But when it came to money, they couldn’t be more different. So much so, that there were times Mary Todd Lincoln would hide her extravagances from her husband, knowing her spending sprees would raise the President’s ire.
Glenn LeBoeuf, a former New Providence history teacher and a frequent lecturer on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, shared stories about the Lincolns at Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside, where he was the guest speaker recently.
While all the attorneys in the couple’s circle were making money, handling land deals and other transactions, Abraham Lincoln just wasn’t interested. “He had to borrow money to get to Washington,” LeBoeuf said.
But for as frugal as her husband could be, “she believed in him,” said LeBoeuf, who holds a history degree from Monmouth University and belongs to several Lincoln groups.
When the Lincolns left Illinois for the nation’s capitol, they left a home where they were surrounded by long-time friends who understood them, only to board a train to Washington, D.C. where Lincoln would assume the presidency of a nation that was falling apart.
“Lincoln left the most secure environment he ever knew,” LeBoeuf said, noting that the president-elect also had certain fatalism about his future. “He kind of suspected he would never return. He always kind of knew the deal.”
LeBoeuf said that while Lincoln is now revered, that was far from the case when he took office.
“Lincoln was the most hated president in American history,” LeBoeuf said.
Even his victory had more to do with the split between northern and southern Democrats than any great strength from what was then, an emerging Republican Party. There were those who referred to him derisively as “Your accidentcy.”
The people who hated slavery had no use for Lincoln, for he was not an abolitionist when he began his presidency. And he was not particularly popular in England, where textile mills were idled because of the blockade he imposed to prevent the south from shipping cotton to England.
“This is a president who tells jokes—people didn’t get him,” LeBoeuf said.
“Lincoln didn’t know anything about finance, so he brings in ex-Gov. Chase from Ohio. He named some Democrats as generals to gain support,” LeBoeuf said.
But what LeBoeuf still finds mind boggling was the lack of staff Lincoln would have. “The Presidency had six employees: a cook, a doorman, a maid, one secretary, a footman and a gardener. That’s the (entire staff) in the middle of the war.”
When the Lincolns arrived in Washington they found the White House looking more like a run down hotel because previous presidents had allowed conditions to deteriorate.
“Souvenir hunters would cut swatches from tapestries, take tassels. Visitors made their own souvenir shops,” he said.
While White House records indicated there should have been 180 place settings for use at official state dinners, when the cabinets were checked, there were only eight complete place settings.
These conditions were unacceptable to the nation’s new First Lady.
“Mary felt that this was her house. She felt she had to prove that the Republican Party…that her western husband was not some hick,” he said. “She blows the budget real quick.”
While Congress provided $20,000 for White House amenities, the First Lady was $7,500 over budget in no time. And then she started to panic because she knew how furious her husband would be, LeBoeuf said. “She tried to hide it…sell manure from one of the barns, use the salary of a fired gardener.”
The President did ultimately learn of her spending. But with the aid of allies in Congress, an appropriations bill was snuck into a pile of bills around 2 a.m., long after the press had gone home, he said.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LINCOLNS…kept coming for Glenn LeBoeuf, left, after his recent lecture Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside, where he was the guest speaker recently. LeBoeuf, a former New Providence history teacher and a frequent lecturer on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, shared stories about the President and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, as part of a program at the museum marking Presidents Day weekend. LeBoeuf told those attending that while the Lincolns shared a love of poetry, Shakespeare and politics, when it came to money, they couldn’t be more different. There were times the First Lady would hide her extravagances from her husband , knowing her spending sprees would raise the President’s ire, LeBoeuf said.