The Lincolns in the White House: Four Years That Shattered a Family
Like most American schools at the time, mine spent a lot of time on the Civil War, but concentrated on causation and battles rather than personalities. In The Lincolns in the White House, Jerrold Packard takes a different approach. While politics, battles, and key administration figures are not neglected, Packard’s main focus is on the Lincolns as a family.
Packard deals with varied subjects like Lincoln’s relationships with his sons, Mary Lincoln’s out-of-control spending and growing eccentricity, the nature of the relationship between Lincoln and Joshua Speed, and Mary Lincoln’s post-White House life. Drama, however, does not get sacrificed in the process: Packard’s account of the last days of Lincoln’s life, foregone as its conclusion is, nonetheless had me on the edge of my seat.
The author paints vivid pictures of 19th-century Washington, DC (hot and humid in summer, cold in winter, and unhealthy all year round), of the shabby White House, and of the Soldiers’ Home where the Lincolns found a welcome summer retreat. There are also tidbits here that I found fascinating; one, for instance, being that the Department of the Treasury employed female clerks.
Though I suspect that nothing in this book will be new to Lincoln scholars, for a general reader, The Lincolns in the White House tells a compelling story.