At 31, Lincoln Falls For Matilda, 18

By Michael Burlingame
ALA Director
Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies
University of Illinois Springfield

In 1840, thirty-one-year-old Abraham Lincoln became engaged to Mary Todd but later that year he broke the engagement in large part because he had fallen in love with Matilda Edwards, the beautiful, “very bright” eighteen-year-old cousin of Mary’s brother-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards. Though abundant evidence supports this explanation, some historians have denied it.1 Among them are Mary Todd’s hyper-defensive biographer, Ruth Painter Randall, and David Herbert Donald, a protégé of Mrs. Randall’s husband, James G. Randall. Professor Donald stated that people “who blamed Matilda Edwards for the rupture [in Lincoln’s relationship with Mary Todd] seem to have their information from Mary Todd, who was looking for a face-saving reason for Lincoln’s actions. There is no credible evidence that Lincoln was in love with Matilda Edwards.2 Mrs. Randall similarly maintained that Matilda Edwards “had no part in the broken engagement.”

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