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Salvation and Suicide
Up Against the Wall
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The Madness of Mary LincolnThe Madness of Mary Lincoln

Jason Emerson

Narrated by Steven Roy Grimsley

Approximately 7 hours


Downloadable edition:

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Book published by Southern Illinois University Press

In 2005, historian Jason Emerson discovered a steamer trunk formerly owned by Robert Todd Lincoln's lawyer and stowed in an attic for forty years. The trunk contained a rare find: twenty-five letters pertaining to Mary Todd Lincoln's life and insanity case, letters assumed long destroyed by the Lincoln family. Mary wrote twenty of the letters herself, more than half from the insane asylum to which her son Robert had her committed, and many in the months and years after.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first examination of Mary Lincolnís mental illness based on the lost letters, and the first new interpretation of the insanity case in twenty years. This compelling story of the purported insanity of one of Americaís most tragic first ladies provides new and previously unpublished materials, including the psychiatric diagnosis of Maryís mental illness and her lost will.

Emerson charts Mary Lincolnís mental illness throughout her life and describes how a predisposition to psychiatric illness and a life of mental and emotional trauma led to her commitment to the asylum. The first to state unequivocally that Mary Lincoln suffered from bipolar disorder, Emerson offers a psychiatric perspective on the insanity case based on consultations with psychiatrist experts.

This book reveals Abraham Lincolnís understanding of his wifeís mental illness and the degree to which he helped keep her stable. It also traces Maryís life after her husbandís assassination, including her severe depression and physical ailments, the harsh public criticism she endured, the Old Clothes Scandal, and the death of her son Tad.

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the story not only of Mary, but also of Robert. It details how he dealt with his motherís increasing irrationality and why it embarrassed his Victorian sensibilities; it explains the reasons he had his mother committed, his response to her suicide attempt, and her plot to murder him. It also shows why and how he ultimately agreed to her release from the asylum eight months early, and what their relationship was like until Maryís death.

This historical page-turner provides readers for the first time with the lost letters that historians had been in search of for eighty years.

Jason Emerson is an independent historian. His articles have appeared in American Heritage, American History, Civil War Times, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Lincoln Herald, and Lincoln Forum Bulletin.


“Jason Emerson's The Madness of Mary Lincoln will become a classic of American history. It has everythingóa compelling story; a fascinating cast of characters; the thrilling discovery of long-lost documents; shrewd analysis of the people, the period, and the sources; and it's a pleasure to read. Here is a model of the historian's art.”

American Spectator

“Jason Emerson has written the definitive work on Mary Todd Lincolnís mental health in general and her insanity problems in particular. Written with verve and complete understanding of the subject, The Madness of Mary Lincoln is a masterpiece.”

—Wayne C. Temple, author of Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is precise, documented, and detailed.... Every word counts and every word adds up to a riveting and until-now neglected chronicle begging to be told.”

—Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of First Ladies

“Jason Emerson is a very, very good writer and a superior historical detective. This is a most original book, taking new evidence to new heights of sophisticated analysis.”

—Harold Holzer, author of The Lincoln Family Album

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University Press Audiobooks