Saturday, April 8, 2023

President Lincoln's Paltry Eating Habits.

The President rose early; his sleep was light and capricious. In the summer, when he lived at the Soldiers' Home[1], he would take his frugal breakfast and ride into town in time to be at his desk at 8 o'clock, writes Colonel John Hay. 

He began to receive visits nominally at 10 o'clock. Long before that hour struck, the doors were besieged by anxious crowds, through whom the people of importance, senators and members of Congress, elbowed their way after the fashion which still survives. On days when the cabinet met, Tuesdays and Fridays, the hour of noon closed the morning interviews. On other days it was the President's custom at about that hour to order the doors to be opened and all who were waiting to be admitted.

At lunchtime, he had to run the gantlet through the crowds who filled the corridors between his office and the rooms at the west end of the house occupied by the Lincoln family. The afternoon wore away in much the same manner as the morning; late in the day, he usually drove out for an hour's airing; at 6 o'clock, he dined.
Recreated Kitchen in Lincoln's House on Eighth & Jackson Streets, Springfield, Illinois.

He was one of the most abstemious (non-self-indulgent) of men; the pleasures of the table had few attractions for him. His breakfast was an egg and a cup of coffee; at lunch, he rarely took more than a biscuit and a glass of milk and a plate of seasonal fruit; at dinner, he ate sparingly of one or two courses. 

Every so often, especially on special occasions or when having dinner company, Mary Lincoln would make Abraham's Favorite Gingerbread and Topping for dessert. Authentic Recipe. 

Lincoln drank little or no wine, not that he always remained on principle a total abstiner, as he was a part of his early life in the fervor of the "Washingtonian" movement. Lincoln didn't care for any wine or liquor and never used tobacco.

The Washingtonian Movement (Washingtonians, Washingtonian Temperance Society or Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society) was a 19th-century temperance fellowship founded on April 2, 1840, by six alcoholics (William Mitchell, David Hoss, Charles Anderson, George Steer, Bill M'Curdy, and Tom Campbell) at Chase's Tavern on Liberty Street in Baltimore, Maryland. The idea was that by relying on each other, sharing their alcoholic experiences, and creating an atmosphere of conviviality, they could keep each other sober. Total abstinence from alcohol (teetotalism) was their goal. 

Abraham Lincoln was no foodie. He was almost entirely indifferent to food except for liking apples and hot black coffee. An often-cited quote has also been attributed to him: "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."

Prices, at the time of Lincoln's assassination in 1865, were considered outrageously high. Bulk butter was sold for 30¢ a pound, and coffee, when found, was 21¢ ($3.88 today) a pound.  Ham was unusually high, 28¢ a pound, and turkey sold for 30¢. Salt was sold by the bushel at 50¢. A barrel of crackers, priced at $6.50 ($120.00 today), was expected to last an entire season.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Today, the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., 340 Rock Creek Church Road N.W., Washington, D.C., USA


  1. When riding with the circuit court, Lincoln accepted the meals offered by whatever place took in the travelers for the night. The food was simple and basic. The story is told that when offered a more prominent seat, he asked if the boiled cabbage served was different there. Being told it was the same, he declined the to move. I don’t have the reference at hand.

  2. I was thrilled to get Mrs. Lincoln's gingerbread recipe. After reading it, I think I'll just stick with mine. 🙃

    1. Reading and tasting are two different things. My wife makes Lincoln's gingerbread and our friends all rave about it.


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