A recurring controversy among Lincoln biographers has been the precise relationship between Lincoln and the aristocratic family of his wife, the Todds of Kentucky. Many writers have suggested that the family was disappointed in Mary's choice of a husband.
That image is contradicted in a letter written by Mary's father, Robert Smith Todd, in March 1844, some sixteen months after their wedding. In the letter, printed below, Todd shows that he was not only well informed of the ambitions of his son-in-law but approved of them and offered to use his influence to "procure some appointment . . . Such as District Attorney of Judge."
The letter concerns the only lawsuit in which Lincoln represented his father-in-law. The case arose from expressed surprise, for he had reasoned that the State Bank notes year conflict over the value of Illinois State Bank notes that were used as payment for 160 acres of land in Curran Township, Sangamon County, southwest of Springfield. Todd intended the land as an eventual gift for his Springfield Daughters—Mary, Frances, and Elizabeth—and their husbands, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. William Wallace, and Ninian Wirt Edwards.
Todd had contracted to purchase the land in March 1841 from Nathaniel A. Ware, a speculator from Clinton, Missouri. Edwards was authorized to act as Todd's agent in the transaction and accordingly signed three notes—one for $415.70, due June 1, 1842, and one for $400, due June 1, 1844. Interest on the purchase was 12%.
Three months later, Todd gave Ware a mortgage deed on the land as security. In turn, Todd received from Ware's Springfield agent, Erastus Wright, a signed statement that the State bank notes would be accepted as payment, even though, at the time, such notes had depreciated in value and were expected to continue to do so.
Todd began repaying his debt in 1842. On March 3, Ware was given $176.37 in notes, and on April 14, an additional $40, for a total of $216.37. On May 10, Todd offered to pay the remainder of this 1842 commitment. Again, he used State Bank notes, which by then had depreciated to nearly half their face value. Ware refused to accept the notes, insisting that the earlier agreement between Edwards and Wright was no longer valid.
On June 16, 1843, Lincoln filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court in order to compel Ware to accept the notes as payment. Todd v. Ware came to court in November and was argued throughout the last two weeks of that month and on December 8 and 9 in the judge's chambers. Lincoln heard of the decision—against Todd—sometime in February or March of 1844. When informed of the ruling, Todd expressed surprise, for he had reasoned that the State bank notes would appreciate pari passu (at an equal rate) with Illinois land, which was indeed increasing in value. "How your courts could have decided as they have done in this instance, I can't comprehend," Todd complained to Edwards in his letter. Nevertheless, he approved a check for $980, leaving a small balance that he promised to send "in due time."
Todd begins the letter by apologizing for a long absence in New Orleans, during which time both sons-in-law had attempted to write to him. He then discusses the transaction with Ware and finally proceeds to family matters—the original reason for the land purchase. The letter is transcribed exactly as Todd wrote it.
March 13, 1844Dear Sir,I returned home from New Orleans about 10 days ago and found your letter of December 19, which had not been transmitted to me, under my own, and their beliefs, I would have been home sooner, but circumstances of business forbade it, and I had to submit. Since my return, your Letter of March 1 is received and contents noted.My absence from home, I fear, has put you in some inconvenience, and I hasten to repair any and all damages resulting from my absence or negligence. I have received Mr. Lincoln's letter advising me of a decision against me. Whether right or wrong, I wish to do what I have to do instantly.I have not, since my return sent on the money east, but without regard to that, send on a check on the Bank of St. Louis $980—and you can remit the house, Eastwood.The receipts of Mr. Wright's agent for Mr. Ware are for the following:
March 3, 1842, for $176.37April 14, 1842, for $40.00========$216.37To which add checknow enclosed onBank of Missouri $980.00========$1,196.37
This Sum, I wish, applied to the payment of the Notes held by Mr. Ware—of his agent—deducting any sum you may have paid on account of this transaction.In a few days, I shall send forward the executed deeds as originally intended for Dr. Wallace. Julia Edwards, and for Mr. Lincoln and Marym and desire that each and all of you shall use it to your best advantage in any way you may deem best. Mr. Lincoln wrote me a few days since and suggested that he was going to housekeeping; I wish him to avail himself of this Land immediately if it will be of any advantage or add to his comfort in any way.The balance of Mr. Ware's payment, I will provide for in due time. My reason for giving you the instructions I did was that I believed the Illinois Money and Illinois Land would go Pari Passu (side by side), and how your Courts could have decided as they have done in this instance, I can't comprehend.Mr. Lincoln, I discovered, is using his influence and talents for the Whig cause. I think he is right; for a good government should be first in the mind of every patriot. I can use influence here if Mr. Clay is elected (of which there can be no doubt) to procure some appointment for him, which will keep him out of Congress until his situation in a monied point of view, will enable him to take a stand in Congress, creditable both to himself and country. Such as District Attorney or Judge. I will write him in a few days. Present me to all my children and grandchildren in the kindest manner.I am much oppressed with business: the longer I live, the more it seems to crowd upon me; until I am near exhausted.My family is all well: and I should be glad to see any of you come and pay me a visit. You will be received kindly.Yours truly,R. S. Todd
|Artist's conception of the Springfield home of Abraham Lincoln before the addition of the second story. Mary Lincoln Surprised Abraham (who walked past his own house) with a Home Remodeling Project.|
Less than a week after writing the letter, Todd conveyed the land to the Lincolns, and Wallaces, and his granddaughter Julia Edwards. For the Lincolns, who in January had purchased a house from Rev. Charles Dresser, the land was an investment in the future. Mary Lincoln held her portion until September 18, 1954, when she sold it to Robert Anderson for $1,200, which was used to remodel the Lincoln home on Eighth and Jackson Streets. Ironically, $1,200 was approximately the amount that Robert Smith Todd had given for the entire tract thirteen years earlier. Illinois land, unlike Illinois State bank notes, had indeed doubled in value.
Todd was correct in forecasting Lincoln's efforts to secure the Whig nomination to Congress—which in 1844 went to Edward Baker and finally to Lincoln in 1846. Concerning the Career of Henry Clay, a fellow Kentuckian, however, Todd was less accurate. Anticipating Clay's election to the Presidency (of which there could "be no doubt"), Todd had generously offered to use his influence with Clay, a personal friend, for an appointment for Lincoln. Clay's defeat in November by Democrat James K. Polk, however, ended that part of Todd's ambitions for his son-in-law.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.