Abraham Lincoln’s Children

Lincoln with Tad, his youngest son

Abraham Lincoln had four children with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln — Robert, Edward, William, and Thomas.

Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln was the eldest of Abraham Lincoln’s sons. He was born on the 1st of August, 1843. He was the only one of Abraham’s children to survive into adulthood. Though Robert’s other brothers were lucky enough to enjoy an affectionate relationship with their father, he experienced the contrary. Writing as an adult, he looked back on his childhood and said that his father was almost always absent from the house, giving political lectures. Robert said that when he was sixteen years old, he went to Harvard College, while his father became the president of the United States. He said these events were to blame for the lack of closeness between him and his father, sadly emphasizing that he rarely had a chance to talk to him for ten minutes because his father was always busy with presidential matters.

In 1864, Robert graduated from Harvard University and joined the Union Army as a staff under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Robert went back home to Illinois and entered the University of Chicago Law School. When he was 25 years old, he married Mary Eunice Harlan, who bore him three children. 

Robert’s main preoccupation in life was his career at the Pullman Palace Car Company. Eventually, he became the company’s president and chairman of the board. Robert also had experience in the sphere of politics from 1881 to 1885, when he served as Secretary of War, and from 1889 to 1893, as Ambassador to Great Britain. He was last seen at a public affair when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922.

Robert died on the 26th of July 1926 at his summer residence in Manchester, Vermont. The doctor stated that the cause of Robert’s death was cerebral hemorrhage due to the build-up of fat in the arteries. He was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. His wife described him as a man who forged his own history without the help of his father.

Robert was repeatedly urged by the Republican Party to run for president or vice president in the years 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1912. He always felt he lived under his father’s shadow and expressed no desire to enter big-time politics.

According to a close friend of Robert’s, he frequently said that he was known only as the son of Abraham Lincoln and that nobody really wanted him to be secretary of war or ambassador to Great Britain because all they really wanted was the son of Abraham Lincoln to fill those positions.

Edward Lincoln

Abraham’s second son, Edward Lincoln, was born on the 10th of March, 1846. According to Abraham and Mary, Eddie was a kind and warm-hearted child. Unfortunately, Eddie’s health was always poor, and he died a month before he turned four years old. Records of his death show “chronic consumption” as the cause. During this period, consumption was the term used to refer to tuberculosis. Edward was buried at Hutchinson’s Cemetery in Illinois. A week following Eddie’s death, a poem about him entitled “Little Eddie” appeared in the Illinois Daily Journal. The poem did not indicate its author, and for more than 150 years, the poem’s authorship was a mystery, with many people thinking that Abraham and Mary wrote it. Finally, in 2012, the Abraham Lincoln Association published an article saying the poem was written by a poet from St. Louis, Illinois. The last line of the poem can be found on Eddie’s tombstone.

William “Willie” Lincoln

William “Willie” Lincoln, Abraham’s third son, was born on the 21st of December 1850, eleven months after Eddie’s death. William was said to be the most intelligent of Abraham’s sons and also the most good-looking. Because of these qualities, his father had grown to have a special affection for him. However, William died of typhoid fever in 1862, when he was only eleven years old. Abraham and Mary were devastated by William’s death. Abraham said that William was a good soul, and so God had called him back home. After Williams was laid to rest, Abraham kept himself in his room and cried alone, while Mary stayed in bed for weeks. William was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown but was transferred next to his brother Edward and his assassinated father to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Illinois in 1871.

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln

Abraham’s fourth son was Thomas “Tad” Lincoln. Tad was born on the 4th of April, 1853. He was lucky enough to have enjoyed his stay at the Soldier’s Home, where Abraham sometimes stayed to get his rest from the political strains of Washington. During this time, his brother, Robert, was away at college. Tad seemed to have had a happy childhood, as his father often brought him along to the Union Army’s headquarters. On these occasions, Tad often wore a tiny version of the uniform.

After Abraham was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth in 1865, Tad was inconsolable. He cried and repeatedly said, “They’ve killed him.” He also said that he could not believe that he would never see his father again but hoped that he would join him and his brother William in heaven.

In 1868, Mary and Tad went to Germany and lived there for nearly three years. On their way home in 1871, Tad caught a cold. A month later, he was gravely ill. On the 15th of July 1871, Tad died either of tuberculosis or congestive heart failure. He was eighteen years old. Tad was buried at the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery with his father and his two brothers. His brother Robert went along with Tad’s coffin on the train, but Mary was too devastated to leave the house.