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Mary Todd Lincoln Insanity Trial: 1875

Robert Lincoln Begins Insanity Proceedings

In April 1875, Robert Lincoln began to consult with physicians and lawyers. The attorney he hired was Leonard Swett, an old friend of his father's, a noted trial advocate, and an expert on the insanity defense. Swett, in turn, called upon a number of doctors who were distinguished in the field of mental health. They all met on May 16. Based only upon the statements of Mary's physician and those of Robert Lincoln, the doctors unanimously concluded that the former first lady was insane and needed to be institutionalized.

During the next two days, Robert learned from Swett that his mother was talking about leaving Chicago. On May 18, Lincoln's detectives observed his mother with $56,000 in government securities sewn into the pockets of her petticoat. Swett urged immediate action and Robert agreed. Papers were drawn up, witnesses were gathered, and on May 19 Swett and two uniformed officers arrived at Mary Lincoln's room with a writ for her arrest.

Unaware that her son had signed a petition to have her declared insane, Mary Lincoln objected to being taken into custody. After an hour of attempted persuasion, Swett pointed to the policemen and warned that:

… unless she yielded to me I either had to seize her forcibly myself or turn her over to the officers, who might handcuff her if necessary and certainly would take her to court.

Mary Lincoln was put into a carriage and taken directly to the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago where, through a side door, she was immediately escorted into a courtroom where her son, a judge, a jury, and 17 witnesses waited.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Mary Todd Lincoln Insanity Trial: 1875 - A Long Line Of Tragedies, Robert Lincoln Begins Insanity Proceedings, A Civil Jury Hears The Case