Letter to Fanny McCullough (December 23, 1862)

Contributing Editors for this page include Megan VanGorder

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#99 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares.”

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HD Daily Report, December 23, 1862

The Lincoln Log, December 23, 1862

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Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Megan VanGorder, July 2014

How Historians Interpret

“No witnesses described Lincoln’s reaction to his mother’s death, nor did he say anything directly about its effect on him. Many years later, however, he indirectly revealed something of his emotions when he consoled a young girl whose father had been killed in the Civil War: ‘It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now.’ Significantly he added, ‘I have had experience enough to know what I say.’ Lincoln probably identified with the girl, for he too seems to have suffered the ‘bitterest agony’ at the sudden death of his mother and to have been affected ‘beyond what is common in such cases.’

–Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 1, Chapter 2 (PDF), 89-90.

 

“Modern writing carries this vision of a compassionate Lincoln to an extreme. A trip to Web sites on the Internet reveals how Lincoln has been almost sanctified. Search ‘Fanny McCullough and Lincoln’ and you find him associated with the compassion of Jesus… There is no doubt that Lincoln could be compassionate. One reason that the general public believes that Lincoln was a compassionate man is that he was one—when it came to friends and young soldiers—to the young especially. His letter to Fanny McCullough conveys empathy and a thoughtful sympathy that has seldom been equaled.”

–Phillip Shaw Paludan,”Lincoln and Negro Slavery: I haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27 no. 2 (2006), 1-23.

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Searchable Text

Executive Mansion, Washington,
December 23, 1862.
 
Dear Fanny
It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before.
 
Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.
 
Your sincere friend
A. LINCOLN.
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