• Weird History

What Was Abraham Lincoln’s Love Life Like?

Most Americans know a handful of Abraham Lincoln facts: He was the 16th president, he wrote the Gettysburg Address, and he perished at the hands of John Wilkes Booth while in office. But what about Lincoln's private life? Were Lincoln and Mary Todd happily married? And did Lincoln really share a bed with another man? 

Lincoln led the country through the Civil War, earning a reputation as one of the greatest US presidents in the process. But behind the scenes, Lincoln's love life was quite chaotic. As a young man, Lincoln was engaged to three different women. George Washington wrote love letters to another woman while engaged to Martha, but Lincoln penned intimate letters to his best friend, Joshua Speed. The future president also swore off marriage and fell into a deep sadness when Speed moved out. 

Lincoln's surprising private life is part of what makes him one of the most fascinating presidents in history.

  • Photo: Filson Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Lincoln Shared A Bed With Another Man For 4 Years

    Abraham Lincoln was 28 years old when he met Joshua Speed in 1837. When Lincoln visited Speed's store in Springfield, IL, to buy supplies for a bed, the future president realized he couldn't afford the cost. Instead, Speed offered to let Lincoln share his bed. Lincoln simply "threw such charm around him" that Speed couldn't resist. 

    The two men shared a bed for the next four years. Historians believe the relationship was never romantic, but the two were inseparable. When Speed began planning to move back to Lousiville, Ky in 1840, Lincoln fell into a deep depression and called off his engagement to Mary Todd. 

    Two years later, Lincoln wrote to Speed, "You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting... that I will never cease, while I know how to do any thing." The men remained close for the rest of Lincoln's life.

  • After 2 Failed Relationships, Lincoln Swore Off Marriage

    In the 1830s, Abraham Lincoln fell in love with Ann Rutledge, who passed suddenly due to typhoid fever. He later called off an engagement with Mary Owens. After two failed relationships, Lincoln declared he would never marry. He wrote a letter to a close friend, explaining, "I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason; I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me."

    Around the same time, Lincoln moved in with Joshua Speed, and when Speed eventually moved out and got engaged, Lincoln finally decided to marry Mary Todd.

  • After Getting Engaged On A Whim, Lincoln Backed Out

    In his 20s, Abraham Lincoln backed out of an engagement to Mary Owens. The couple became engaged after Owens's sister challenged Lincoln to agree to marry Mary if she moved to Illinois. Once Mary arrived, Lincoln wanted to back out, calling Owens "a fair match for Falstaff."

    Lincoln tried to break off the engagement by hinting that she might not like living in Illinois. He tried to convince her that living in Springfield would be "rather dull business."

    Owens eventually got the hint and called off the marriage, declaring that Lincoln lacked "those little links which make up the great chain of woman's happiness."

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Lincoln Also Called Off His Engagement With Mary Todd

    In 1839, Abraham Lincoln met Mary Todd, a 21-year-old who had just moved to Springfield, IL. Todd impressed people with her poetry recitations and sharp mind. Lincoln and Todd soon began courting, setting a wedding date of January 1, 1841.

    As the date approached, Lincoln grew distraught and was bed-ridden. Lincoln's friends worried about his safety. Lincoln subsequently called off the wedding. 

    Psychotherapist Charles B. Strozier speculated that Lincoln's depression stemmed from his fear of marriage and the sense that he was losing Joshua Speed. A year later, when Speed himself got engaged, Lincoln returned to Todd. The couple married on November 4, 1842.