Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Lincoln's Third Love

Page 30

It may be supposed that after two failures, Lincoln would go slow in matrimonial ventures, but the duel with Shields had a broader meaning than most people imagine, and the green-eyed monster, jealousy, had much to do with it.

Miss Mary Todd was a fine cultured lady, and Shields, Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas and some other lawyers about Springfield had been paying considerable attention to her, and Shield became deeply enamored with her. He had served in the legislature with a great deal of credit and was then holding the office of State Auditor, and besides being an able lawyer he was quite popular in the Democratic Party. Miss Mary was a handsome, brilliant and highly educated young lady and was respectably connected in Springfield, and their was no doubt that Shield's wanted her to become his wife, but Lincoln was his rival and appeared to have the preference with Miss Todd, so when the article appeared in the Springfield papers that Shields objected to which was no doubt written by Mary, it gave him an excuse to challenge Lincoln to mortal combat. The terms were so fixed that it gave Lincoln the advantage with his long legs and arms, while Shields was a short man with short arms and legs. The result would be that Lincoln, by stooping over with his long arms, could tickle Shields very uncomfortably with the point of his sword, while Shields could not reach Lincoln by twelve or fourteen inches. It would have placed Shields completely at the mercy of Lincoln, but in all the world he could have not been in kinder hands, for it never was in Lincoln's big and tender heart to have hurt a human being except in self defense. But when Hardin appeared on the ground and declared the matter had to stop, as there was nothing to fight about but a little miserable understanding, and if Shields would withdraw the offensive letter that Lincoln would give a satisfactory explanation. Hardin's advice was taken, and Lincoln explained for the lady that the article was not intended to reflect on Shields. Shields was satisfied and the fight was declared off. The woman was kept in the background.

Now it is probable that there was not another man in Sangamon county at that time who if he had received such a challenge, would not have made up his mind that he had to back down and confess that he was afraid to fight or stand up to the racket, but as we have hinted that a woman was involved, and Lincoln with great mind and common sense came out victorious and nobody hurt. Lincoln afterwards told his friend that he did not want to hurt his rival: that he had nothing against him, but that if he had paid no attention to the challenge Shield would have said that he was a coward and had showed the white father, and he would teach him to behave himself.

"Herndon's Life of Lincoln" says that Lincoln and Shields were to stand twelve feet apart in their duel, which was a mistake., as the rule was twice the distance of one of the swords. He describes Shields as a hot-headed, blustering Irishman of little prominence, when he was a man of great ability. He served as Advocate Justice of the Supreme Court, was Commissioner of the General Land Office and had the rare distinction of being at different times Senator from Illinois, Missouri and California, which honor we think was never enjoyed by any other man. He was also a gallant officer in the Mexican war and the war of the rebellion. After Lincoln was president, he remembered his old friend who was a rival for his sweetheart-who would have fought a duel for her hand, and showed his kind and forgiving spirit by presenting Shields with a Brigadier General's commission. So Shields must have been a man of considerable ability to hold these positions. He was a grand and patriotic man., How wonderful was the tact of Lincoln in averting with honor to himself the duel that might have robbed our country of two such men.

In due time, Lincoln and Miss Mary Todd were married. She was of a high bred family of Kentucky and entirely different from Abe in every particular. Her relatives were all rebels, several of her brothers holding commissions in the rebel army, and it is not my providence as a historian to speak of the influence they might have exerted over a part of the president's household. The poor woman had trouble enough in her declining days to have unsettled stronger minds. Let the veil of charity be drawn over her life.

Transcribed by:Rajean Gallagher



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors