Abraham and Tad Lincoln, February 5, 1865

Alexander Gardner
Albumen silver print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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“Love is the chain whereby to lock a child to its parent.”


Lincoln had three sons at the beginning of his presidency. Although he had a complicated relationship with his eldest son, Robert, Lincoln was very close to his younger boys, Willie and Tad. Lincoln was an extremely indulgent father, much to the chagrin of his wife and some of his staff. He overlooked his mischievous sons’ many pranks, which included ringing all of the call bells in the White House at once.


Lincoln found great relaxation and calm when he was with his children. In 1862, Willie died suddenly of typhoid fever, and in the wake of this tragedy, Lincoln and Tad became inseparable. Tad was often seen in his father’s lap at meetings or sleeping in Lincoln’s office while his “papa dear” worked into the night. Lincoln lavished Tad with affection and became protective of his free-spirited and often rambunctious son.

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