Q & A. Lincoln

7/20/2020 cbw

As you can imagine, we get a lot of questions about Abraham Lincoln. Some are from prize-winning historians. Some are from children working on school assignments. Some are just from curious Lincoln fans. Here are a few recent questions and our answers from Dr. Christian McWhirter.

If you have questions, let us know and we’ll try to answer!

Who was Lincoln's greatest friend?

Lincoln’s closest friend was probably Joshua Speed. When Lincoln moved to Springfield in 1837, he lived with Speed for four years in an apartment above a general store that Speed managed. Speed moved to Kentucky in 1840 to take over his family’s farm, but the two men remained very close — often writing to each other and occasionally visiting. They disagreed over slavery, as Speed’s farm used enslaved labor. Despite their political disagreements, Speed helped support the Union war effort in Kentucky during Lincoln’s presidency and his brother, James Speed, served as Lincoln’s Attorney General.

Joshua Speed

Did President Lincoln get letters from slaves?

It was illegal for most enslaved people to learn to read or write, so it was rare for them to send letters to the president or anyone else. However, there are a handful of examples of enslaved people writing to Lincoln. One you can see for yourself is from Annie Davis, an enslaved woman in Bel Air, Maryland, who wrote about a year and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation to ask Lincoln if she was free, because her mistress was telling her she wasn’t. We don’t know if Lincoln ever replied, but it’s a rare example of an enslaved person writing directly to a president. You can see it with a short write-up here.

What did President Lincoln's children go on to do?

The Lincolns had four sons: Robert, Eddy, Willie, and Tad. Sadly, only Robert survived to adulthood — the other three died of diseases. Robert lived a very interesting life and had several different jobs. He followed in his father’s footsteps by working as a lawyer in Chicago but later worked as president of the Pullman Car Company. He also had two high-ranking government positions: Secretary of War under presidents Garfield and Arthur and as Ambassador to Great Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

Robert Lincoln

What were Abraham Lincoln's favorite foods?

Lincoln’s friends recalled that Lincoln liked apples. During his presidency, he may have eaten an apple every day. Stories also say Mary made a white cake that Lincoln really liked.

Does President Lincoln have any living relatives now?

The last descendant of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died on December 24, 1985. He never met Abraham Lincoln, who was his great grandfather. One interesting thing about Beckwith is he donated many of his family’s cherished possessions to our library.

Christian McWhirter
Lincoln Historian

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