Abraham and Mary Lincoln Marriage License, November 4, 1842
After courting for two years Lincoln and Mary reached an understanding they would marry, much to the dismay of her family. But as familial opposition mounted, Lincoln began to wonder if his decision was the right one. He did not doubt his love for Mary, but questioned whether he could provide for her emotional needs as well as her physical comfort, after all, Mary had been raised a pampered daughter in a Kentucky blueblood family. A story handed down through Edwards’ family history tells of a fight that took place between Mary and Lincoln that led to their estrangement. Mary and Lincoln were invited to a New Year’s Eve party and he was supposed to escort her, but Lincoln was late and Mary became upset. Rather than wait for him, she left without him. When Lincoln finally arrived at the party, he saw Mary dancing and flirting outrageously. Both became angry with the other and as a result, Lincoln unhappily released Mary from her promise, and for eighteen months they had no contact with each other. Both Lincoln and Mary suffered during this time. Lincoln described himself as the “most miserable man on earth” causing his friends great worry over his mental health. Later, Lincoln wrote that he could not be happy while Mary was miserable. That thought “kills my soul,” he wrote his friend, Joshua Speed. Mary too was affected by the break-up; she changed from a fun-loving, flirtatious girl to a quiet and more thoughtful woman.
While Mary’s family were glad of her break from Lincoln, several friendswere eager to reunite the young couple. For several months Mary and Lincoln secretly met and resumed their romance. Mary announced her plan to marry Lincoln to her stunned sister on the morning of November 4, 1842. That very evening, they were married in the home of her guardians, Elizabeth and Ninian Edwards. Mary’s family, rather than risk scandal, had finally relented. Originally, the young couple intended to quietly marry at the home of Charles Dresser, an Episcopal minister, but Elizabeth, confronted with the inevitability of Mary’s decision, offered to host the wedding and supper at her home.
Mary flouted convention by her last minute decision to wed. Etiquette books suggested at least one week’s notice be given prior to marrying. The wedding was a small affair, an estimated thirty guests attended. Because it was on such short notice, Mary did not have time to pick out a special wedding gown and instead wore a dress borrowed from her sister. Neither Mary’s father nor stepmother attended the ceremony. In spite of the hasty arrangements one guest wrote, “The entertainment was simple but in beautiful taste.” Weddings in the nineteenth century were not the grand, excessive ceremonies that couples indulge in today. Typically, the small gathering of family and close friends was held in the bride’s home. Most brides-to-be began assembling a trousseau as they prepared for marriage. This included household furnishings, textiles, and sometimes money. Even though the exchanging of rings and the giving of gifts was uncommon, Lincoln somehow found time to have Mary’s ring engraved with the words, “Love is Eternal.”
I’d never heard the story about the Lincolns in quite this way.