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Mary Todd Lincoln Insanity Trial: 1875

A Long Line Of Tragedies, Robert Lincoln Begins Insanity Proceedings, A Civil Jury Hears The Case

Defendant: Mary Todd Lincoln
Petitioner: Robert Todd Lincoln
Relief Sought: Declaration that Mary Todd Lincoln was insane and the appointment of a conservator to handle her estate
Chief Defense Lawyers: Isaac Newton Arnold
Chief Attorney for Petitioner: Benjamin F. Ayers; Leonard T. Swett handled all of the pretrial preparation
Judge: Marion R. M. Wallace
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Date of Trial: May 19, 1875
Verdict: Mary Todd Lincoln was adjudged insane (Robert Todd Lincoln was appointed the conservator of her estate a month later)

SIGNIFICANCE: In a bizarre trial, the former first lady of the United States was found insane by a jury and committed.

While vacationing in Florida on March 12, 1875, Abraham Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, was suddenly overwhelmed with the belief that her sole surviving child, Robert, was dying. That night, she sent a telegram to Robert's law partner, Edward Isham:

My Belief is my son is ill… telegraph me at once without a moments delay—on Receipt of this I start for Chicago when your message is received.

Despite assurances that her son was fine, Mary Lincoln boarded a train the next day to take her back to Robert in Chicago. While these events may have only been the actions of an overly concerned mother, they marked a turning point in Mary Lincoln's life. She had long been a burden and an embarrassment to her son, but now he started to question her sanity. In May, Robert Todd Lincoln went to court to commit his mother to an asylum.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882