His life with a nagging, potato-throwing wife may have helped propel Abraham Lincoln to the White House, according to a new psychobiography of the 16th president.
Mary Todd Lincoln's behavior has been well-documented, but Michael Burlingame says he was surprised by the extent of the abuse he found in researching "The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln," published by the University of Illinois Press."That (the Lincolns) had problems in their domestic life was no state secret," said Burlingame, a history professor at Connecticut College in New London, Conn. "But I had no idea of the depths of woe he had to endure."
With a more amiable wife, Lincoln might have been satisfied as a country lawyer, but Mary made their home so unhappy that Lincoln busied himself with politics just to get out of the house, Burlingame said.
Burlingame spent a decade delving into old newspaper and magazine accounts, manuscripts and the research of previous biographers.
Once, Mary smacked Lincoln in the face with a piece of wood after he failed to build a fire quickly enough to please her.
"The next day," Burlingame noted, "he came to work with a plaster covering his injured nose."
Other accounts have her throwing coffee in Lincoln's face, striking him with a broom stick, driving him from the house, and pelting him with books and potatoes.
Mary's temper tantrums were the talk of the neighborhood, and she also aimed her tirades at tradespeople and servants. She physically abused her own sons as well, Burlingame said.
Lincoln often slept on a couch in his office and sometimes stayed with friends across town in Springfield. As a circuit-riding lawyer, Lincoln seemed to do everything he could to stay away from home. He was one of the few lawyers to cover every county in the circuit, and he kept riding by horseback even after the advent of the railroad.
Lincoln hinted at his attitude toward marriage in 1864, when he pardoned a young soldier who had been sentenced to death for deserting in order to marry his sweetheart, Burlingame said.
As he signed the papers, the president said, "I want to punish the young man. Probably in less than a year, he will wish I had withheld the pardon."