Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime | James B. Conroy

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2018: Book #50

“Mrs. Lincoln faced a different kind of heat. Influential men were helping her fend off her creditors, but she broke down and told her friend and dressmaker, Mrs. Keckly, that if her husband was defeated (for re-election as president), “I do not know what would become of us all. She was $27,000 in debt, “of which he knows nothing.” It was $2,000 more than his annual income. ‘To keep up appearances, I must have money,’ she said, and Mr. Lincoln was ‘too honest to make a penny outside of his salary,’ leaving her no choice but to run on credit. If he stayed in office, she could keep him in the dark, but the bills would come in hard with his defeat.”

Mrs. Lincoln’s own words give us remarkable insight to the marriage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. This and other amazing—and sometimes shocking—quotes are found in the wonderful book, “Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime” by James B. Conroy.

Conroy weaves quotes and written accounts by White House staff and servants into captivating stories. Instead of exclusively focusing on Lincoln, this book opens a window into the daily activity of the Lincoln White House. Specifically, it paints a convincing portrait of how the president interacted with those therein.

Here are a few more quotes I discovered…

“One simple-looking man came to Nicolay (Lincoln’s secretary) about the war. “I am commissioned from on high to take the matter in hand and end it,” he said. He intended to lead two thousand men to Richmond to commit Jeff Davis and his inner circle to an asylum, and no earthly power was competent to stop him, but he preferred presidential authority. Nicolay said the president was too busy to see him, but he was free to proceed on his own responsibility, and he went away satisfied. When Hay (another Lincoln secretary) turned away another deluded caller, the man let him know to whom he spoke: “I am the son of God.” Hay replied that Lincoln would be glad to meet him if he returned with a letter from his father.”

“As they did in all but a few American homes, whale oil lamps and candles lit the Lincolns’ house in Springfield, but the White House had been lit by gas since 1848, lowering the risk of fire in exchange for the risk of asphyxiation. After Lincoln nearly SUCCUMBED, nodding off to a leak in his office, it took the gas-fitters hours to find it.”

“When French said the White House basement was home to generations of rodents, Lincoln suggested a ferret, ‘one of those little fellows that drives away the rats.’ Better yet, French might distribute teams of ferrets around the departments, ‘for there are rats everywhere.’”

“’The constant strain of seeing suffering he could not relieve and hopes he could not fulfill wore him down,’ Hay said. He could usually do no good for honest men and women in need, and it burdened him. A Missouri man with a boy in the army asked the president if he could avoid his Confederate brother in battle. A woman who had spent her little means to travel many miles to ask him to discharge her soldier son for exceptional reason must be heard, he said, even if “I cannot interfere and only see her and speak kindly to her.”

“Clinically exhausted, Lincoln held a cabinet meeting in bed. Having won his last election, he could safely repel the job seekers who swarmed once again to his door, which he ‘rigidly’ closed at three. A young woman brought her three small children on March 21 and was told that the president was in a cabinet meeting. She led them into the east room and sat them down on the floor. Her husband had been killed in battle, she said. She had come to leave his children.”

This is a fascinating book and one any fan of Lincoln or history would find to be a must-read. Readers will learn a lot about Lincoln and his life inside the White House. For instance, I learned that Lincoln could be cruel. He was the target of daily death threats and the subject of unbridled idol worship. As for his wife, she often said and did things that made her sound and appear crazy.

I highly recommend this book.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

That’s book #50 for 2018.

Only two books left before I reach 52 for the year.

Remember, all leaders are readers.
If you want to be a better leader…be a reader.
#52in2018

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