The State of Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln,” offers many opportunities to study Abraham Lincoln, the famous statesman, who was revered throughout the state’s history. For those of us who grew up in Illinois, school was not closed on President’s Day, but on Lincoln’s birthday, endearing him further to school children who grew up admiring the man.
It was no surprise to find a newspaper clipping about Lincoln in my grandmother’s scrapbook, probably from a Springfield, Illinois newspaper, although the source was not identified. The text contained a love letter of sorts, from Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd. The letter did not contain the word “love”, nor did it propose, although it appears that was the intention. The couple was married in 1842.
My Dear Mary
You must know that I cannot see you or think of you with entire indifference, and yet it may be that you are mistaken in regard to what my real feelings toward you are. If I knew you were not, I should not trouble you with this letter. Perhaps any other man would know enough without further information, but I consider it my peculiar right to plead ignorance and your bounden duty to allow the plea. I want in all cases to do right and most particularly so in all cases with women. I want at this particular time more than anything else to do right with you, and if I know it would be doing right, as I rather suspect it would, to let you alone, I would do it. And for the purpose of making the matter plain as possible I now say you can drop the subject, dismiss your thoughts, if you ever had any, from me forever and leave this letter unanswered without calling forth one accusing manner from me.
And I will go further and say that if it will add anything to your comfort and peace of mind to do so it is my sincere wish that you should. Do not understand by this that I wish to cut your acquaintance. I mean no such thing. What I do wish is that our further acquaintance shall depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contribute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine. If you feel yourself in any degree bound to me, I am now willing to release you, provided you wish it, while, on the other hand, I am willing and even anxious to bind you faster if I can be convinced that it will in any degree add to your happiness. This indeed is the whole question with me. Nothing would make me more miserable than to believe you miserable, nothing more happy than to know you were so.
In what I have now said, I think I cannot be misunderstood, and to make myself understood is the only object of this letter. If it suits you best to not answer this, farewell. A long life and a merry one attend you. But if you conclude to write back, speak as plainly as I do. There can be neither harm nor danger in saying to me anything you think just in the manner you think it.
Your friend, Lincoln
Happy Valentine’s Day on February 14 AND Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12.