TEAM OF FRIENDS

TEAM OF FRIENDS

By Anthony E. Gallo

Abraham Lincoln is our most admired and iconic President. More books have been written about this 16th president than all other presidents combined.

 

The reason is clear.   He was a moral leader who saved the Union, abolished slavery and laid the groundwork for the American Industrial Revolution.     He kept a nation together, and he did so with keen political skills   He kept a cabinet of rivals together. Biographers and historians call these men a Team of Rivals, popularized in a book of that same name by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

 

But then there is the story of his team of personal allies. Without them,  I argue,  Abraham Lincoln would not have played the role he has in human history.

 

Abraham Lincoln did not have many friends.  He had many colleagues, both political and personal, but very few personal friends.  In fact only two men, who both aided his journey to the Presidency.     And both men had an important bearing on his legacy. Without them, he would not have been elected president of the United States.  His third pillar of support  was his wife Mary.  Without Mary, or Mrs. Lincoln, as she liked to be called, Mr. Lincoln would not have survived his depressions.

 

Mr. Lincoln shared a bed with one friend for four years, an office with his law partner for 16 years and a home and a life with Mary Lincoln for 23 years.  All three loved Abraham Lincoln and he loved them, but in the end, he dominated all three.  One was a slaveholder who believed strongly slavery, the second a drunk and the third a shrewish wife.  But he dominated them all.

 

 

JOSHUA SPEED

Joshua Speed was Abraham Lincoln’s only personal friend.   They had no business dealings, other than their beds.   They shared the same bed for four years.  And Lincoln paid him $17 a month—the amount that they agreed upon in 1837. The sharing of the bed was not homoerotic.   The friendship was instead one of mutual support.   Nor had there been a charge of homoeroticism until the late twentieth century, when activists (led by DC native playwright Larry Kramer) insisted that the relationship was homosexual.  Playwright Kramer announced there was correspondence to show this relationship.  Subsequently none was found, backing the consensus among scholars and historians that the relationship was not homosexual.

 

Why did Lincoln and Speed continue sharing a bed when the future sixteenth president could afford his own?  The obvious answer would appear to be that sleeping patterns were different in those days.  To a degree, this explanation is true    When Mr. Lincoln arrived in Springfield, he was relatively poor but not for long.  Surely he could have paid more than $17 a month being one of the Springfield’s most successful attorneys.   Further, Mr. Speed, the son of slave owning family (57 slaves), could also afford his own bed. The reason may lie in Lincoln’s basic character.  Mr. Lincoln was an emotional man who suffered from melancholy.   He had bouts of severe depression.    And had a nervous collapse  when he realized he had to leave Mary Todd because of what he perceived as their irreconcilable differences.   They eventually reconciled mostly due to Joshua Speed’s advice.   In turn, Mr. Lincoln strongly supported Joshua Speed in this relationship and subsequent marriage to Fanny.  Both men wanted to marr ”up,”and both did.  Speed had a very successful marriage.   But so did Lincoln. But Lincoln’s marriage was more volatile due to his unhappy nature and her volatility which he recognized before he married her.   He broke off the engagement in 1842, and had a nervous collapse.  The Speed family brought him to Farmington.   He was convinced by Joshua Speed to résumé the engagement.  And he and Mary Todd were married the following year.

 

Lincoln strongly opposed slavery   Joshua Speed strongly supported it.   Over and over again he persisted in his view and expressed to Lincoln that abolition was good neither for blacks nor whites.  He argued in their correspondence that without slavery the economy would be destroyed, it would bring economic and political mayhem that would ensure the country’s collapse.    Lincoln listened closely, and often seemed to agree with him, but always maintained his abolitionist position.

 

What was the attraction?    Both men had Kentucky roots.   Both men were highly intelligent and educated.     And Mr. Lincoln, both high strung and restless, needed the guidance and friendship of the calmer Mr. Speed.  That friendship lasted from 1837 to his death 28 years later.  Mr. and Mrs. Speed were invited to the Whitehouse twelve times when Lincoln became President.   And Baraka Obama took his oath of office on the very same Bible that Lucy Speed, Joshua Speed’s mother, gave to Lincoln whom she loved.   I doubt that President Obama was (and is) aware that he was taking his oath of office on a Bible given to Lincoln by ardent slaveholders.

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Neither man attended the others wedding, but certainly supported one another.  Their friendship was for a lifetime

 

That Speed believed in slavery is beyond dispute.  He tried vociferously to get Lincoln to change his mind.    Lincoln, in his correspondence, often seemed not to disagree with him.  But once elected to office Lincoln proceeded with the course and got rid of slavery.     And James Speed was his attorney general.  In fact, when Lincoln appointed Speed his attorney general,  the press asked him what he knew about James Speed personally?   His reply was that he knew the family well, since he shared a bed with his brother for six years.

 

Speed was a natural businessman. Today he would be a billionaire.   .   Politics was never his prime interest and he said so.  Lincoln, by the same token, did not have any of Speeds business acumen.   In fact, Lincoln was a very poor businessman.  Herndon was even worse.   He spent profligately,  made bad business decisions  and was poor during the last part of his life.  He died a pauper, after the sales of his Lincoln biographies were highly unsuccessful.  Speed was a very wealthy when he died. Among other bequests, he left the Methodist Church of Kentucky nearly million dollars.   By contrast, President Lincoln left an estate of $110,000, and Herndon was essentially bankrupt.

 

Speed’s impact on the Lincoln legacy came with  what he did for Lincoln during the President’s lifetime. Although Speed opposed abolition, he helped to keep Kentucky in the union.  Supposedly President Lincoln said “I love god, but I must have Kentucky.”   Lincoln got only 1375 votes in Kentucky—and many of those votes were from Speed relatives.   Without Speed’s influence, Kentucky would not have remained in the union.   And many historians agree that had Kentucky not remained in the union, Maryland and Missouri would have joined the Confederacy.

 

 

 

BILLY HERNDON

Billy Herndon’s relationship with the President Lincoln was more complex.    They met in 1837 by way of Joshua Speed.  Billy worked in the Bell General Store owned by Speed when Lincoln rented.  Herndon’s wealthy father had sent him to Illinois College to become a good Christian, a responsible slave owner, and sober.  Billy came back an agnostic, drunk, and abolitionist and flunked out

 

Billy’s admiration of Lincoln began with teri first meeting, and Lincoln loved it    Billy passed the bar and became M. Lincoln’s junior partner, whereas Lincoln had previously been the junior partner himself.  And that was the relationship between the two men.   Billy idolized Lincoln.   He was a brilliant partner and fastidious.    The junior-senior relationship was to persist throughout the sixteen years of their active partnership. During that period, Billy provided great moral, political and emotional support for  Lincoln, as he continued to climb the political latter. Their father- son relationship clashes sharply with the fraternal relationship with Mr. Speed.  Surprisingly, Mr. Lincoln’s relationship with his own father was estranged indeed.  Thomas Lincoln was not invited to his son’s marriage, nordid he  ever met  Mary or any of the Lincoln Children.  Lincoln did not attend Thomas Lincoln’s funeral, and at first would not even buy him a headstone. He eventually did.

When Lincoln was elected President, Billy did not get a Government position.   He did borrow $20  from the newly elected President who also got a wife for him.   After the death of his first wife; Herndon courted a woman name Anna, who did not want to marry him. He beseeched Lincoln to get her brother a job in the Deferral government, which Lincoln did.   Billy got Anna.

 

Lincoln but made one request of Billy.  That he was to keep the fires burning in the home office and that when Lincoln was done being president he would return to the law office of Lincoln and Herndon.  Billy was satisfied.

 

 

 

 

 

Herndon’s influence on Lincoln’s legacy was horrendous, and nearly all  negative. .  F,ollowing the assassination William Herndon dedicated the rest of his life to Abraham Lincoln,. as self-anointed keeper of the flame. Herndon felt he had a   special hold on Lincoln’s legacy.

Here are some of his eye popping assertions:

  • Lincoln was a bastard; Herndon argued that Nancy Hanks was a very promiscuous woman and that Lincoln was the illegitimate offspring of one of her trysts.
  • Herndon says the same about Nancy Hank’s mother, with affidavits showing that she too was a very loose woman.
  • Ann Rutledge. This fabrication was written solely to hurt Mrs. Lincoln. Ann Rutledge was a young   woman whom Lincoln did know.   She was betrothed to a man who left town and would not release her from the engagement.  She died.   Herndon argues that she was the only woman Lincoln ever loved and since he lost both his mother and his sister, he was incapable of loving any other woman.     Despite affidavits to support this contention, the  man to whom she was betrothed said that he never head of Lincoln until he became President.   Carl Sandburg made up a sad saga out of this fabrication. (Mr. Sandburg won two Pulitzer prizes for his two Lincoln biographies which are  historically inaccurate.  One reviewer found 200-errors in the first twenty pages and thereby stopped reading)
  • Syphilis: Herndon said that Lincoln had syphilis, which he acquired as a child. And Herndon also says Nancy Hanks had syphilis.
  • The dead Lincoln sons were brats. Herndon says that the Lincolns let their two sons, now dead, run wild, and that all four were brats.
  • Bad Lawyer: Herndon says Lincoln was a sloppy lawyer who did not like looking at details.  He was also sloppy and had to depend on Herndon to keephis things in order.
  • Bowel movements: He describes Lincoln bowel movements in detail.
  • Religion: Today much of the world believes that Lincoln was a free thinker Herndon bases this assertion on afternoon chats at the office.   The evidence is overwhelming against this.   Lincoln mentioned God more times than any other President in American history.   His relationship with the Reverend Phineas Gurley, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, was a very close, and Gurley presided over the funeral s of both Wiie and the President.   Lincoln attended Church with great regularity and participated in several discussion groups. He also paid the yearly dues of $50.  Lincoln did not join the Church, which remains a mystery, but was definitely an active member.  And last but not least, the day he died, he and Mary discussed plans  to visit Holy Land. And, oh yes, Lincoln’s knowledge of the Bribe exceed that of any other President in America history.  And of course we should not lose sight of one of President Lincoln’s quotes:  When I have a need for real guidance, I get on my knees.

 

MARY LINCOLN

Her indispensible role in the Lincoln Presidency cannot be denied.  Abraham Lincoln was very much in love with her. After the deaths of two of her sons, Mrs. Lincoln became difficult and in fact earned the Hellcat Mary Name.  But one must always remember what Robert Lincoln said:  that Abraham Lincoln, his father, loved his mother and was very lonely without her

 

Abraham Lincoln found it difficult to live with her.  He found it even more difficult to live without her.   He broke off the engagement, and essentially had a nervous breakdown.     They met in 1837 when she was 18 and he was 27 in the flourishing city of Springfield   But what is most important about Mary Lincoln (Mary TODD Lincoln was unacceptable to her) is that she was indispensible to Abraham despite her mercurial behavior after the deaths of Willy and Eddy

 

The relationship between Mrs. Lincoln with these Speed and Herndon was at both extremes. She loved Joshua Speed.  She loathed Billy Herndon, whom she described as an uncouth drink.   He described her as a serpent. Both men felt the same about her as she felt about them, as did their wives. She was vilified by both of the eyewitness account biographies of the 16th President by Herndon and Hay and Nicolay, who came up with the name Hellcat Mary, later shortened to The Hellcat.

 

Bibliography

 

Clinton Catherine, Mrs. Lincoln:  A Life , Harpeer Collins  Publisher,

 

Donald, David Lincoln, , Jonathan Cape, London, 1995

 

________________, Lincoln at home : Two Glimpses of Abraham

Lincoln’s Family Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

___________________ We are Lincoln Men, Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, Simon and Schuster, NY 2003,     Pulitzer PrizeSchuster, Lincoln’s Billy. ,Alfred Knopf,  1948  NY,   ________________, Lincoln’s Billy: Alfred A. Knopf Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

________________, Lincoln at home : Two Glimpses of Abraham Lincoln’s Family Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

 

___________, We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2003

 

Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2005

 

Hawke, David Freeman, Billy’s Lincoln, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. New York, New York, 1970

Herttz The Hidden Lincoln From the Letters and Papers of Wiliam Herndon, blue Ribbon Books, 1940

 

Neale, Donald Walsch, Conversations with  God, An Uncommon Dialogue, book 1, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY, 1995

 

Oates, Stephen B., With Malice Toward None: the Life of Abraham Lincoln, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 1994

 

 

White, Ronald C.. Jr., Lincoln’s Greatest Speech : The Second Inaugural, Simon &Schuster, New york, NY, 2005

 

_________________,The Eloquent President : A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, Random House, New York, NY, 2005

Temple, Wayne, Abraham Lincoln, From Skeptic to Prophet, Mayhaven Publishing, Mahomet, IL, 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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