A Certain Fatality…


From “The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln,” by Alex Ayres



Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), enjoyed what was perhaps the most distinguished career of any presidential progeny in U.S. history to date. After graduating from Harvard, he served in the Civil War as a captain on the, staff of Ulysses S. Grant. When the war was over he attended Harvard Law School and became a corporate lawyer. In 1881 he was appointed by President James A. Garfield to be secretary of war. He served in that cabinet post until 1885. Under President Benjamin Harrison he served as U.S. minister to Great Britain from 1889 to 1893. Later he resumed his law practice and became president of the Pullman Company from 1897 to 1911, after which he was chairman of the board and director of various banks until his death in 1926.


Robert Todd Lincoln's life was crisscrossed with tragedy. It is a curious footnote to history that he was present as three different presidents lay dying from assassins' bullets. He was by his dying father's bedside in 1865; he witnessed the shooting of President Garfield in Washington, D.C., in 1881; and he was a guest at the Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when President William McKinley was shot in 1901. He wrote laconically, "There is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."