Behind the Scenes

by Elizabeth Keckley

Chapter 13: The Origin of the Rivalry between Mr. Douglas and Mr. Lincoln

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1868
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Keckley, E. (1868) Behind the Scenes London, England: Partridge and Oakey
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 7.4
  • Word Count: 1,653
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Keywords: 19th century literature, african american literature, american history, american literature, autobiography, behind the scenes, biography
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Mrs. Lincoln from her girlhood up had an ambition to become the wife of a President. When a little girl, as I was told by one of her sisters, she was disposed to be a little noisy at times, and was self–willed. One day she was romping about the room, making more noise than the nerves of her grandmother could stand. The old lady looked over her spectacles, and said, in a commanding tone:

"Sit down, Mary. Do be quiet. What on earth do you suppose will become of you if you go on this way?"

"Oh, I will be the wife of a President some day," carelessly answered the petted child.

Mrs. Lincoln, as Miss Mary Todd, was quite a belle in Springfield, Illinois, and from all accounts she was fond of flirting. She generally managed to keep a half–dozen gentlemen biting at the hook that she baited so temptingly for them. The world, if I mistake not, are not aware that the rivalry between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stephen A. Douglas commenced over the hand of Miss Mary Todd. The young lady was ambitious, and she smiled more sweetly upon Mr. Douglas and Mr. Lincoln than any of her other admirers, as they were regarded as rising men. She played her part so well that neither of the rivals for a long time could tell who would win the day. Mr. Douglas first proposed for her hand, and she discarded him. The young man urged his suit boldly:

"Mary, you do not know what you are refusing. You have always had an ambition to become the wife of a President of the United States. Pardon the egotism, but I fear that in refusing my hand to–night you have thrown away your best chance to ever rule in the White House."

"I do not understand you, Mr. Douglas."

"Then I will speak more plainly. You know, Mary, that I am ambitious like yourself, and something seems to whisper in my ear, 'You will be President some day.' Depend upon it, I shall make a stubborn fight to win the proud position."

"You have my best wishes, Mr. Douglas; still I cannot consent to be your wife. I shall become Mrs. President, or I am the victim of false prophets, but it will not be as Mrs. Douglas."

I have this little chapter in a romantic history from the lips of Mrs. Lincoln herself.

At one of the receptions at the White House, shortly after the first inauguration, Mrs. Lincoln joined in the promenade with Senator Douglas. He was holding a bouquet that had been presented to her, and as they moved along he said:

"Mary, it reminds me of old times to have you lean upon my arm."

"You refer to the days of our youth. I must do you the credit, Mr. Douglas, to say, that you were a gallant beau."

"Not only a beau, but a lover. Do you remember the night our flirtation was brought to an end?"

"Distinctly. You now see that I was right. I am Mrs. President, but not Mrs. Douglas."

"True, you have reached the goal before me, but I do not despair. Mrs. Douglas—a nobler woman does not live—if I am spared, may possibly succeed you as Mrs. President."

A few evenings after Mr. Douglas had been discarded, Mr. Lincoln made a formal proposal for the hand of Miss Todd, but it appears that the young lady was not willing to capitulate at once. She believed that she could send her lover adrift to–day and win him back to–morrow.

"You are bold, Mr. Lincoln."

"Love makes me bold."

"You honor me, pardon me, but I cannot consent to be your wife."

"Is this your final answer, Miss Todd?" and the suitor rose nervously to his feet.

"I do not often jest, Mr. Lincoln. Why should I reconsider to–morrow my decision of to–day."

"Excuse me. Your answer is sufficient. I was led to hope that I might become dearer to you than a friend, but the hope, it seems, has proved an idle one. I have the honor to say good night, Miss Todd," and pale, yet calm, Mr. Lincoln bowed himself out of the room.

He rushed to his office in a frantic state of mind. Dr. Henry, his most intimate friend, happened to come in, and was surprised to see the young lawyer walking the floor in an agitated manner.

"What is the matter, Lincoln? You look desperate."

"Matter! I am sick of the world. It is a heartless, deceitful world, and I care not how soon I am out of it."

"You rave. What has happened? Have you been quarrelling with your sweetheart?"

"Quarrel! I wish to God it was a quarrel, for then I could look forward to reconciliation; the girl has refused to become my wife, after leading me to believe that she loved me. She is a heartless coquette."

"Don't give up the conquest so easily. Cheer up, man, you may succeed yet. Perhaps she is only testing your love."

"No! I believe that she is going to marry Douglas. If she does I will blow my brains out."

"Nonsense! That would not mend matters. Your brains were given to you for different use. Come, we will go to your room now. Go to bed and sleep on the question, and you will get up feeling stronger to–morrow;" and Dr. Henry took the arm of his friend Lincoln, led him home, and saw him safely in bed.

The next morning the doctor called at Mr. Lincoln's room, and found that his friend had passed a restless night. Excitement had brought on fever, which threatened to assume a violent form, as the cause of the excitement still remained. Several days passed, and Mr. Lincoln was confined to his bed. Dr. Henry at once determined to call on Miss Todd, and find out how desperate the case was. Miss Todd was glad to see him, and she was deeply distressed to learn that Mr. Lincoln was ill. She wished to go to him at once, but the Doctor reminded her that she was the cause of his illness. She frankly acknowledged her folly, saying that she only desired to test the sincerity of Mr. Lincoln's love, that he was the idol of her heart, and that she would become his wife.

The Doctor returned with joyful news to his patient. The intelligence proved the best remedy for the disease. Mutual explanations followed, and in a few months Mr. Lincoln led Miss Todd to the altar in triumph.

I learned these facts from Dr. Henry and Mrs. Lincoln. I believe them to be facts, and as such have recorded them. They do not agree with Mr. Herndon's story, that Mr. Lincoln never loved but one woman, and that woman was Ann Rutledge; but then Mr. Herndon's story must be looked upon as a pleasant piece of fiction. When it appeared, Mrs. Lincoln felt shocked that one who pretended to be the friend of her dead husband should deliberately seek to blacken his memory. Mr. Lincoln was far too honest a man to marry a woman that he did not love. He was a kind and an indulgent husband, and when he saw faults in his wife he excused them as he would excuse the impulsive acts of a child. In fact, Mrs. Lincoln was never more pleased than when the President called her his child–wife.

Before closing this rambling chapter I desire to refer to another incident.

After the death of my son, Miss Mary Welsh, a dear friend, one of my old St. Louis patrons, called to see me, and on broaching the cause of my grief, she condoled with me. She knew that I had looked forward to the day when my son would be a support to me—knew that he was to become the prop and main–stay of my old age, and knowing this, she advised me to apply for a pension. I disliked the idea very much, and told her so—told her that I did not want to make money out of his death. She explained away all of my objections—argued that Congress had made an appropriation for the specific purpose of giving a pension to every widow who should lose an only son in the war, and insisted that I should have my rights. She was so enthusiastic in the matter that she went to see Hon. Owen Lovejoy, then a member of the House from Illinois, and laid my case before him. Mr. Lovejoy was very kind, and said as I was entitled to the pension, I should have it, even if he had to bring the subject before Congress. I did not desire public agitation, and Mr. Lovejoy prepared my claim and laid it before the Commissioners. In the meantime he left Washington, and Mr. Joseph Lovejoy, his brother, prosecuted the claim for me, and finally succeeded in securing me a pension of eight dollars per month. Mr. Joseph Lovejoy was inclined to the Democratic party, and he pressed my claim with great earnestness; he hoped that the claim would not be allowed, as he said the rejection of it would make capital for his party. Nevertheless the pension was granted, and I am none the less thankful to Mr. Joseph Lovejoy for his kindness to me, and interest in my welfare.