Mr. Lincoln was attracted to intelligent women. Anne Rutledge was described by James Short as “a good looking, smart, lively girl, a good house keeper, with a moderate education…”1
Anne was “very handsome and attractive, as well as industrious and sweet-spirited. I seldom saw her when she was not engaged in some occupation – knitting, sewing, waiting on table, etc.” wrote Harvey Lee Ross, who often boarded at the Rutledge family tavern in New Salem. “I think she did the sewing for the entire family. Lincoln was boarding at the tavern and fell deeply in love with Anne, and she was no less in love with him. They were engaged to be married, but they had been putting off the wedding for a while, as he wanted to accumulate a little more property and she wanted to go longer to school.”
One of the attractions of Anne Rutledge for Mr. Lincoln was her interest in education. Mentor Graham was a New Salem resident who took a role in tutoring both Anne Rutledge and Mr. Lincoln. She was a “tolerably good Schollar in all the Common branchs including grammar &c..” Graham said that Anne had stayed at his house, described her as “Hearty & vigorous – Amiable – Kind.”2
Mr. Lincoln was friendly with the entire family of James Rutledge, who owned an inn at New Salem where Mr. Lincoln occasionally stayed in 1833-1834. Mr. Lincoln’s friend, James Short, reported that “Lincoln boarded with said Rutledge and was partial towards his daughter Miss Ann an amiable young Lady who took Sick and died causing him much sorrow and unhappiness.”3
The Rutledge relationship remains one of the major controversies in Lincoln scholarship. Mr. Lincoln’s law partner, William G. Herndon, uncovered some of the details and was instrumental in publicizing them – much to the chagrin of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was maligned by the reference to Anne Rutledge as Mr. Lincoln’s one and only true love. Ross disagreed with some of the facts in Herndon’s biography of Mr. Lincoln, but agreed on the basics of the Rutledge love story: “I believe his very soul was wrapped up in that lovely girl. It was his first love – the holiest thing in life – the love that cannot die.” Anne’s brother Robert testified that “Mr Lincoln paid his address to Ann, continue his visits and attentions regularly and those resulted in an engagement to marry, condition to an honorable release from the contract with McNamar.” 4 Wrote Robert: “I have no dout but Ann had fully determined to break of the engagement with McNamar, but presume She had never notified him of the fact, as he did not return until after her death.”5
Elizabeth Herndon Bell told how Mr. Lincoln tried to make Anne jealous at a quilting bee by paying attention to Fanny Bailes. Fanny stuck a needle in her finger and Mr. Lincoln removed it. He also asked Elizabeth’s’s mother which woman he should marry. “Lincoln & Ann had a fly up, but on her deathbed she sent for Lincoln & all things were reconciled.6 Elizabeth Herndon Bell also described a quilting bee at which “Mr. Lincoln sat beside her and whispered words of love into her ear. She was so much excited or worked up over it that she overlooked her work and made long irregular stitches and the quilt now in possession of person at Petersburg shows by the long stitches today when L. talked love to her.”7
Anne Rutledge died suddenly in August 1835 of typhoid. Another neighborhood resident, John Hill, said that “Lincoln bore up under it very well until some days afterwards a heavy rain fell, which unnerved him.”8 Another friend, Henry McHenry testified that after her death, “he seemed quite changed, he seemed Retired, & loved Solitude, he seemed wraped in profound thought, indifferent, to transpiring Events…”9
At the time of her death, Anne was caught between her growing fondness for Mr. Lincoln and a previous engagement to John McNamar, who had abruptly left New Salem in 1832 to visit his parents in New York. McNamar later wrote: “Mr. Lincoln was not to my knowledge paying any particular attention to any of the Young Ladies of my acquaintanc[e] when I left there was no rivalry between him and myself on that score on the contrary I have every re[a]son to consider him my Personal friend.”10 McNamar finally arrived back in New Salem in the fall of 1835 – shortly after Anne had died. “I saw and conversed with Mr. Lincon [sic],” McNamar wrote. I thought he had lost some of his former vivacity.”11
Mr. Lincoln was grievously affected by Anne’s death. “The deepest gloom and melancholy settled over his mind. He would often say to his friends: ‘My heart is buried in the grave with that dear girl. He would often go and sit by her grave and read a little pocket Testament he carried with him.”12 Isaac Cogdal recalled that President-elect Lincoln admitted his love of Anne Rutledge before he left Springfield for Washington. “I did really – I ran off the track: it was my first. I loved the woman dearly & sacredly: she was a handsome girl – would have made a good loving wife – was natural and quite intellectual, though not highly Educated,” Mr. Lincoln reportedly told Cogdal. “I did honestly – & truly love the girl & think often – often of her now.”13
Anne’s brother Robert recalled: “Mr Lincoln never forgot the friends with whom he was associated in early life. Soon after his nomination for the Presidency, some grand-children of James Rutledge circulated the report that Mr Lincoln had left their grandfathers house without paying his board bill. These boys were reared under copperhead influences and continued in the faith during the war. This slanderous report reached the ears of Mrs Rutledge widow of James Rutledge and whom he always called ‘Aunt Polly’. She took immediate steps to correct the infamous libel and caused a letter to be written [to] Mr Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln at once wrote Mrs Rutledge expressing his thanks for her Kindness and the interest manifested in his behalf, recurring with warm expressions of remembrance to the many happy days spent under her roof.14
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 73 (Letter from James Short to William Herndon, July 7, 1865).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 242-243 (William H. Herndon interview with Mentor Graham, April 2, 1866).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 383 (Letter from Robert B. Rutledge to William H. Herndon, ca. November 1, 1866).
- Allen C. Guelzo, “Holland’s Informants: The Construction of Josiah Holland’s ‘Life of Abraham Lincoln,’”, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2002, p. 13 (Letter of Erastus Wright to Josiah G. Holland, July 10, 1865).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 409 (Letter from Robert B. Rutledge to William H. Herndon, November 21, 1866).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 606 (William H. Herndon interview with Elizabeth Herndon Bell, March 1887).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 591 (William H. Herndon interview with Elizabeth Herndon Bell, August 24, 1883).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 23 (Letter from John Hill to William H. Herndon, June 6, 1865).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 155 (Letter from Henry McHenry to William H. Herndon, January 8, 1866).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 252 (Letter from John McNamar to G .U. Miles, May 5, 1866).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 253 (Letter from John McNamar to G .U. Miles, May 5, 1866).
- Harvey Lee Ross, The Early Pioneers and Pioneer Events of the State of Illinois, p. 101.
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 440 (William H. Herndon interview with Isaac Cogdal).
- Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, p. 386 (Letter from Robert B. Rutledge to William H. Herndon, ca. November 1, 1866).