Over a year ago I read Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln and did a review on it in this blog. Robert Lincoln was a very interesting man who seemed to spend a lot of this time running from his legacy. He was certainly a self-made man, not relying on the name “Lincoln” for any sort of gain.
Robert and his wife, Mary, had three children, their middle child, a son, they named Abraham Lincoln II, known in the family as “Jack.” Jack was born in 1873 and died in 1890 of blood poisoning.
As I read about Abraham Lincoln II, Robert’s son who died when he was sixteen I could not help but speculate over what might have been. “Jack,” as he was called, was a remarkable youth and, according to his contemporaries, had many of the same characteristics as his grandfather. He was preparing to enter Harvard when he fell ill with blood poisoning after a minor surgery. Was he being groomed for a life of public service? It was certainly his legacy.
If he had lived, entered politics, he may well have been the second Lincoln in the White House—perhaps in 1920 when Jack would have been 47. The country would have perhaps been spared the William G. Harding administration and its scandals. How that would have changed history we’ll never know.
If he was characteristic of his grandfather, the scandals of the Harding administration would not have happened. Given his father’s ties with big business and entrepreneurs of the day, Jack may have chosen businessman Harding as his running mate, but I doubt it. Abraham Lincoln was shrewd and a good judge of character. If Jack was like him, then he would have seen through Harding.
It’s fun to speculate on what might have been, but the remainder of the history of the Lincoln family is tragic. There are no direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln alive today. Robert was the only son who lived to adulthood and we know that his son, Jack, died as a teenager. His daughters went on to marry disreputable men, producing children who did not live up to their legacy. The irony is that Abraham Lincoln’s three other sons, Tad, Willie, Eddie and Robert’s son, Jack, died of illnesses that would be easily handled today—they would have lived and perhaps the lineage of Abraham Lincoln would be alive today.
In her last days, Mary Harlan Lincoln, Jack’s mother, lived in a beautiful old red-brick mansion of revolutionary days in Georgetown. From her window, she could look down the valley of the Potomac toward the Lincoln Memorial, the “far-shining monument of remembrance erected in enduring marble to the memory of the deathless martyr, the consecrated statesman, the ideal American”, for whom her son was named. “If Jack had lived,” she reportedly said, “he would have had to much to live up to.”