Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd



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A novel with extensive historical notes about this true story.

"A wonderful book" -- James M. McPherson, Historian and Pulitzer Prize winner for Battle Cry Of Freedom

Introduction
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Sample Excerpts

When Abraham Lincoln courted Mary Todd, rejection, poverty, lack of polish and background, all tried to deter him. He was a self-taught young lawyer, plagued with debts and raised in log cabins. She was of aristocratic background and highly educated. Everyone in Springfield, Illinois, thought them badly matched. Did they just get married and live happily ever after?

No. Her family interfered, told Lincoln he was unworthy. Did he believe them? Well, he broke the engagement. Then he went into such a tailspin of depression that friends thought he might commit suicide. Her family refused to let Mary go to him. She had to seem unconcerned, her witty and vivacious self.

They did not see one another for 18 months. Then they resumed meeting -but in secret. This secret courtship got Lincoln challenged to a duel. Not your sweetness and light path to marriage. Were they in love? Lots of controversy about that. In Abe and Molly Frederic Hunter provides the details.

A special feature of this novel is a section with extensive notes about the historical sources for this story and why Hunter interpreted them as he did.



About the Author

Frederic Hunter served as a foreign service officer of the United States Information Service in Brussels, Belgium, and at Coquilhatville and Bukavu in the ex-Belgian Congo. He covered sub-Saharan Africa as a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. Later he wrote screenplays for film and television, including Lincoln and the War Within for PBS, which triggered his interest in the Lincoln courtship. His writings include The Hemingway Play and Africa, Africa!, a collection of fifteen stories. He and his wife Donanne have a website spanning fifty years of experiences in Africa.

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Frederic Hunter's
Abe and Molly: The Lincoln Courtship

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INTRODUCTION

Some years ago while researching a film project for PBS, aired as Lincoln and the War Within, I stumbled on the story of the courtship between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd. What a classically romantic tale! She called him Mr. Lincoln. He called her Molly. Two young people attracted across barriers of class and background who manage to break down those barriers to grab a bit of happiness. Great stuff!

In the England of Jane Austen it is the women who are poor-and destined to lives of genteel poverty--unless the men wake up, realize how exceptional they are and rescue them. In the middle America of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it is the young men who are poor. They seek fulfillment with women of higher social standing. (Check out F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser.)

In Abe and Molly the story is anchored in the actual lives of two people familiar, almost legendary, to most of us. Lincoln, impoverished and socially awkward, is trying to conceal a backwoods heritage. He has undeniable talents, including a tremendous capacity for growth, but he's also full of self-doubt. Molly, of extraordinary education and aristocratic background, hardly more than twenty, is vivacious, witty and sharp-tongued. Despite the opposition of her family, she and Lincoln fall in love; they decide to marry. But the family interferes. The engagement is broken. After the breakup, they live separate lives for eighteen months. And a lot more happens.

Why are such stories a staple of people's imaginative lives? Because they reassure readers that perseverance in the face of opposition leads to happiness and enlarged capacities.

Readers may say of Austen's Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy that it's only a story. The particular pleasure of the Lincoln courtship story is that it's mainly true--and would be entirely true if only we knew the threads that have been lost across time.

Our story takes these young people no farther than their wedding. Most readers will know what happened to them later on. But our story knows them only as a young man and woman moving forward into life with hopes and ambitions--and with no knowledge of whether or not they will be fulfilled.

Our story adheres to the historical facts, at least as far as we know them. Educated speculation fills in what is not known. This speculation involves the interpretation of facts, character and probabilities. Many people have mulled these facts, characters and probabilities, and interpretations of them differ.

There's an unusual aspect to this volume. It includes extensive notes about how the interpretations offered here came to be. It also notes how other interpreters have arrived at different conclusions.

This is mainly a true story. But it's not history. The dialogue makes no pretense of being factual. Did Molly Todd's first look at Abraham Lincoln occur just after she arrived in Springfield? Just as he threw a drunken shoemaker into a trough to discipline him for beating his wife? That's what we have here. It probably did not happen that way. But Lincoln and some friends did toss the shoemaker into the trough and saw to it that his wife beat him.

If you'd prefer to encounter the story after first learning what's fact and what speculation, you may want to start at the back of the book and read the notes first. Wherever you start, may you enjoy the story!

--- Frederic Hunter