Section VII: Lincoln Among Friends

Over the course of his career, Lincoln made many political and legal acquaintances, with some of whom he established close working relationships. His engaging conversation, capacious memory, and skillful storytelling made him entertaining company: more often than not he was the center of a crowd. As a private and self-reliant man, however, he had few intimate friends. Although his family provided emotional sustenance, his relations with his father were strained, his marriage to Mary was not always easy, and there was little intimacy with his eldest son, Robert.

Lincoln’s surviving writings rarely allow us to see into his soul. Even so, his private correspondence reveals some personal exchanges. In the midst of the 1860 presidential campaign, Lincoln paused to write a letter of consolation to a friend of his son Robert, George C. Latham, who had been denied admission to Harvard. Lincoln wrote this letter of encouragement, declaring, “It is a certain truth that you can enter and graduate in Harvard University; and having made the attempt, you must succeed in it. ‘Must’ is the word.” Lincoln’s words of encouragement to a young student offer an insight into his approach to making the most of his own life.