Ninian Edwards (1809-1889)

Elizabeth Todd Edwards (1813-1888)


Few native Kentuckians played so instrumental a role in the life and career of Abraham Lincoln as Ninian Edwards and Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards. Born to wealth and aristocratic culture, the couple became leaders of Springfield, Illinois, society, and close acquaintances of Lincoln at a crucial time in his own social and political rise.


At their weekly, nonpartisan Sunday soirées, the aristocratic couple played host to Springfield’s elite – among whom Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a growing association. It was on one such occasion that he met Elizabeth’s sister, and his future wife. Mary Todd, whose relationship with her stepmother was growing increasingly strained, had visited the Edwardses in 1837, and two years later she came to live with them.


As the story goes, Lincoln had wanted to dance with Mary “in the worst way.” According to Mary, he did.  Soon after, she and Lincoln began to court. Though Mary had other suitors, including Stephen A. Douglas, she and Lincoln shared much in common: Kentucky roots, poetry, Whig politics, and fierce ambition.


The Edwardses thought Lincoln talented and politically useful, but they initially opposed the match. Elizabeth, as she later recalled, considered him “not sufficiently educated & intelligent in the female line.” Ninian, as Mary’s guardian, thought Lincoln “mighty rough.” But the Edwardses came around, even hosting the wedding at their home on November 4, 1842.


Despite Ninian’s embrace of the Democratic Party in the mid-1850s and his support of Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 and 1860, Lincoln assisted his brother-in-law financially at a critical moment, and in 1861 appointed him to the position of captain and commissary of subsistence, which he held until his replacement in June 1863.  After Lincoln’s death, the Edwardses remained among Mary’s closest and most helpful family members. It was in their home that Mary died in 1882.


Print by Bernhardt Wall of the home of Ninian and Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield, Illinois

Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Museum of Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN