President, Abraham Lincoln, aside from being one of America’s greatest leaders was also probably the country’s most accepting of the spiritual realm. Honest Abe, as he was nicknamed, was a man of great personal convictions. He left a lucrative career in the law to enter politics in order to halt the spread of slavery, a practice he felt abhorrent. He was as equally invested in maintaining the union, and felt the country should not be divided. The Civil War became his personal cross to bear, and accounts describe his dejection at the loss of so many lives. Those who knew the president best verify that he felt the division of the country and the loss of life due to the Civil War keenly, as if each boy lost were his own.
Lincoln’s personal life was no life as no less riddled with tragedy and loss. It was during his presidency that he lost his own son; young Willie. All told, his presidency was a period of extreme personal duress, and sleepless nights and stress quickly took their toll on his already craggy countenance.
As the war progressed the president appeared to withdraw further into himself, and was described as acting melancholy and silent. A man bearing the loss of so many souls could only be searching for answers to the universe’s deeper mysteries, and there is evidence that he did seek out guidance in those years from well-known spiritualists, many of whom were invited to the White House by the first lady herself.
Lincoln’s personal losses were both devastating and life-changing. His mother died when Lincoln was only a child, struck down by a frontier-epidemic called “Milk Sickness.” The willowy, Nancy Hanks Lincoln nursed family friends Tom and Betsy Sparrow who had succumbed to the illness, at which time she herself was infected. Nancy died shortly after, leaving a husband and two children behind. Lincoln, devastated by the loss, reportedly helped to build her coffin, and lower it into the ground. Afterwards, Lincoln buried his head in his hands and wept for hours, despairing that he was now, “completely alone in the world.”
Lincoln funneled his despair into hard work, laboring at odd jobs to pay his way through college and law school. It was in the law that Lincoln developed his greatest talents. He had both an ability for political maneuvering and a genius for oration and debate. Once he established his career he met his future wife, the young Mary Todd. After a rocky courtship beginning in 1839, Lincoln finally married Mary in 1842.
Mary Todd Lincoln
The early years of their marriage were strained, however, with Lincoln’s constant and lengthy absences from home as he traveled on business. Nevertheless, Mary gave Abe four sons, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), Edward “Eddie” Baker Lincoln (1846-1850), William Wallace “Willie” (1850-1862) and Thomas “Tad” (1853-1871). Eddie lived only to the age of four, and died shortly before the birth of Willie. Incidentally, Robert was the only son of the four to survive to adulthood. He would follow in his father’s footsteps and became first a lawyer and eventually Secretary of War and Minister to Great Britain. Oddly, Robert was probably the son least close to the president. He was born at a time when the Lincoln was constantly away on business and had very little contact with Lincoln as a child. When Robert turned 16 his father won the White House, but Robert was departing for school. Robert later reported that he had had about 10 minutes of the president’s attention while Lincoln was in the White House, as the President was constantly preoccupied.
Lincoln dedicated most of his early years with his own education in the law, and later at establishing his reputation as a lawyer. His law practice was extremely successful, and the more successful he became the further afield he went, trying cases the length and breadth of Illinois. He’d served a stint as a Congressman in the early 1840’s, but gave it up because of the demand on his time. He was adamantly against slavery, but he was satisfied with the Missouri Compromise which made slavery illegal anywhere west than the line drawn by the Louisiana Territory, as he felt that the future of the country resided to the west.
When that same compromise was challenged by a congressional act spearheaded by an old rival, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln felt that the time had come for another run at politics, he threw in his hat for Douglas’s senate seat. A fiercely contested campaign ensued in which Lincoln and Douglas squared off in several heated debates, so heated in fact that they aroused the attention of the news media across the country. Lincoln displayed his finest oratorical talents in eloquent and passionate arguments. At a time when passions throughout the country were running high, Lincoln spoke for reason and compromise. Though he lost the seat to Douglas in the 1858 election, he had garnered the attention of many political pundits including the newly formed Republican Party. In May 1860, in Chicago, Illinois, Abe Lincoln became the Republican Party’s candidate for president.
Lincoln won the presidency handily in the Electoral College. The popular vote, however, revealed a different story; a story of a country divided. Lincoln gained just 40% of the popular vote, and the numbers were even grimmer in the south, where Lincoln won none of the popular votes. He became a minority president.
In his home state of Illinois, however, the day of the election had a carnival atmosphere. There was a parade which wound its way past Lincoln’s house and lasted for hours. Later there was a picnic with tubs of lemonade and roasted whole steers. Clearly Illinois was proud of their presidential hopeful. An evening dinner was held with political allies, and then Lincoln repaired to the local telegraph office to await last minute messages. In the very early hours it became clear that Lincoln had won the election in the Electoral College. After an intense and tiresome twenty-four hour marathon, Lincoln returned home.
The Prophetic President
Lincoln was exhausted. Too tired to remove his clothes, he lay down on the first flat surface he could find, a small settee. Near the couch was a bureau with a mirror on top. Lincoln was shocked at his appearance in the mirror. His face looked wan and thin and bleached of all color. When he later recounted this to his friends they suggested he grow a beard to hide the narrowness of his countenance and to give him a more presidential image. It was then that Lincoln felt he had his first vision, what he felt later was a vision of prophetic import. He realized that when he looked in the mirror what he saw was two distinct images of himself superimposed. He could tell there were two images because they didn’t quite align with one another, and he could tell distinctly that the tip of one nose was about three inches beyond the other. As he stared in the mirror the vision disappeared, but reappeared a few moments later more strongly outlined. Staring at the dual images he realized that one of the images was far paler than the other, as pale as the face of death. The vision disappeared again and Lincoln dismissed it to sleep deprivation and the excitement of the last few days.
He did, however, recall the visions to his wife Mary, who felt she knew the significance of the two faces. The healthier face, Mary felt, was the face of her husband during his first term as president. The fact that the face had more color and appeared healthier she felt indicated that he would live out his first term as president. According to legend, Mary interrupted the second paler face to indicate her husband’s second term of office. She felt he would achieve a second term, but would not live to see it through. Over the course of the next few days, Lincoln apparently tried to recreate the vision in the mirror, which he was able to do on several occasions.
He did scoff at the notion of prophecy later to friends and colleagues saying that it must have been an anomaly in the glass or a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep. However, this apparently was not his only prophetic moment. Shortly before winning the election Lincoln apparently was talking to a group of friends when he said about the probability of the Civil War, “Gentlemen, you may be surprised and think it strange, but when the doctor here was describing the war, I distinctly saw myself, in second sight, bearing an important part in that strife (Taylor, 2003).”
According to union war documents, late one night during his presidency Lincoln burst into a local telegraph office demanding information. He told the operator to immediately contact Lincoln’s union commanders as he was quite sure the Confederates were about to cross federal lines. When the stunned operator asked the president how he had obtained such information the president blurted out, “My God, man, I saw it!”
Tragedy Befalls a President
Mary and Abe’s second son Edward had died in 1850, but it was the death of Lincoln’s third son