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ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S FAILURES AND A STRIKING EXAMPLE OF HIS HUMANNESS: THE BIXBY LETTER

He failed as a businessman - as a storekeeper.

He failed as a farmer - he despised this work.

He failed in his first attempt to obtain political office.

When elected to the legislature he failed when he sought the office of speaker.

He failed in his first attempt to go to Congress.

He failed when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office.

He failed when he ran for the United States Senate.

He failed when friends sought for him the nomination for the vice-presidency in 1856.

For a more complete list, CLICK HERE.

This is unexpected for a man many consider to be the greatest president of all and who attended school less than 12 months in his entire life! Here's a unique example of one of Mr. Lincoln's greatest qualities: humanness. In the fall of 1864, Mr. Lincoln was (incorrectly) informed that a Boston widow, Lydia Bixby, had lost five sons in the Civil War. These are the words of the beautiful letter Mr. Lincoln wrote to the woman:

Executive Mansion
Washington, Nov.21, 1864

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.
Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons
who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But
I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have
laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully
A. Lincoln
The original of the Bixby letter was never found. However, facsimiles were very common. Below is a facsimile produced in 1891 by New York's Huber Museum and sold to the public for $1.00.

Source: The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia by Mark E. Neely, Jr.

It was later learned President Lincoln had been misinformed as to the number of Mrs. Bixby's sons who had been killed. She had actually lost only two sons in the war. Sgt. Charles N. Bixby was killed May 3, 1863. Pvt. Oliver Cromwell Bixby was killed July 30, 1864. However, Corp. Henry Cromwell Bixby was discharged on December 19, 1864. Pvt. George Way Bixby was captured July 30, 1864, and then deserted to the enemy. He moved to Cuba after the Civil War. Edward Bixby also deserted from his unit. The information on Mrs. Bixby’s sons comes from p. 277 of Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet by Wayne C. Temple (Mahomet, Illinois, Mayhaven Publishing, 1995).


Mrs. Lydia Bixby

Historians differ whether Lincoln or his secretary, John Hay, authored the letter. A good book on the topic is Abraham Lincoln and the Widow Bixby by F. Lauriston Bullard (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1946). For some interesting observations on this question, please see Jason Emerson's article entitled "New Evidence From an Ignored Voice: Robert Todd Lincoln and the Authorship of the Bixby Letter" in the Summer 2008 edition of the Lincoln Herald. To read why Lincoln author Michael Burlingame feels John Hay wrote the letter, please CLICK HERE.

In November 2008 the Dallas Historical Society announced it might have discovered an official government copy of the letter in its archives. The letter was sent to Christie's in New York for an expert opinion on its provenance and authenticity.

For the list of failures at the top of the page, please see p. 19 of Abraham Lincoln: Servant of the People by Carl E. Wahlstrom (Worcester, Massachusetts, Achille J. St. Onge, 1942).


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