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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Soulmate, Myself:
The Perfect Mate

Mary and Abraham



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Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865), 16th President of the United States (1861 - 1865), and Mary Todd Lincoln (1818 - 1882)



a burning and scorching hell

-- a direct quote concerning the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln from William (“Billy”) Herndon, Abe's Springfield law partner.

This is but one historical item among a torrent which demythologizes – not irreverently – the legend of Abraham Lincoln.

The History Channel’s “Lincoln: The Untold Stories” features a seminal offering of new information on the life of the sixteenth President of the United States. After the assassination of 1865, with unrealistic images of “American sainthood” having been bestowed upon Lincoln, Billy Herndon felt it important to offer an accurate account of his old friend.

Herndon spent the next 25 years gathering letters and testimonies from hundreds of people who knew and had first-hand knowledge about Lincoln. This great collection of documents eventually came into the possession of the Library of Congress where it lay undisturbed, buried, for many decades. In the 1980s, however, historians discovered this treasure-trove of Lincoln arcana. For nine years the massive corpus of information was organized and transcribed.

The result is a new picture of Abraham Lincoln, one that makes him human, without walking on water, and yet, at the end, commands our respect and admiration all the more.

You will want to review The History Channel’s treatment of the “Herndon Letters” for yourself. I will attempt a severely abridged offering here, with special focus on the Lincolns’ marriage -- which abridgment is difficult as almost everything in the “Herndon Letters” seems compellingly interesting.



Paintings of Lincoln’s boyhood depict him swinging an ax, with sainted glow upon visage, a pensiveness staring off into heaven, a duty toward parents gladly assumed. This is the mythology. And while it is true that boy-Lincoln worked very hard, he fought his father's disrespect for education every chance he got. Thomas Lincoln was proud to be ignorant, proud to disdain those who could read and liked books. Abe’s effort to find time to read was judged by his father as an excuse for laziness and shirking of farm-work duty.


“He was a rebel!”

We learn from “The Letters” that boy-Lincoln was considered to be a "rebel.” It would become clear that he’d chosen not to become like his father or neighbors. He would aspire to be a man of knowledge, a positive force in the world, leaving far behind the anti-intellectualism, superstitious and cultish thinking of his provincial farm-community.

This head-to-head conflict with parental authority sharpened Abe’s resolve both to make something of himself and to expend great effort in the achieving. A testimony from the time reported, “He was the most arrogant man I ever knew, but it was an arrogance built upon accurate assessment of his own abilities.” Young Lincoln began to trust himself, perceived his own intelligence, and that, with more self-developmental work, he could stand up to anyone. It was an exhilarating discovery of the sacred self.


down on the farm; a fierce sense of humanism

The testimonies lead us to draw causal link between the back-breaking work he endured on the farm and his growing sense of humanism. He hated his status of indentured servant consigned to hard labor. Not only was he required to work long hours on the family farm, but his father also “rented him out” to neighbors for which servitude boy-Lincoln received no compensation. These early experiences living as the “neighborhood slave” developed within the future President a repugnance toward any man or woman having to work for others without pay. The Lincoln, statesman of the world, who eventually saw fit to enact the Emancipation Proclamation, against great outcry even within his own party, exhibited a fierce sense of humanism – a direct result of his early years suffering under patriarchal iron fist on the farm.


first love

By 1833, age 24, Abe had moved to New Salem, Illinois. In the village he met Anne Rutledge, his first love, and the love of his life. They fell in love and were engaged to be married. Anne, the testimonies inform us, seems to have been a “perfect” girl in terms of high intellect, exceptional beauty, and excellent character. More than tragically, Anne became ill and died before they could marry. Abraham fell into severe melancholia, and his friends feared that he would commit suicide. They kept guard over him for a time.



After Anne’s death, as Abe began to recast his life, he would study law. In 1837, to practice law, he moved to Springfield, Illinois; it would be his home for more than 20 years, until his election to the Presidency. Upon arriving to begin his work, he had no money or possessions but for saddle bags with a few personal items. A local shopkeeper recalls a first encounter. Abe said he’d like to buy a bed and a few things for a room, which would set him back $17. He told the merchant that if credit might be extended he would repay the debt in coming months as his law-work developed; however, the new lawyer admitted, if he were to be unsuccessful in his new field, the debt might never be repaid. Credit was extended.

During this time he met Mary Owens. With half-hearted intention, he would propose marriage; but, various issues kept them apart, and the union did not occur.


questions about religion

In the early 1830s we find Abe reevaluating his position on religion. One of the testimonies asserts: “Lincoln attacked the Bible and sometimes bordered on absolute atheism. He shocked me [with his ideas]. In 1834 my Methodist father hated to vote for Lincoln because he’d heard that he was an infidel. Lincoln wrote a pamphlet attacking the divinity of Christ.”


cost of doing business

A friend of young-man Lincoln, in the testimonies, recounts an earthy incident. Lincoln asked his friend if he knew of, or could arrange a meeting with, a pretty girl with whom he might have intimate relations. The friend said that he knew of such a girl and would look into the matter on Abe’s behalf. Lincoln met with the girl and they proceeded to get into bed. Before “getting down to business,” however, Lincoln asked the girl, “What do you charge?” “Five dollars, Mister Lincoln,” came the reply. “I have only three dollars.” “That’s alright, you can owe me the two.” “No,” said Lincoln, “I can’t go into debt with this”; thereupon, he put his pants on, but not before offering the girl his three dollars for her trouble. She smiled and refused the money. Later she would tell friends, with a measure of mirthful astonishment, that Lincoln was the most conscientious man she’d ever met.


Editor’s note: Fundamentalists might see a connection between the previous “infidel” incident and Lincoln’s desire to meet with a lady-of-the-night. The community religious would chide: “If he had gone to church, if he hadn’t been an atheist, he would have had better morals.” Lincoln needs no defense, but if he did I would say this: In my life, time and time again, I’ve discovered that those who enjoy to proudfully announce and proclaim to others just how religious they are eventually reveal themselves to be the greatest cheats and swindlers I’ve ever known. I merely inform you of this anecdotal evidence. It should also be stated, too, that Lincoln was no atheist, but merely decried untenable, superstitious views of God held by the masses. Let me say this: I would gladly do business with an honorable “atheist” any day of the week than a self-announcing religionist.


Mary Todd

Mary Todd, one of the most eligible socialites in Springfield, was the daughter of a wealthy upper-class Lexington banker. A classic example of “opposites attract,” she and Abe were immediately attracted to each other. The good news tends to decline after this point, however. What they shared in common was an intense interest in politics and a high degree of worldly ambition.

We know from the testimonies that it was Mary, primarily, who wanted things to work out with Abe. She was the aggressor and set her sights on him, which tells us that this high-society lady perceived that the lanky boy from Kentucky would go far in the world.

One of Mary’s girlfriends would later testify to Herndon: “I saw them sitting in the parlor. Mary was doing the talking and led the conversation. He sat there as if drawn by a superior power.”

Strangely, Stephen Douglas would be Lincoln’s rival several times in life: for Mary’s hand, for the Senate, and for the Presidency. Mary was asked by her girlfriends which man she intended to have. Miss Todd flatly stated: “Him who has the best prospects of being President!”


proposal reconsidered

Abe proposed marriage to Mary in 1840, and she accepted. But two months later Lincoln had a change of heart. The reconsideration came in the form of Matilda Edwards, a new 18 year-old girl in Springfield, painfully beautiful to her many admirers. Lincoln falls in love with her. He is too shy and socially awkward, however, to approach Matilda, but, in the course of this upheaval, he realizes that he cannot wed himself to Mary if his affections are so easily transferred elsewhere. He breaks off the engagement. A period of depression ensues for Abraham, as he questions his sense of honor toward Mary. Historians call this Lincoln’s “crazy period.” It would end, or come to a peak, on November 4, 1842, their wedding day – called into session with only one day’s notice!


seduction theory

This “one day’s notice,” along with other anomalies, many historians judge, is best explained by what is called the “seduction theory.” While there is no absolute proof for the following, it offers explanation for questions swirling around that fateful day.

It seems that Mary seduced him, inveigled Abe into bed, and the next morning announced to her captive, “I don’t know if I’m pregnant or not, but we’re not going to wait and see, you’re going to marry me right now, you owe it to me.”

We know that Lincoln told many of his friends that he did not love Mary enough to wed her. Further, on the morning of the wedding, Lincoln is asked by children in the house where he’s staying, “Where are you going, Mister Lincoln?” The putatively happy groom answers, “To the Devil, I guess!” Also, Lincoln’s best-man well remembers that day and said that he looked like an animal going to slaughter rather than a happy man on his way to a longed-for marriage. But the most compelling evidence for the “one day notice” comes with the fact that firstborn son Robert entered the world three days less than nine months after the wedding day!


Mary’s growing insanity

There are many examples of Mary’s fit-throwing all through their marriage, even into the White House days. Many testimonies inform us of this. An unintended, but most tragic, consequence ensued from Mrs. Lincoln’s intemperance. General Grant and his wife had been scheduled to be with the Lincolns at Ford’s theatre that terrible night. Mrs. Grant, however, refused to go out after having been recently insulted by Mrs. Lincoln. If Grant had been in attendance that night, he would have brought with him a sturdy complement of body-guards, which would have protected the President, as well!

After the assassination, Mary’s hold on reality slipped away more and more. By 1875 her son Robert had her committed to an asylum; she’d been found wandering the streets with hundreds of thousands of dollars on her person.


overcoming the shackles of the formative world

There has been resistance to the “Herndon Letters.” Many have not wanted an “American god” dethroned and demythologized. But I see Abraham Lincoln emerging from the fancies of the crowd more impressive and honorable than ever.

It is wrong to deify the good men and women of the past. Such apotheosis robs them of their great accomplishment of overcoming the frailties of the human condition.

No one in the testimonies ever said one word about Abe being dishonorable to anyone. He may have been unkind at times, or too worldly-ambitious in early years, but he would learn to take the high-road, eventually avoiding personal attacks on adversaries. His Presidential policies, in the main, a reflection of a great spirit, were crafted to serve the greater good.

In Abraham Lincoln I see a man who transcended not only early poverty – pecuniary, intellectual, moral -- but transcended himself. There is no better achievement than that. His reputation as America’s most honored President remains untarnished.

More than ever, I’m happy to count one of Abe’s sayings as most treasured among thousands on the Word Gems site.



Kairissi. It’s reported that Abe once said that God required only one “d” in his name but the Todd’s needed two!

Elenchus. That’s funny.

K. What a tragic story -- the marriage of Mary and Abraham.

E. It’s terrible.

K. “A burning and scorching hell.”

E. It’s all so predictable. They never had a chance for happiness. Mary and Abraham represent a special sub-set of “John and Mary” – the highly intelligent but ruthlessly ambitious alliance toward power and wealth.

K. Didn’t JFK say that there’re no friends or lovers in politics, only accomplices? – "if he didn’t," as Elizabeth would say, “he ought.” (smiling)

E. (small smile)

E. But you are correct. This couple’s blind ambition made them very dysfunctional. They never had a prayer of getting their marriage right. They were just using each other in a high-stakes game of "buying and selling, giving and receiving."

K. We gasp at Mary’s bold-faced, unashamed conniving and manipulation: “I will marry the one most likely to become President!”

E. Machiavelli-ette.

K. It’s commonly assumed in our society that men are the devious ones. They’re the ones always plotting to get a woman into bed, they say; they’re the ones you can’t trust.

E. John, in his soliloquy, admitted to earlier times of “sowing wild oats.”

K. Yes, of course, that’s too common, but look at Mary Todd. The “seduction theory” strongly suggests that it was she who lured him into bed in order to force his hand in marriage. I have often defended women “named Mary,” but, as we like to joke, John needs attorney representation here.

E. Tell me what you see.

K. Women, led by the ego and biological impetus, can be just as scheming and disingenuous. John, at times, in his bio-madness, is consumed with the craving to plant seed; but Mary is just as neurotic and driven to want to nurture that seed. All of this works well to perpetuate the species, and Mother Nature is very pleased with the proceedings, but Madame Destiny is appalled by this tawdry display and proclaims that none of this, fundamentally, has a particle to do with true love.

E. The author told me a story or two from his younger days that supports what you say. At age 18, upon graduating from high school, he visited a boy-cousin in another state. The cousin arranged a double-date for them. The author’s date was a fine and pretty girl, smart, a good student, on her way to attend college in the fall to become a nurse; even so, he felt no compelling attraction to her. Having attended a movie, at the end of the evening, upon dropping her off at her house, with a “good-bye” kiss on the cheek, she asked if they might write to each other. Half-heartedly, in politeness, he agreed. And she did write, and the letters were perfumed, as she spoke of the future suggestively. After a couple of these letters, discerning the imbalance of affections, but not in her favor, he forwarded his indication that they should no longer write. To his utter shock and great dismay, he received a reply most venomous, laced with “threatenings and slaughter.”

K. She’d spent only three hours with him, decided she’d won the lottery, and had already set the wedding date and was even cutting cake. She really didn’t care so much for him as a person but only as a stepping-stone to that “good and well-ordered life” she’d been programmed to want.

E. He recounted another incident, in high school. A classmate was infatuated with him, but he did not recall ever even speaking with her. She crafted a plan to be alone with him. One night, after a school function, as he was driving away, another car pulled up alongside his. An upperclassman and his girlfriend were in the frontseat and in the backseat was the girl-in-question. The driver asked him if he wanted to park his car and avail himself of the awaiting company in the backseat. He declined the generous offer and drove away. However, this girl, mightily slighted by this rejection, became a lifetime nemesis.

K. Look how easy it is to enrage a thwarted ego. You can be minding your own business, just trying to live your life, but when “Mary Todd” comes calling, trying to get you into bed, and you don’t want to play, now you’ve made an enemy for all time.

E. The author said he could give several other examples from his adult life, as well.

K. This issue of blindly using others as “means not ends” reminds me of something the apostle Paul said:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.” Galatians 5: 19-21, The Message

E. Wow! Paul’s assessment here is poetically and disturbingly insightful.

K. And how utterly tragic Mary’s indirect causal linkage to the assassination! If she hadn’t flown into one of her frequent rages around Mrs. Grant, the General’s bodyguards would have been there that night at the theatre!

E. What a classic case of unforeseen consequences. The dysfunctional ego thinks it can abuse others with impunity, and yet, if we could perceive the matrix of ripple effect set into play with our untoward actions, we would stand aghast.

K. You know, the story of Abe’s rise in the world is so remarkable. Has anyone in the history of the world risen so high from such lowly station?

E. I know what you mean, but Abe himself said that “only circumstance can make a President.” There were four candidates that election, and Abe received only a little more than 25% of the vote. We think we’re a divided country today, but pre-Civil War days were worse. My point is, Abraham Lincoln’s “rising” should not be defined in terms of ephemeral political office but, as the author said, the degree to which he “transcended himself.”

K. (small smile) I think you should transcend yourself.

E. Where’s the cute Matilda Edwards when I need her?

K. Uh-huh.

E. The biggest mistake Abe ever made in his life was not waiting for Anne. The fallout from this primary error would overwhelm him in misery and suffering for the rest of his time on this planet.

K. (silence)

E. Abe was well-read. Like the Brownings, he would have known about Swedenborg and about Summerland. He invited psychics into the White House to contact loved ones, so he knew. But his worldly ambition blinded him to the “ultimate reality” of love… he should have waited for Anne as Prime Minister Arthur waited for May.

K. We learn that May was also waiting for Arthur – which means that, if the love between Abe and Anne was true, Anne would have been waiting for Abe on the other side.

E. If Anne was waiting, she would have endured great sorrow as she observed the foolish and egoic machinations of her ambitious mate on Earth. And I will tell you this: whatever shortcomings Abe might’ve needed to set straight upon entering Summerland, the realization of causing Anne so much pain and grief would be a cross and burden not easily forgiven of himself, for a long time into his life over there.


Kairissi. Poor Abraham and poor Mary. They were so miserable together. Abraham felt so bad at times, was so depressed, that he actually was tempted to kill himself.

Elenchus. Even before his enemies got to him.

K. Misery in marriage can be as deadly as assassination. Theirs was an extreme case of Ann Landers’ comment “… and the married wish to be dead.”

E. You have something on your mind.

K. We’ve touched on the author’s concept of true romance as ultimate reality, and how this invites a converse, ultimate illusion.

E. Are you seeing something new?

K. I’m not sure, but I’d like to talk this out. In The Wedding Song we said that romantic love's extreme pleasure is borne of a sense of oneness, that One Person status enjoyed by Twins.

E. If Mother-Father God represent an archetype of Twin-Soul union, a grandest expression of oneness, then romantic love would lead us to the Divine ultimate truth, what we're all made for, the "singular pervasive reality" of togetherness with a Beloved.

K. I believe, and sense, in my deepest heart, that this is our "omega point," where we're all headed. But, Elenchus, if this is ultimate reality, then, by inference, we can begin to perceive the meaning of ultimate illusion. And, unfortunately, the marriage of Mary and Abraham becomes tragic example.

E. If ultimate reality = oneness = an ecstasy, and all things delightful = our destiny, where we're all headed = purpose and meaning for our lives; then, ultimate illusion = separateness, painful aloneness = utmost misery and all manner of suffering = a perversion of what life was meant to be = existential crisis, despair, and losing one's reason to live.

K. Sadly, this latter became the testimony of Abraham's life; and Mary was very miserable, too. We're reminded of Tolle's thoughts on this: there are two things that make the dysfunctional ego unhappy -- not getting what it wants, and getting what it wants!

E. Kriss, can you summarize this profound item of wisdom for us?

K. We were meant to live in union with others; at the quantum level, universal connectedness has already happened. In Summerland, more and more, we will live in conscious brotherhood-and-sisterhood-harmony with all. And this will be our great source of happiness and joy. But there is one person, only one in all of creation, with whom we are meant to most-intensely experience this union of spirits. And when we find the Sacred Beloved, the Twin Soul -- the Anne Rutledge for Abraham -- we shall know the end of all of our strivings, the end of all vestiges of aloneness, the end of "ultimate illusion," and the beginning of ultimate reality.