Why does this site appear as text-only?

Robert Todd Lincoln


Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1, 1843 – July 26, 1926) was the first son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd. Born in Springfield, Illinois, United States.  He was the only one of President Lincoln's four sons to die in old age.

Early Life

Robert Lincoln graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, then studied at Harvard University from 1861 to 1864 where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. (Later in life, Lincoln also joined the Delta Chi fraternity.) He enrolled in Harvard Law School, but did not graduate and in 1865 joined the Union Army. Robert rose to the rank of Captain, serving in the American Civil War as part of General Ulysses S. Grant's immediate staff, in a position which sharply minimized the likelihood that he would be involved in actual combat.

He moved with his mother and his brother Thomas (Tad) Lincoln to Chicago in May of 1865, following his father's assassination.  There, Robert completed his law studies at the University of Chicago (a school different from the university presently known by that name). He was admitted to the bar on February 25, 1867.

On September 24, 1868, he married Mary Eunice Harlan (September 25, 1846 - March 31, 1937), the daughter of Senator James Harlan and Ann Eliza Peck of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. They had two daughters, Mary "Mamie" Lincoln (October 15, 1869 - November 21, 1938) and Jessie Harlan Lincoln (November 6, 1875 - January 4, 1948) and one son, Abraham Lincoln II (nicknamed "Jack") (August 14, 1873 - March 5, 1890).The last direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985.

His mother's "spend-thrift" ways and eccentric behavior concerned him. To gain control of his mother's finances he had her committed to a psychiatric hospital in Batavia, Illinois in 1875. She was released after a three-month stay. The committal proceedings led to a profound estrangement between Lincoln and his mother; they were never reconciled.

Secretary of War (1881-1885)

In 1877, Lincoln turned down President Rutherford B. Hayes's offer to appoint him Assistant Secretary of State, but later accepted an appointment as President James Garfield's Secretary of War serving from 1881 to 1885 under Presidents Garfield and Chester A. Arthur.

Following his service as Secretary of War, Lincoln helped Oscar Dudley in establishing the Illinois Industrial Training School for Boys in Norwood Park in 1887 after Dudley discovered "more neglected and abandoned children on the streets than stray animals." The school relocated to Glenwood, Illinois, in 1899, beginning to enroll girls in 1898. Under the name Glenwood School for Boys & Girls, the school still operates as a haven for boys and girls whose parents are unable to care for them.

Ambassador to the United Kingdom

Later, Robert served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1889 to 1893 under President Benjamin Harrison, then returned to private business as a lawyer. He became General Counsel and subsequently President and Chairman of the Board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, where he worked until his retirement in 1922. He made his last public appearance at the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C. for his father's memorial on May 30 of that year.

A serious amateur astronomer, Lincoln constructed an observatory at his home in Manchester, Vermont, and equipped it with a refracting telescope with a six-inch objective lens. Lincoln's telescope still exists; it has been restored and is used by a local astronomy club.

Presence at Assassinations

There is an odd coincidence in regard to Lincoln and presidential assassinations. He was either actually present or very near by three of them.

Lincoln was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford's Theatre the night his father was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, but declined and remained behind at the White House. He was informed of the President's assassination just before midnight.

At President James A. Garfield's invitation, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., where the President was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881 and was an eyewitness to the event. Lincoln was serving as Garfield's Secretary of War at the time.

At the President William McKinley's invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York where the President was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, though he was not an eyewitness to the event.

In another odd coincidence, Robert Lincoln was once saved by Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, from possible serious injury or death. The incident happened at a railroad station in Jersey City in 1863, when Robert was traveling from New York City to Washington, and was recounted by Lincoln in 1909.


Robert Lincoln died at his Vermont home on July 26, 1926, and was later interred in Arlington National Cemetery next to his wife Mary and their son Jack, who died of blood poisoning at the age of 16 in London, England.

Prior to his death, Lincoln had been the last surviving member of the Garfield and Arthur Cabinets.