the effect that her death had upon him. "The heart of Lincoln was buried in the grave of Ann Rutledge," is quoted from Herndon, and he then follows with this statement: "Be this literally true or not, one thing is sure, from that time a dark shadow seemed to hang over him from which he never seemed to emerge. It is said by those having the means of knowing that ever after this, whenever opportunity afforded, Lincoln would wander alone to the little hillock raised above her ashes and sit for hours pondering in sadness ... "
Mary Berry, daughter of the Rev. John M. Berry, the Rock Creek preacher, states in "Rock Creek—A Retrospect of One Hundred Years": "On an occasion shortly after Ann's death, while Lincoln was visiting at the James Rutledge home on Sandridge, in passing through the room where Ann died, he was so overcome with emotion that he stood by the window and sobbed bitterly. Ann's mother —Aunt Mary, as she was called—went to him and, putting her arm upon his shoulder, told him not to let his grief over Ann's death destroy him or spoil his life, but to go on and fulfill the high promise the future had in store for him."
Thomas P. Reep spent many years gathering facts concerning Lincoln's life in New Salem from 1831 to 1837. With great energy and natural ability and with the assistance of everyone in and about Petersburg who knew the history of New Salem, he gathered all the information obtainable which would show the daily life, the development, and the character of this man that had carried the name of New Salem to every part of the civilized world.
Lincoln was an intimate friend of Thomas F. Dowell, the grandfather of Thomas P. Reep. Mr. Dowell came to New Salem in 1826. The mother of Thomas Reep was born five miles northwest of New Salem. Lincoln often visited the house of Mr. Reep's grandfather and had much affection for Mr. Reep's mother when she was a small child. The mother of the wife of Thomas Reep was the daughter of Nancy Armstrong McHenry, who was a sister of Jack Armstrong. In many ways, Mr. Reep and Mrs. Reep are connected with the characters and the history of New Salem. It would be a great advantage in making an investigation of the story of Lincoln's life in New Salem if the writer might obtain the facts he seeks from persons who are closely related to him. The writer of "Lincoln at New Salem" began his investigations long before 1918, the date of the publication of the first edition of his book. He also had before him the original letter of Robert B. Rutledge to William H. Herndon, which was written in 1866, and the letter of John Sonee written in the same year. He also had a letter from James McGrady Rutledge, a cousin of Ann; a letter from Mrs. Sarah Rutledge Saunders, a younger sister of Ann Rutledge, addressed to Thomas P. Reep and dated May 10, 1918. He also had the interview with Mary Berry, which is published in "Rock Creek—A Retrospect of One Hundred Years" and the writings of Rev. R. D. Miller, who spent a long and useful life in the ministry and schools of Menard County and for nearly a quarter of a century, Superintendent of the Schools of Menard County. In addition to that, he had the writings of T. G. Onstott, whose father moved into the Rutledge Inn in 1833. Although T. G. Onstott was a small child in 1833, his residence in this historic house would create an interest in the affairs of New Salem and in the man who was the greatest character that New Salem produced. He would doubtless make diligent inquiry in later years into the history of this man's life. Reep talked with Andrew MacNamar, son of John MacNamar; with Mrs. Emma Rutledge Houghton; Mrs. Mary Rutledge Moore; Mrs. Louisa Clary; Mrs. Parthena Jane Shipp, one of Mrs. Reep's relatives; John Armstrong, son of Jack; Mrs. Samuel Hill; and every other person who could give him direct information regarding any facts about which he was inquiring and any facts that might be connected with Lincoln's life in New Salem.
Surely Mr. Reep's investigations are of great value in determining the truth or falsity of Mr. Herndon's statements. If you read "Lincoln at New Salem," you will have little doubt regarding the truth of Herndon's statements of Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge and the terrible effect her death had upon him.
Dr. William E. Barton in "The Women Lincoln Loved/' published in 1927, praises Herndon's ability as a biographer and recognizes his great opportunity to know the facts, but disagrees with Herndon's story of Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge or the terrible effect that Ann Rutledge's death had upon Lincoln. The writer has great respect for the work of Dr. Barton and his wonderful contributions to Lincoln's biographies and Lincoln literature. Too much cannot be said in favor of his splendid article in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society of 1929. It would be presumptuous on my part to criticize Dr. Barton. Therefore, I am submitting his comments upon the Lincoln-Rutledge romance and tragedy with his permission and the permission of Bobbs-Merrill Company, the publisher of his book.
Dr. Barton quotes something over one hundred words from Nicolay and Hay, which refers to the romance and tragedy under discussion, and says: "This reticence is in striking contrast with the freedom which other biographers have taken with the incident." These one hundred words are as follows: "Besides his stepmother, who was a plain, God-fearing woman, he had not known many others until he came to live in New Salem. There he had made the acquaintance of the best people the settlement contained, and among them had become much attached to a young girl named Ann Rutledge, the daughter of one of the proprietors of the place. She died in her girlhood, and though there does not seem to have been any engagement between them, he was profoundly affected by her death."
With the knowledge that Nicolay and Hay were private Secretaries to President Lincoln, that they were part of the Lincoln official family, that they were loyal to the Lincoln household, we are quite surprised that they mentioned his early romance. Every Lincoln student is fully informed about the opposition of the Lincoln family to the mention of this story. When either Nicolay or Hay felt warranted in saying that Abraham Lincoln was much attached to Ann Rutledge and that "he was profoundly affected by her death," the romance and tragedy must have been of considerable importance. It must have been important that Nicolay and Hay felt compelled to mention the courtship and Lincoln's sadness. The fact that they even mentioned it is worth serious consideration.
Isaac N. Arnold was a member of Congress, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and spent many years in historical research. In his "Sketch of the Life of Abraham Lincoln," published in 1869, in referring to the "boyish fancy" of Abraham Lincoln for Ann Rutledge, he says: "The idea that this fancy had any permanent influence upon his life and character is purely imaginary.'' Yet in "The Life of Abraham Lincoln," published in 1884, he confirms Herndon's story of this romance and tragedy. He also confirms the conversation between Lincoln and Isaac Cogdale. Between 1869 and 1884, he had had an opportunity to interview many persons whose testimony he could not question. In the book last mentioned above, in discussing Ann Rutledge and Abraham Lincoln, he says: "Her beauty and attractions, and her early death, made a profound impression upon him. He idealized her memory, and in his recollections of her, there was a poetry of sentiment, which might possibly have been lessened had she lived, by the prosaic realities of life."
The older members of the Chicago Historical Society have testified to the energy with which Arnold made investigations while engaged in historical research. He was one of the many who desired to eliminate the story of Ann Rutledge and Abraham Lincoln in New Salem, hoping or believing that the story was not true and yet willing to brush the story aside even though it were true. Mary Todd Lincoln and the Lincoln family frowned upon the story. Members of the Lincoln administration and members of the Lincoln household were not willing to discuss the story. Many of them did not believe that this story belonged in a biography of Lincoln or in any story of the life of Abraham Lincoln. Many students know that Arnold was included in this group. Arnold began his investigation of the Lincoln-Rutledge story to refute it. The evidence he obtained compelled him to believe the statements that Herndon made in his lecture of 1866, showing Lincoln's great love for Ann and the terrible grief her death caused him. This would seem to be an unusual bit of evidence. A man of ability and honor had formed his opinion but, after a more thorough investigation, decided against his first opinion and agreed with the statements made by Herndon.
Charles Godfrey Leland in "Abraham Lincoln," published in 1879, endorses Lamon's story of romance and tragedy. In "Abraham Lincoln, Abolition of Slavery," published in 1879, he tells of the love of Lincoln for Ann Rutledge and says: "At her death, Lincoln seemed for some weeks nearly insane, and was never the same man again."
Charles Carleton Coffin, in his "Life of Lincoln" published in 1893, endorses the Herndon statements referred to and adds: "Never before have the spring birds been so joyful, the days so bright, the nights so calm and peaceful, the vault of heaven so lit with stars, or the air so perfumed with flowers ... August 25, 1835, Ann Rutledge enters the life eternal, and all that is mortal of her is borne to its resting-place. He is stunned by the loss and walks as in a dream. He spends the night beside her grave, heeding not the chilling wind or driving storm."
From 1893 to 1896, with the prestige of the McClure Magazine and with the assistance of J. McCan Davis of Illinois, Ida M. Tarbell investigated as fully as possible Herndon's account of the Lincoln-Rutledge romance and tragedy. Miss Tarbell's stories of Lincoln have been appreciated not only for their literary qualities but also because of her great ability to separate the statements based upon facts from those that are mere inventions. Many of the persons whom Herndon interviewed were dead when Miss Tarbell made her investigations, yet many material witnesses were alive in 1893 to 1896. Among them were Nancy Armstrong McHenry, Parthena Hill, James McGrady Rutledge, and Sarah Rutledge Saunders.
Herndon had an opportunity to interview practically all of the persons whose testimony would either prove or disprove the love story of Ann Rutledge and Abraham Lincoln; but Tarbell, Onstott, Miller, and one or two other writers had an opportunity to interview a number of persons who knew the story directly or had heard it from members of the family and friends of the Rutledges who were living in New Salem in 1835. T. G. Onstott, Rev. R. D. Miller, and Thomas P. Reep grew up in the vicinity of New Salem and heard the story of this love affair and the tragic sequel from many persons. From every interview, they obtained practically the same information—that Lincoln was deeply in love with Ann Rutledge, that Ann died and that her death had such a terrible effect upon Lincoln that he wandered in the woods for days, that his friends found it necessary to care for him, that he told William Green and others that he could not bear to think of the rain and snow falling on Ann's grave, that he called Nancy Green, Ann, that for two weeks at least he was seemingly a mental and physical wreck. Herndon heard much of this in 1835 and in the years that followed. He knew the traditions. The Herndon story has been accepted by nearly every writer that came after him.
Norman Hapgood, in his "Abraham Lincoln, the Man of the People," published in 1899, makes practically the same statement as Herndon and adds: "Whatever the causes, almost all who ever knew Lincoln well believed that the death of Ann Rutledge was an aggravation of the morbid tendency," William Eleroy Curtis in "The True Abraham Lincoln" published in 1903 says: "Lincoln's sorrow was so intense that his friends feared suicide."
William Eleroy Curtis, in "The True Abraham Lincoln," published in 1903, says: "Lincoln's sorrow was so intense that his friends feared suicide."
Francis E. Browne in "The Every Day Life of Abraham Lincoln," published in 1913, confirms the statements made by Herndon, Lamon, Leland, Tarbell, and others.
Brand Whitlock, after a full investigation of the story of Abraham Lincoln's love for Ann Rutledge and his indescribable grief over her death, in his "Abraham Lincoln" published in 1916, by Small, Maynard, and Company, confirms the Herndon story of this romance and tragedy. His last paragraph can hardly be misinterpreted. In speaking of Lincoln, he says: ''His friends watched him, and at last, when on the very verge of insanity, Bowling Green took him to his home, nursed him back to health, and the grief faded to that temperamental melancholy which, relieved only by his humor, was part of the poet there was in him, part of the prophet, the sadness that so early baptized him in the tragedy of life, and taught him pity for the suffering of a world of men."
Those who are acquainted with Brand Whitlock would not expect him to be deceived or misled when making an investigation in any historical field. He knew what constituted evidence and knew how to weigh it.
In "The Love Affairs of Washington and Lincoln, " Elton Raymond Shaw," published in 1923, says: "It was at this time that Lincoln made the greatest spiritual transition of his life, under the most severe mental and emotional strain. He endured the strain, and he came forth a purified soul from the discipline of love, but he carried the mark all his life." He also gives full endorsement to the statements of Herndon that we have under discussion.
Nathaniel Wright Stephenson in his "Lincoln," published in 1924, endorses the statements of Herndon that we have been discussing, and in speaking of Lincoln's grief, he says: "Its significance for after-time is in Lincoln's 'reaction.' ... A period of violent agitation followed. For a time, he seemed completely transformed. ... "
Albert J. Beveridge, in his "Abraham Lincoln," published in 1928, devotes but little space to the Lincoln-Rutledge romance and the grief caused by the death of Ann. He refers to Robert B. Rutledge's letter to Herndon, "Lincoln at New Salem" by Thomas P. Reep, a letter from James Short to Herndon, a letter from Caleb Carmen to Herndon, Mrs. Bowling Green's statement in the manuscript of George U. Miles, which was forwarded to Herndon, statement of William Rutledge in the Miles manuscript. A true copy of the Rutledge letter to Herndon in 1866 is included in these pages and makes comments unnecessary. The statements of Sarah Rutledge Saunders, John Sonee, and Mary Berry are also included in these pages. All the other references mentioned have no particular bearing on the case under discussion.
Beveridge states that neither Ann nor Abraham, it would seem, displayed any precipitancy of passion. He also says James Short, who lived within half a mile of Mc- Namar's farm while the Rutledge family lived there and whom Lincoln came to see every day or two, knew nothing of love-making, much less of an engagement. Further on, Beveridge says in referring to Lincoln: "He must have shown distress, for James Short concluded that Lincoln's melancholy was due to love or an engagement, although he had heard of neither."
It might be possible that many persons, including Mr. Short, knew nothing of the love affair between Ann and Lincoln. We would not ask such persons to give testimony. We usually inquire of persons who have knowledge of the happening of a certain event. There might be many serious-minded people in and around New Salem who would consider it entirely beneath their dignity to pay any attention to the courtship or love of a young man and young woman of the age of Lincoln and Ann.
I would expect only the best from Mr. Beveridge on any subject. The author of the "Life of John Marshall" could hardly fail in writing any biography. I say this after a close personal friend of many years, and I will not criticize his quotations and paragraphs in which he discusses this romance and tragedy. However, it would seem that this part of the biography makes reference to only a few persons who might be called as material witnesses and omits the names of many whose letters and manuscripts are the best items of documentary evidence that can be offered.
As we have stated before, Norman Hapgood and Francis E. Browne have accepted Herndon's story and Lamon's story, and quite a long list of others have depended entirely upon Herndon for information regarding the Rutledge-Lincoln romance and tragedy. In a fascinating work, which is very highly commended by the President of the University of Wisconsin, Fred Holmes depends entirely upon Herndon, Lamon, Whitney, and other investigators for his information regarding the early life of Abraham Lincoln.
In his "Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years," Carl Sandburg, called by many a prose poem, tells a beautiful story of Lincoln's love in New Salem; but as a matter of course, he must rely upon the testimony of others.
If a court of inquiry were established and investigators were appointed to bring in all the evidence to prove the truth or falsity of Herndon's statement, they could do little else than what has already been done by many writers. Many documents exist that should be competent to prove or disprove the statements of Herndon. I think it is generally agreed by all persons who have made these investigations that Herndon's statement was truthful, that he, more than any other man, had the will and the opportunity and the energy to gather the information that enabled him to write his lecture in 1866 and his stories of 1889 and 1893.
Chopin's music is said to be inspired by his love for Poland, and his sorrow over her tragedies, and the mingling of this love and sorrow became an element in his life. Many painters reflect in their paintings the life and love of the painter. We have read of what inspired Heinie's mind and soul and made him a great poet. We know where Riley obtained his inspiration for some of his verses because he has told us. We know where Mark Twain received the inspiration that influenced his thoughts and viewpoints because he has told us. We know what influenced Hubbard in many of his paragraphs. Many authors have given us information that they believe influenced the man inside the frail body of Poe. Victor Hugo, when a boy made a journey through the revolting French provinces and saw men hanging on improvised gallows. In some of his books, we read the tragedies of that early day again. Every reader will probably remember one or more persons who, in the cold days of winter, for the first time, looked in upon a family of little children without food or clothing or warmth; and how this person became transformed, reorganized, gained an understanding, found heart's eyes with which to see and heart's ears with which to hear. Hundreds of volumes of the awakening of men, young and old, could be written in connection with the relief of individuals of suffering humanity. The songs of singers have become sweeter and more powerful to reach the hearts of others because of love and sorrow. The man inside of the musician must sometimes be awakened by strong emotion before he has reached his greatest power of interpretation. Handel's manuscript wet with tears, drenched with tears, is an oration, a poem, a book of philosophy. There are latent energies and latent talents that need awakening. We will not presume to tell of such cases, as the reader is fully informed of a sufficient number. Helena, the mother of Constantine, was led to the love of Christ, and a wonderful story and memorable history follow. The task of defining love and separating it from other kinds of infatuation is not mine. The books of philosophy, psychology, poetry, and history are full of definitions. More than one man has gone gladly to his death with smiles and songs because of love; the martyrs for the love of God or love of Christ, or love of country.
I am not thinking of the infatuations, intrigues, alliances, mesalliance, state marriages, and morganatic marriages in the court of the Louis', the court of Cathryn of Russia, the court of Henry VIII, and other places similar to these.
When selecting quotations or timidly commenting on the true love of some good man for some good woman, I am not thinking of the abovementioned relations. I do not think there would be any controversy if I were brave enough to say that all the softening influences in men's lives come from mothers, wives, and sweethearts. The name of a woman must be added to make an intelligent definition of home. The crusty old bachelor finds a woman and love, and the transition comes. Ask one of those classes, if you will. I am not privileged to call the name of a notable writer of more than national distinction who has lately married and become the defender of charitable and relief societies against which he had railed for years. It is nothing new to attempt, by analysis and investigation, to find the development of certain traits or elements in a man's life; the birth of certain ideas, the history of the awakening of some emotion, the awakening of love for mankind.
Lincoln inherited a large body and great physical strength. He developed his strength by toiling in the forests and by other manual labor. When he was given work as a bowman on a flatboat, he added something to his experience and advancement. His journey from Central Illinois to Decatur was an adventure and added to his education. His trip to New Orleans was a greater event to him then than a trip around the world if he were living now. He learned much in New Orleans and received impressions that lasted throughout his life. He read Murray's English Reader, the Bible, Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe, The Pilgrim's Progress, A History of the United States and Weems' Life of Washington, and probably the Revised Statutes of Indiana and possibly some other books before he came to New Salem. He knew nothing of music, painting, poetry, little of literature, little of women, and nothing of love. He had known two women well—his mother, who died when he was nine years old, and his stepmother. He loved the memory of both. While they were uneducated, as the word is commonly used, they were honest and kind in the judgment of the pioneer people of that day. They may not have been gentle, but they were kind.
When Lincoln came to New Salem, he met many of the same people he had known before and another class he had not known. He learned much from Jack Kelsoe, who lived near the head of Main Street in New Salem when Kelsoe recited poetry to him. He learned from Dr. John Allen many things that helped organize the man inside, and much from Mentor Graham, William Green, and others. The songs he heard added to the combination of elements that would finally produce the mature Lincoln. He had ambition while he was in Indiana, and he had more ambition after he came to New Salem—not for work but for advancement and learning and political position. When he first came to New Salem, Mentor Graham called him to serve as an election clerk, and he became popular at once because of his stories. He outwrestled the champion wrestler of Sangamon County. He learned something of power from his popularity among his fellows and from his victory over the rough and tough men of the community. With the aid of the Clary boys, he was elected Captain of the local military company after a spirited contest with another candidate. He asked for this election, and he expressed great joy over his victory. He learned to command. His adventure in the war was training, education, and some idea of the responsibility of power. He showed his character by stopping his company from killing a friendly Indian who had taken refuge in the white men's camp.
He came home and took up his campaign for election to the Illinois General Assembly, which he had started before enlisting in the Black Hawk War. He was then twenty-three years old. He received nearly all the votes of New Salem and the surrounding country but was defeated. Both the campaign and the defeat added something to his knowledge, the solution, the great compound of strength, honesty, kindness, and other elements that built his character.
When he returned from the war, he went to board at the Rutledge Inn, and his experiences there were new. He met strangers more often and had a closer association with the resident and the traveler than he had had at Rowan Herndon's. But most important of all, he met Ann Rutledge, the daughter of the Innkeeper. He was greatly attracted to her. It was quite evident to the other people at the Inn. He learned that she was engaged to John MacNamar, or properly John MacNamar, and therefore, because of his high ideals and his honesty, refrained from telling her of his love. After the lapse of some two years without Ann's hearing from MacNamar, Lincoln offered to assist her in finding out why he did not write or what had become of him. Ann told him that MacNamar knew where she was, and if he did not care to write to her, she no longer cared for him. It was then that Lincoln declared his love.
Ann promised to marry Lincoln as soon as she could obtain her release from MacNamar and probably as soon as she had spent a season at school in Jacksonville. Lincoln was thrilled with this new happiness. He had never known a girl with the culture and beauty of Ann. Lincoln belonged to the poor people of Kentucky, the poor people of Indiana, and the pioneers of Illinois. He was descended from worthy ancestors, but he did not know it. Ann belonged to an illustrious family. Her father was a man of considerable education. One of her ancestors was made Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Washington, another signed the Declaration of Independence, and another was a leading Congressman from Tennessee. Then came beautiful days, golden hours, happiness supreme, the joy of which he never dreamed. He was so infatuated with Ann that he followed her from place to place, "even to quiltings where men were not welcome." He was criticized by some of his best friends because of his infatuation. Did this great love put a new element into his life? Has it been proven that great emotions arouse the latent talents within men? You will answer these questions as you will. No one may answer them for you.
On August 25, 1835, Ann died. Some accounts say she died from 'brain fever (typhoid today).' Her brother makes this statement. Some say she died of fever and ague. Some say she died from a conflict of emotions—loving Lincoln but worrying over her neglect by MacNamar and his failure to write to her and her duty in the matter. We need not discuss her love for MacNamar or the cause of her death in attempting to show the effect it had upon the mind and heart of Abraham Lincoln. It is generally admitted that Lincoln loved Ann Rutledge with an all-consuming love and that when she died, there came to his anguish and bitter sorrow to a surprising degree, as Herndon says, to a man of "his calm and stoical makeup."
He had seen the world filled with beauty. The pioneer town had become a paradise. The birds had sung him their sweetest songs. His heart was hardly large enough to hold the love he had. Then the night fell. For him, the world had crashed. All things beautiful had faded away, and his heart was filled with the bitterest anguish and woe. Did Abraham Lincoln have his emotions stirred and deeply stirred because of this great uplifting emotion followed by what to him was the most terrible calamity of his life? There was exultation and dreams because of the great emotion, and there was bitterness and darkness, soul-wracking grief, because of the great catastrophe. His whole soul must have been stirred to its depths upon each occasion. Every latent talent trait or element must have had an opportunity to be aroused to its greatest possibility. After years, when Abraham Lincoln wept over the death of the soldiers who fell on the field of battle and sobbed beside the bedside of the sick boys in the hospitals, it was the same Abraham Lincoln who had wept at the grave in the Old Concord Cemetery, the same Abraham Lincoln who went forth into the world bearing his sorrow in silence, his heart filled with love for his fellows and pity for all suffering humanity. There must have been a regeneration. He must have learned many things that could not have been learned in the calm days of politics and stories, surveying and toiling in the timber. This knowledge surely must have raised him above everyday affairs, purified his soul, exalted the spiritual side of his life, and developed a character that made him the kindliest memory of the land. As many have said, accounted for the poet, the Samaritan, the man of love and pity and gentleness that the world knew.
Old Salem should be a holy place. It is said that Salem means "peace." Salem should mean many things besides. Old Salem took a boy uneducated, uncultured, a crude giant, and sent him forth into the world a man of unusual mental ability, a philosopher, a Samaritan—the Saviour of a nation, the Emancipator of a people, white as well as black.
Telling the details of his early romance does not mar the story of Lincoln's life. It does not mar the story of his life to tell of his great anguish and despair when at the height of his joy, death came to take away the one whom he loved. To me, it is a wonderful story because it has to do with a wonderful man and a sweet, gentle girl.
Some dramatists hunting for characters for a great drama of the Northwest Territory, or the pioneer days of Illinois, could surely find his material in the courtship and love of Abraham Lincoln for Ann Rutledge. The characters are not artificial. He could take them just as they were. He would find a powerful, kind, honest young man of twenty-five or twenty-six years of age for one of his characters. This man had thrown the champion wrestler of Sangamon County. By many little acts, he had proven his honesty and wonderful kindness. He also had experience as a soldier, as captain of a company of pioneer men who joined to drive Black Hawk across the Mississippi River. He was a student of law, a surveyor, and a notary public. He had been elected to the General Assembly of the State of Illinois. He was a teller of stories.
He was the most popular young man of New Salem.
We can then find the other character for this love story in the Rutledge Inn at Old Salem. She was Ann, the daughter of James Rutledge.
The courtship between Ann and MacNamar was clean and honorable. We are not stopping to discuss the conflict in Ann's heart or any worry she might have had because of her duty to MacNamar. We only know that when Ann died, Lincoln's heart was filled with anguish, that he sunk to the deepest despair; and that while he gained control of himself, the emotion that filled his soul during that courtship and during that tragedy must have had tremendous influence in developing the kindness and gentleness and pity that were already elements of his nature.
It does not detract anything from Lincoln's family life to tell the story of an early romance. It is only one chapter in a man's life who will be known for centuries to come because of his love for men, his kindness, and charity. There is no reason why Ann Rutledge should not have her place in this great drama. It is a beautiful episode in Lincoln's dramatic life. His life was full of tragedies. It was a great tragedy when his mother was lowered to her grave on the hillside near Gentryville. In his love for Ann Rutledge, he had but gained knowledge of wonderful happiness when it was taken away from him. He was elected President, and the nation over which he was to preside became convulsed with civil war. He saw the victory of the Union armies, and then the hand of the assassin prevented him from knowing his great accomplishment fully.
Whether critics desire it or not, the world will remember his love for Ann Rutledge and the cruel ending of that romance, among other great episodes of Lincoln's life. The world will remember Ann Rutledge because, in her gentleness, she helped build Abraham Lincoln's character. The bitter sorrow that followed her death remained in his breast to be again aroused by the death of the soldiers fighting for their country and by the sorrow of the mothers who had lost them. Notwithstanding the recent utterances of Edgar Lee Masters, I am glad they put those beautiful words on Ann's tombstone in the cemetery at Petersburg, to which place her ashes were removed from Old Concord:
"Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music!
'With malice toward none, with charity for all,'
Out of me forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Ann Rutledge, who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!"
Free download of the book "Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge: An Old Salem Romance" in searchable PDF.
By Percival Graham Rennick, 1932.
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.