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The Lincolns had three surviving sons when the president took office; their second child, Edward, had died in 1850, at age three. The oldest, Robert (standing, center), was a student at Harvard and was away from the White House much of the time. “Willie” (seen in the framed picture) was a favorite of both parents and was remembered by a girl playmate as “the most lovable boy I ever knew, bright, sensible, sweet-tempered and gentle-mannered.” He died of a “bilious fever” (probably typhoid) in 1862, causing enormous anguish for the first couple. The youngest son, Tad, was doted on by his parents, and was described by one of the president’s secretaries as having “a very bad opinion of books and no opinion of discipline.” Mrs. Lincoln is depicted dressed in black, the color she mostly wore after Willie’s death. This tragedy precipitated Mrs. Lincoln’s rapid psychological decline, which would worsen after the president’s assassination in April 1865.

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