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Mary Todd Lincoln Insanity Trial: 1875

Another Jury Decides Differently

Mary Lincoln, however, had to wait for the restoration of her money and property. Robert Lincoln still believed that his mother was insane and even tried to have her returned to Bellevue, but this time the Bradwells and Edwardses would be in court to testify on Mary's behalf so he did not pursue this option for very long. However, while Mary no longer needed institutionalization, she would never, in her son's opinion, be able to handle her own financial affairs. Over time, an informal agreement was reached whereby an informal conservatorship or trust would be established for the rest of Mary Lincoln's life with someone other than Robert acting as the conservator or trustee.

On June 15, 1876, Ninian Edwards submitted on Mary Lincoln's behalf a petition to the Cook County Court to terminate Robert's conservatorship over her estate. Robert had already agreed not to oppose the move. After the petition was read and a jury was selected, Edwards was sworn in, and he testified that the former first lady "is a proper person to take charge of her own affairs." To the surprise of everyone, the jury quickly decided "the said Mary Lincoln is restored to reason and is capable to manage and control her estate."

Nobody expected Mary to be declared sane. Robert Lincoln blamed Edwards for describing his mother as a fit person without qualifying it with a statement that she was not rational when handling her financial affairs. Defending himself against Robert's charge, Edwards (himself a lawyer) blamed the jury, saying that they "were not called upon to try the question of her sanity" and, thus, decided a legal question that was not before them. In reality, both neglected to take a close look at the law. The governing statute provided "for the restoration of property … when the insane person is restored to reason." In essence, the conservatorship could not be terminated without Mary first being judged legally sane.

Much to the former first lady's delight, the headlines on June 16 read: "A HAPPY DENOUEMENT: MRS. ABRAHAM LINCOLN RESTORED TO HER REASON AND FREEDOM." A few months later, Mary Todd Lincoln left the United States and resided in France until 1880, when she returned to the Edwards residence. She died at their home two years later. To his dying day, Robert remained convinced that his mother was incorrigibly insane.

Mark Thorburn

Suggestions for Further Reading

Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1987.

Croy, Homer. The Trial of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1962.

Neely, Jr., Mark E., and R. Gerald McMurtry. The Insanity Files: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln.Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

Rhodes, James A., and Dean Jauchius. The Trial of MAary Todd Lincoln. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959.

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