Troy Cowan Topic: Mary Todd's plan to kill Abraham Lincoln

Mary Todd's plan to kill Abraham Lincoln

Mary Todd was humiliated after Abraham Lincoln failed to show up for their wedding and she wanted revenge.

Mary Todd

Mary Todd had a dream, she wanted to be the First Lady. She dated men that had an interest in politics. Among the men she dated were the state auditor, James Shields, Stephen Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln.

James Shields was a short Irishman with a fiery temper. He was a hot head and ready to fight at a moments notice. He thought himself to be a ladies man. Others thought he had an exaggerated opinion of himself as a lover. Mary and her lady friends began to make fun of him behind his back. James had no chance with Mary.

Mary began to believe that Abraham Lincoln was her best chance to become the First Lady. Mary began to pursue Abraham. She wanted him to marry her and she got him to propose. The wedding was set for January 1, 1841. The problem was that Lincoln was infatuated with another-- Matilda Edwards.

On the day of the wedding, Lincoln failed to show. Mary was heartbroken and the pain in her heart developed into a need for revenge.
Abraham needed to get away for awhile. He went to stay with his friend Joshua Speed in Kentucky. He stayed the entire summer and fall of 1841. When Lincoln returned to Illinois, he and Mary didn't speak to each other.

In the summer of 1842, the State Auditor James Shields refused to take paper money in payment for taxes. He wanted payment in silver. This upset Abraham Lincoln. He wrote a sarcastic letter to the editor of the paper and he signed it Rebecca. It appeared in the paper on Sept. 2nd. The editor of the paper was Abraham's friend, and the wife of the editor was Mary Todd's friend.

Mary's revenge

When Mary learned from her friend that Abraham wrote the Rebecca letter, it gave her an idea for revenge. James Shields was a fighting man and good with pistols. Abraham would make a large target and Shields could easily take Lincoln in a duel. Mary wrote several letters to the editor of the paper making fun of Shields. She signed them Rebecca. 

On September 8th she suggested a fight. She said that to make it a fair fight, he should wear petticoats and she would wear britches. Mary continued to write letters until James could take no more. James went to the editor and asked who Rebecca was. The editor told him: Abraham Lincoln.

These letters became known as the 'Lost Township' letters.


James Shields challenged Abraham Lincoln to duel. Abraham refused an answer. Soon the whole town was talking about it. Lincoln could no longer avoid an answer. He responded to shields: “I did write the 'Lost Township' letter which appeared in the 'Journal' of the 2d inst., but had no participation in any form in any other article alluding to you.”

With Abraham's denial that he wrote the offensive letters, the duel with Shields was over. James Shields withdrew the challenge on Sept. 22. He never learned who wrote those letters.

The editor invited Abraham to a party on Sept. 27, his wife invited Mary to the same party. She was playing matchmaker. At the party, Mary and Abraham decided to reconcile. They were married the next day.

 Troy Cowan, author of Lincoln, Davis, and Booth: Family secrets

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