An interesting video from the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield Illinois about Mary Lincoln’s jewelry. Mary Lincoln liked pretty things and after Lincoln became President she would go on spending binges, no doubt to relieve some of the pressure of the War and being First Lady in a nation at war with itself. Lincoln, although he loved Mary dearly, had little sympathy for her shopping expeditions at a time of national crisis. Mary reacted by concealing much of her spending from Lincoln. He went to his grave not knowing of many of her debts, their son Robert being left to pay the creditors eventually.
Benjamin Brown French, Federal commissioner for public buildings in Washington was present at one of the confrontations between President Lincoln and his wife over her spending habits:
About 7 [Friday, December 13] Mrs. Lincoln sent down for me to go up and see her on urgent business. I could not go, of course, but send word I would be up by 9 A.M. Saturday. Although suffering with a severe headache I went & had an interview with her, and with the President, in relation to the overrunning of the appropriation for furnishing the house, which was done, but the law, ‘under the President.’ The money was actually expended by Mrs. Lincoln, & she was in much tribulation, the President declaring he would not approve the bills overrunning the $20,000 appropriated. Mrs. L. Wanted me to see him & endeavour to persuade him to give his approval to the bills, but not to let him know that I had seen her! I accordingly saw him; but he was inexorable. He said it would stink in the land to have it said that an appropriation of $20,000 for furnishing the house had been overrun by the President when the poor freezing soldiers could not have blankets, & he swore he would never approve the bills for flub dubs for that damned old house! It was[,] he said[,] furnished well enough when they came — better than any house they had ever lived in — & rather than put his name to such a bill he would pay it out of his own pocket! So my mission did not succeed. It was not very pleasant to be sure, but a portion of it very amusing.
Abraham and Mary Lincoln had a very loving marriage, and he relied upon her as much as she relied upon him, but in the midst of the bloodiest war in our nation’s history he certainly did not need the bad press and distractions that her inability to control her spending habits brought. Oh well, as anyone in a successful marriage knows, “for better and for worse” are not mere words, but a true prediction and a needed admonition if a marriage is to last, and the marriage of the Lincolns weathered far deeper sorrows, the death of two sons, than mere irritation over spending binges.