Abraham Lincoln's Defense of His Wife

from Not So!, by Paul F. Boller, Jr.

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln appeared before a congressional committee to defend his wife against charges of treason.

No, he didn't.

But there were charges of disloyalty against Mrs. Lincoln all the same.

Mary Todd Lincoln came from Kentucky, a border state, and some of her relatives (including one who lived in the White House for a time) supported the Confederacy. Mrs. Lincoln, however, was a wholehearted Unionist. She also opposed slavery and, like her husband, was an emancipationist as well as a Unionist. One of her best friends in Washington was Charles Sumner, Radical Republican Senator from Massachusetts, who continually pressed Lincoln to take stronger action to end slavery. But Mrs. Lincoln's - and Lincoln's - enemies in Washington spread rumors that not only was she pro-Confederate but that she was also secretly aiding the Confederate cause. "The President's wife," observed W. 0. Stoddard, White House mail clerk, "is venomously accused of being at heart a traitor and of being in communication with the Confederate authorities."

According to a dramatic tale first appearing in print in 1905, the rumors about Mrs. Lincoln's disloyalty became so insistent that finally, a congressional committee decided to look into the matter. One morning, however, according to the story, just as the hearing opened, President Lincoln suddenly appeared in the committee room unannounced, "at the foot of the table, standing solitary, his hat in hand, his tall form towering among the committee members . . . ... With his face filled with "almost unhuman sadness," the story goes, Lincoln started speaking, "slowly and with infinite sorrow" and the room became deathly still. "I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States," he declared, "appear of my own volition before this Committee . . . to say that I, of my own knowledge, know that it is untrue that any of my family hold treasonable communication with the enemy." Then, the story ends, he left "as silently and solitary as he came," and the committee promptly adjourned without taking any further action. It's a moving story, but unfortunately it is entirely fanciful. There is not a shred of evidence to back up a tale first told forty years after Lincoln's death.