Abraham Lincoln and Edwards Place
To start by clearing up any misconceptions, Abraham and Mary Lincoln were not married at Edwards Place. The house where they were married belonged to Benjamin’s brother Ninian, located on South Second Street. That building was torn down in 1918 to make way for the Secretary of State’s office.
HOWEVER, Edwards Place does have strong ties to Abraham Lincoln. Benjamin Edwards moved in Lincoln’s social, professional, and family circles, and the Lincolns would have been frequent guests at Edwards Place.
Benjamin Edwards’ brother Ninian was married to Mary Lincoln’s sister Elizabeth. This made Benjamin Lincoln’s brother-in-law’s brother. It may sound like a distant and tenuous connection to modern ears, but in antebellum Springfield people were very aware of who was related to whom, and this connection by marriage made the Lincolns “kin” to Benjamin and Helen Edwards. In fact, in 1848 Lincoln refused to support his good friend David Davis in his bid to become judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit because Davis was running against Benjamin Edwards. As Davis complained years later, Lincoln wouldn’t step forward for him “because Ben was in the family.”
“The family” was a large one in Springfield. At its heart were four Todd sisters and their husbands and children: the Lincolns, Wallaces, Ninian Edwardses, and Smiths. Blood relations included the women’s uncle John Todd and his wife and children and their cousin John Todd Stuart and his family. Connections through marriage widened the circle even larger to include Elizabeth’s brother-in-law Benjamin Edwards, Ninian and Benjamin’s nephew John Cook, Cook’s in-laws the Lambs, Helen Edwards’s brother Richard Dodge, and Dodge’s in-laws the Ridgelys. This made for a large and powerful kinship network that encompassed many of the most prominent families in town. This group regularly socialized with one another; it is very likely that both Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Edwards were at this gathering as well as other family parties held over the years.
The Early Years
Mary Lincoln was one of Helen Edwards’s first friends in Springfield. Helen arrived in Springfield with her husband on January 4, 1840, as a bride of twenty years old, having left behind her native New York and all her friends and family. She was nervous as the stagecoach approached Ninian Edwards’s house, where she and her husband would be staying until their own house was ready. However she was soon put at ease by the warmth with which Ninian and Elizabeth received her. It was on this day that she met Elizabeth’s sister Mary Todd, Ninian and Elizabeth’s houseguest from Lexington, Kentucky. Helen was instantly charmed by her, and later said that the sunshine in her heart was evident on her face.
Two years later, Mary and Lincoln were planning to marry. They had been linked romantically in the fall of 1840, then had broken up, and had secretly reconciled in the fall of 1842. Their sudden decision to wed shocked their friends and family, who had no idea that the pair were involved again. Lincoln reportedly stopped Ninian on the street with no warning and told him that he and Mary would be married that day at the parsonage. Ninian protested, saying that Mary was his ward and she must be married from his home. He went home to tell Elizabeth (then seven months pregnant with her third child) that she must begin wedding preparations immediately. Elizabeth burst into tears, upset that she was not given enough lead time to host the elegant wedding she had hoped to have for her sister, and Ninian headed to Benjamin and Helen’s house to recruit help with the preparations. Lincoln and Mary were married from Ninian’s parlor on November 4, 1842, in front of a small gathering of close friends and family that included Benjamin and Helen Edwards. Some of the guests undoubtedly sat on the pair of horsehair-covered sofas that sat in Ninian’s parlor. Today, one of those sofas is on display at Edwards Place.
Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Edwards shared professional ties as well. Both men were prominent attorneys in Springfield. From 1843 on, Benjamin’s law partner was John T. Stuart, Mary Lincoln’s first cousin and Lincoln’s first law partner in Springfield. Although Benjamin and Lincoln were never in formal partnership, they did frequently team up to try legal cases – though just as often they found themselves on opposing sides.
One of the most sensational cases that Benjamin and Lincoln tried together was People v. Anderson and Anderson, in which a local woman and her nephew by marriage were accused of conspiring to murder her husband. George Anderson had been found dead in his back yard, the apparent victim of blunt force trauma to the head. During his autopsy the doctors found evidence of strychnine in his system and concluded that someone had set out to poison the unfortunate man and had resorted to a blow to the head to finish the job. Suspicion fell on his wife and nephew, as witnesses suggested that lately they had been too friendly…Lincoln and Edwards both served on the defense team, which also included several other well-respected local lawyers. They were successful in acquitting Jane and Theodore Anderson. The real culprit was never found.
Because they were connected by family and profession, Benjamin and Lincoln moved in the same social circles, as well. They were friends with the elite and professional families in town, including the Stuarts, Logans, Conklings, Bunns, Ridgeleys, and Lambs.
The high social season in Springfield was in late winter when the legislature was in session and all the politicians came to town. Prominent families in town would take turns hosting dinners and parties in their elegant parlors. Edwards Place, with its long east wing, was ideally suited to parties, and the Lincolns were frequent guests. In turn, Benjamin and Helen attended parties at the Lincolns’ home as well.
Political Ties and Rivalries
Initially, Benjamin Edwards and Abraham Lincoln saw eye-to-eye politically. Both men were Whigs, followers of Henry Clay who believed in government-funded internal improvements and a national bank. In the mid-1850s, however, the Whig party dissolved under sectional pressures brought about by the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Former Whigs either cast their lot with the Democrats or with the newly-formed Republican party.
Abraham Lincoln became a Republican. He believed that allowing slavery to spread into the territories would only serve to perpetuate an institution that he hoped would die a natural death. In the beginning, Benjamin was attracted to the Republican party as well. In fact, at one political rally he told the crowd that “rather than become a Democrat I would shake hands with the devil!” This feeling did not last. Benjamin was leery of the abolitionist wing of the Republican party, believing (as many did at the time) that they were too radical. By 1858 he had become a Democrat.
In the Senatorial contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Benjamin supported Stephen Douglas and invited him to hold a rally at Edwards Place. The event took place on July 17, 1858. Thousands of people crowded onto the fourteen-acre estate, standing among trees draped with patriotic bunting, craning for a glimpse of the Little Giant. Douglas was on his way back from campaigning in Chicago, traveling in a private railroad car. He made a grand entrance to the rally when the train stopped at Edwards Place rather than a mile farther south at the Springfield depot. Douglas climbed atop a specially-built platform and passionately made his case for popular sovereignty. Later that day, Lincoln addressed a growd of his own followers at the State House.
Two years later, Benjamin again supported Stephen Douglas, this time in his bid for the presidency. He went as far as to write a letter to the New York Tribune declaring that Lincoln lacked the necessary qualifications to be President. This time, of course, Lincoln was the victor, and the country was soon plunged into Civil War. Benjamin remained loyal to the Union and personally fond of Lincoln.
Despite their political differences, the Edwards family remained personal friends of the Lincolns and were grieved when they heard of Lincoln’s death. On the day of Lincoln’s internment at Oak Ridge Cemetery their house was filled with visiting friends and relatives who came to town to pay their final respects to the fallen president. The house was so full that some guests had to sleep on cots in the library. Edwards Place, which at that time had its main entrance off Fifth Street, was situated along the route of the Lincoln funeral procession. Helen Edwards put out a table of food and drink so the funeralgoers could refresh themselves during the long, hot walk to the cemetery from down town.
 David Davis interview, 9 September 1866, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln eds. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 349.