Like his famous father, Robert Todd Lincoln was also an early patron of the State Library and gives us some of the most detailed descriptions of the Library room.

Robert himself used the library on many occasions, borrowing 29 books during 1858 and 1859 alone. His library reading included the works of Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving, as well as such classics as Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Many of his borrowings were done while a preparatory student at the now-defunct Illinois State University in Springfield, not to be confused with the later Illinois State University in Normal. He was accepted into Harvard University, graduating in 1864 and later serving briefly on the staff of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant. He was present at the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. 1

The eldest of the Lincolns’ four sons, Robert was the only one who survived to adulthood. Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1867, Robert became a successful attorney and married into another prominent political family. His wife, Mary Harlan, was the daughter of James Harlan, a longtime Republican senator from Iowa and former president of Iowa Wesleyan University. Robert’s relations with his own family were often strained, clashing with his mother, Mary Todd, during the well-publicized, and often unjust, court battles to determine her sanity. The disputes with his troubled mother reflect the perception of Robert as aloof and distant, although close friends remembered him as a man with a distinct sense of humor, much like his father. 2

Thanks at least in part to his famous name, Robert was a national figure in Republican politics for much of his life and was Secretary of War under the administrations of Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur from 1881 to 1885. From 1889 to 1893 he served as minister to England under President Benjamin Harrison. There was a groundswell of support for Robert for President in both the 1884 and 1888 campaigns, but he was never interested in serving as chief executive and did not allow himself to be a candidate. 3

In addition to politics, Robert gained considerable wealth in business, serving as president of the Pullman Palace Car Company from 1901 to 1911. He was rabidly interested in how his father was portrayed by writers and scholars and tightly guarded his father’s Presidential papers, allowing only John Nicolay and John Hay to use them in their landmark multi-volume work, Abraham Lincoln: A History, published in 1890. 4

An avid golfer and astronomer, Robert spent much of his time at his estate, Hildene, in southern Vermont and attended the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1922. He died in 1926 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the only one of the four Lincoln sons who does not rest with his parents in the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield. 5

  1. Neely 184.
  2. Neely 140, 185.
  3. Neely 185-186.
  4. Neely 186.
  5. Ibid.