"The Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum is a wonderful center both for displaying
important historical documents and also for academic research
regarding our 16th president," said family member Peter R. Thompson
Jr. "We as a family are honored to participate in a small way to the
great work being done there."
Thompson and his sisters, Ms. E.
Park Thompson Zimpher and Ms. Sharon Fowler Thompson Giordano, are
fourth-generation descendants of the 1865 banker, Benjamin B.
Sherman. They and their spouses traveled to Springfield and
personally handed the items to museum officials during a small
ceremony Saturday near the Treasures Gallery of the museum.
The items will go on display once cleaning and other preparations
have been performed by ALPLM staff. Research on all of the donors
listed in the cash book will be ongoing.
Benjamin B. Sherman, a grocer and banker working at 95 Wall St.,
New York, served as "general agent" or treasurer of The Lincoln
Memorial Fund to assist the Lincoln family after the president's
death. He took in contributions from across the map -- from
Davenport, Iowa, to coastal Maine, even a little from Canada and the
South -- for nearly a year. His ledger reveals a total of about
$10,750 collected, from hundreds of people, some of whom donated a
dollar and others more. It also shows the accruing interest,
Sherman's small expenses in advertising the fund and its final
disbursal to Mrs. Lincoln in May 1866.
Even more revealing are the three letters being donated along
with the "Cash Book." Two letters by Mary Lincoln and one by Robert
Lincoln show the calm selflessness of the son and the frantic worry
of the mother at about eight months after the president's death.
(One of the letters by Mary was published in the 1972 edition of her
correspondence, though incompletely transcribed there.)
Robert writes to Mr. Sherman: "I wish whatever of the fund there
is in your hands to be solely appropriated to my mother. The income
which I derive from my father's estate is sufficient to maintain me
until I begin to earn my living. The same is of course true with
regard to my brother (Tad, nearly 13 years old)."
Lincoln had died with an estate valued at about $110,000, which
was divided evenly among Mary, Robert and Tad.
In late 1865, Robert was studying law under an eminent Chicago
attorney whom his father had known. Mary and Tad were moving around
every few months between hotels and then a house she bought at 375
W. Washington St. in Chicago.
The already published letter by Mary Lincoln to Sherman, dated
Dec. 26, 1865, reveals her anger, jealousy and despair. She thanks
him for his assistance and states:
homeless, and in return for the sacrifices, my great & noble Husband
made, both, in his life & death, the paltry, first
year's salary, is offered us, under the
circumstances; such injustice, has been done us, as would call
the blush, to any true loyal heart! The sum is in reality,
only $20,000, as the first month's salary, was paid My husband & I
presume, the tax, on it, will be deducted from it. The interest, of
it, will be about $1500. I am humiliated, when I think, that we are
destined, to be forever, homeless. I can write no more.
Her lengthy postscript reports a rumor that a similar fund in
Boston had raised $10,000 for her, and she asks Sherman to write to
Boston to investigate.
[to top of second column]
The next letter to Sherman, never before seen by historians, is
dated Jan. 13, 1866. It reveals what exactly troubled her besides
the tax taken out of President Lincoln's annual salary.
May I ask you, as a
last favor, to see Mr Moser & Godfrey, when you receive this, and
have the fur bill cut down considerably. Your influence can
There is no evidence here of what, if anything, Sherman tried to
do to ask merchants to reduce or eliminate Mary Lincoln's many other
debts, most of them to clothiers and jewelers.
"We are delighted to be able to share this important piece of
Lincoln history with all Americans through this gift to the Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum," said Thompson. "The letters and
cash book offer revealing insights into the mindsets and feelings of
the Lincoln family in the aftermath of the assassination of
Lincoln's annual salary of $25,000 while president was roughly
equivalent to $1 million today, nearly the highest the chief
executive's pay had ever been, measured against the overall cost of
living. Congress' willingness to give Mrs. Lincoln the final 11
months' worth of it -- the president had already collected a month's
worth, before dying six weeks into his second term -- was
unprecedented in U.S. history.
As an attorney in Springfield, he may have earned about $5,000 a
year before his election.
The interest from Sherman's Dollar Fund, plus the interest from
Mary' Lincoln's share of her husband's estate, plus the interest
from Congress' gift of his 1865 salary came to roughly $4,500 a year
after taxes. This was a very comfortable living then -- but Mary had
an estimated $26,000 in debts run up from the White House years, and
an unknown number of merchants were pressing her to pay.
Her sense of the "injustice" was fair in one respect. In tribute
to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's military victory in the war, the nation
had given him fine houses in Galena, New York City and Washington,
D.C. Sir Morton Peto, a British industrialist mentioned in Mary
Lincoln's first letter to Sherman, had been given a banquet costing
$25,000 by his New York friends the previous week, to thank him for
his support of the Northern war effort and to assist him during his
own financial troubles that year.
Mary Lincoln repeated many of the figures a few days later to her
friend Mary Jane Welles, wife of the secretary of the Navy. And
about a week after that she tried to arrange the sale of roughly
$2,000 worth of jewelry in New York with the assistance of Tad's
[Text from file received from
the Illinois Historic