On this day in 1853, the fourth and last child of Abraham and Mary Lincoln was born. He was named Thomas. It was a difficult labor for Mary. Many hours of pain and the attendance of two doctors resulted. Little Tad was born with a cleft palate – easily cured today, but not so in 1853. His disability led to speech problems. His teeth came in crookedly, making it difficult for him to chew his food. He was a “wiggly” child and his father nicknamed him Tad because he wiggled like a tadpole as an infant.
As he grew into a child, it was apparent that he experienced some dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. In other words he was a busy kid with some huge obstacles to overcome. Upon his father’s election to the presidency, he and his brother Will moved into the White House with their parents. Since they were the first presidential family with young children, the two boys were allowed complete freedom to play and scamper about the building with complete abandon. These adventures probably were some of the most memorable events in young Tad’s life.
A year later, Will died of Typhoid Fever at the age of 11 and at that point, Tad’s sad life began. His mother’s grief over her dead son, carried over to Tad. The playmates that had joined both boys in their past adventures were not permitted to come to the White House any longer, because they were too much of a reminder for Mary. Her later depression and encounters with death would come to haunt Tad’s life as well.
Alone, without other children to play with, Tad felt deserted. His father stepped in and took over as Tad’s best friend during this time. Still the boy had no associations with other children. He did not attend school and his education was being totally neglected. Because Abraham was dealing with his own grief over the loss of his other son, he became even more indulgent with Tad, allowing him free rein in his office.
On April 14, 1865, Tad went to Grover’s Theatre to see the play Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp while his parents attended the performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. Abraham became the victim of assassination that night and word of it spread to the Grover’s Theater where Tad heard the announcement to the audience. He began running and screaming, “They killed Papa! They killed Papa!” He was escorted back to the White House while his mother pleaded to have him brought to his father’s deathbed. About the death of his father, Tad said:
“Pa is dead. I can hardly believe that I shall never see him again. I must learn to take care of myself now. Yes, Pa is dead, and I am only Tad Lincoln now, little Tad, like other little boys. I am not a president’s son now. I won’t have many presents anymore. Well, I will try and be a good boy, and will hope to go someday to Pa and brother Willie, in Heaven.”
Tad was twelve years old when his father died. It was a time of turmoil in the land and many boys had lost their fathers in the war. It was time for him to grow up. His mother, concerned for his education, hired tutors to work with Tad during the next few years. They spent time in Europe surrounded by tutors and speech specialists. During this time he tried to console his grieving mother. A closer relationship grew between them.
In 1871 Tad became homesick and returned to America. On the voyage home he caught a cold which worsened as the days went on. His lungs were so congested, he had to be propped up so he could breathe. He died at the age of 18. His body was transported to Springfield and buried in the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, alongside his father and two of his brothers. Robert accompanied the casket on the train, but Mary was too distraught to make the trip. Tad’s early proclamation was now realized. He would now go to heaven with Pa and brother Willie.