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Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

Charles B. Strozier
with Wayne Soini
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 352
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln
    Book Description:

    On April 15, 1837, a "long, gawky" Abraham Lincoln walked into Joshua Speed's dry-goods store in Springfield, Illinois, and asked what it would cost to buy the materials for a bed. Speed said seventeen dollars, which Lincoln didn't have. He asked for a loan to cover that amount until Christmas. Speed was taken with his visitor, but, as he said later, "I never saw so gloomy and melancholy a face." Speed suggested Lincoln stay with him in a room over his store for free and share his large double bed. What began would become one of the most important friendships in American history.

    Speed was Lincoln's closest confidant, offering him invaluable support after the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, and during his rocky courtship of Mary Todd. Lincoln needed Speed for guidance, support, and empathy.Your Friend Forever, A. Lincolnis a rich analysis of a relationship that was both a model of male friendship and a specific dynamic between two brilliant but fascinatingly flawed men who played off each other's strengths and weaknesses to launch themselves in love and life. Their friendship resolves important questions about Lincoln's early years and adds significant psychological depth to our understanding of our sixteenth president.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-54130-5
    Subjects: History, Psychology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. A NOTE ON SOURCES (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  6. 1 BEGINNINGS (pp. 1-26)

    On Saturday morning, April 15, 1837, with the sun shining on the dusty village of New Salem and the local white-throated sparrow singing its high whistling song, twenty-eight-year-old Abraham Lincoln said goodbye to Bennett and Elizabeth Abell, Kentucky emigrants who for years had hospitably opened their hilltop cabin to him. Lincoln was particularly fond of Mrs. Abell, who had once sewn and “foxed” his pants, as she put it later, and made him a buckskin outfit. He tossed his saddlebags, containing a change of underwear and his treasured copy of William Blackstone’sCommentaries on the Laws of England, the core...

  7. 2 TWO FRIENDS, ONE BED (pp. 27-43)

    Abraham Lincoln at twenty-eight years of age in 1837 was still rough around the edges but also on the way up in the world. As befit a figure well known in the state legislature, his pants no longer hung well above his boots; he even had a black suit and had begun to sport what became his distinctive top hat. He was a fully certified lawyer now and the junior partner of an old acquaintance and fellow Whig legislator, Springfield’s leading lawyer, John Todd Stuart.

    Lincoln wore his thick black hair parted on the right, bracketing his large ears and...

  8. 3 FRIENDSHIP (pp. 44-58)

    Real intimacy between Lincoln and Speed was not immediate. Lincoln’s caution about letting anyone in on his feelings and Speed’s youthful admiration for a man he seemed to consider great from the outset created space between them. Their friendship evolved. It was to Mary Owens that Lincoln confided, three weeks after his arrival in Spring-field, that “I am quite as lonesome here as [I] ever was anywhere in my life.” Lincoln, in fact, did not mention to Speed his troubled courtship of Mary Owens, which ended in the second half of 1837. Lincoln also refused to show Speed a crucial...

  9. 4 DEPRESSION (pp. 59-78)

    With Speed and largely through Speed Lincoln found his bearings. On the surface, Lincoln presented as a well-put-together young man of great talent and potential. He was one of the leading citizens in town and had begun his practice with its most prominent lawyer, John Todd Stuart, someone so politically shrewd that in August 1838 he would narrowly defeat Stephen A. Douglas for the congressional seat from central Illinois. Lincoln was rapidly gaining a reputation for dealing effectively with the juries of common people (to whom he never spoke down and with whom he could be riotously funny) and then...

  10. 5 SEX AND PROSTITUTION (pp. 79-90)

    There is nothing like stories of sex, especially its transgressive forms, to elicit the fantasies of friends, neighbors, acquaintances—and historians. The greater the figure, the more cautious one must be in assessing reports of experiences that are illicit. Nowhere is that need for caution greater than with Abraham Lincoln. For one thing, Herndon’s oral history—conducted in the wake of Lincoln’s apotheosis after his death—unearthed some extraordinary tales from the old days. Some of those (previously ignored or dismissed) stories have become newly salient in the more current debate about Lincoln’s sexual identity. Second, Herndon himself as he...

  11. 6 BROKEN ENGAGEMENT (pp. 91-112)

    The story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd’s broken engagement in late 1840 has been the focus of much disagreement in recent years. The oldest interpretation (Herndon) is that Lincoln was hoodwinked into the engagement by an assertive and difficult Mary Todd, withdrew into himself at the last minute, and simply failed to show up at the actual wedding. That line of argument gave way (Ruth Painter Randall) to the idea that Lincoln loved Mary but got cold feet leading up to the wedding, perhaps because he felt unable to match Mary’s social status or properly take care of her....

  12. 7 THE WINTER OF DISCONTENT (pp. 113-127)

    None of the psychological subtext of the events surrounding Lincoln’s broken engagement with Mary Todd was fully conscious for either Lincoln or Speed. Desire lurked in forbidden realms. Both men reached out to women to find love, but those efforts were thwarted by their much deeper connections to each other. Those ties had long given solace. The safe haven they felt was in the confidence, trust, and security of their relationship with each other. It was a balm that banished the terrors of depression, especially for Lincoln, though they shared equally in their self-doubts about love, sex, and intimacy. Lincoln...

  13. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  14. 8 KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS (pp. 128-146)

    Speed, like Lincoln, suffered from the “hypo.” And, like Lincoln, he was shaken by their separation. Speed wrote his sister Mary on February 2, 1841, to tell her how pleased he was to hear from her, especially since her letter arrived “unlooked for and unexpected.” That made the letter all the “more gratefull” because it arrived “like an absent but not forgotten friend” whose sudden appearance is “welcome,most welcome.” Speed confided in Mary how terrible he felt. Mary’s letter came “just at a time when I needed something to brace me.” He had been suffering, he said, “so much...

  15. 9 HOMEWARD BOUND (pp. 147-163)

    Though there is no certain path to healing depression, and one is always subject to renewal of the suffering, Lincoln was getting better, and he knew it. Lincoln wrote Speed early in 1842, “I have been quite clear of the hypo . . . even better than I was in the fall.” Lincoln’s visit to Farmington set him on a path toward recovery. The relaxed family setting at Farmington with Speed’s loving and nurturing mother and Joshua’s friendly siblings all helped improve Lincoln’s state of mind. What mattered most of all, however, was the presence of Speed himself. Besides their...

  16. 10 A VICARIOUS ROMANCE (pp. 164-190)

    As 1841 ended, the time at last came for Speed to leave Lincoln in Springfield and return to Kentucky. Speed was eager to marry Fanny Henning and settle for good in his home state. But there was a serious problem. As he explicitly told Herndon, Speed was troubled and anxious about his upcoming marriage in many of the same ways Lincoln had been a year earlier about his engagement with Mary Todd. Speed was filled with self-doubts over his love for Fanny and, it seems, about the sexual consummation of that love.

    Lincoln could readily identify with such paralyzing uncertainties...

  17. 11 MARY TODD, ONCE AGAIN (pp. 191-207)

    After February 25, the letters between Lincoln and Speed take on a different character. For one thing, the friends stop writing by every post. Speed, who last wrote Lincoln the “promised one” of February 16, waited until March 10 to write again. Lincoln waited an extra week after receiving the letter before replying on March 27. Speed replied promptly to that letter but only because he wanted Lincoln to handle an important business matter. Lincoln wrote again on April 13, but Speed then waited until June 16 to write back. Lincoln, in turn, waited until July 4 to reply to...

  18. 12 THE CRUCIBLE OF GREATNESS (pp. 208-234)

    Lincoln’s marriage has often been misunderstood. Historians have far too often drawn battle lines about what they believe Lincoln did feel or should have felt about Mary, and most of all they projected back from her later problems onto what she presented at the outset. But people change in the face of life. Mary Todd was charming in her youth, a spritely and unusually well-educated woman full of life and vitality. As a survivor of the early loss of her mother when she was six, Mary also shared an unconscious connection with Lincoln. Both experienced the sudden and traumatic death...

  19. Conclusions: ON FRIENDSHIP (pp. 235-246)

    To understand the general significance of the friendship between Lincoln and Speed, one might turn to Aristotle. In theNicomachean Ethics, Aristotle names friendship as the highest form of relationship, for without it, “no one would choose to live.” Money and power are for naught without it, just as prosperity cannot be preserved without friends. Friendship helps the young from straying into error, the old by ministering to their needs, and those in their prime to be noble. Those in communities feel it, which helps bind states, while lawgivers “care more for it than for justice.” Friendship is noble, and...

  20. List of Abbreviations (pp. 247-248)
  21. NOTES (pp. 249-290)
  22. INDEX (pp. 291-307)