It was a viciously cold winter in 1864, the last Christmas of The American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln received an unusual gift: Victory. And in 1863 had an unusual gift to give to relatives of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln: Forgiveness.
WhiteHouseHistory.org tells us that, “On Christmas Day 1864, Tad Lincoln, the President’s young son, embraced the spirit of the holidays, inviting several cold and hungry newsboys he had met into the White House for Christmas dinner. Although the unexpected guests were a surprise to the White House cook, the President welcomed them and allowed them to stay for dinner.”
A Gift for Lincoln
The air of the Whitehouse was far more positive this Christmas than it had been the dark four years before, the end of the war was coming and most people knew it. Victory seemed inevitable, even though it would be the last Christmas Lincoln would see. But first, General William Tecumseh Sherman had a gift to give his Commander-In-Chief: the city of Savannah.
Lincoln’s Gift to His Wife’s Family
The previous Christmas in 1863 President Lincoln gave a very peculiar gift to the Craig family, cousins of his wife Mary Todd. The Raab Collection released a letter from Lincoln that allowed her family, former Slave holders to return to their lands in Arkansas unmolested by Union Troops. CNN reported the letter read,
“Mr. and Mrs. Craig, of Arkansas, whose plantation, situated upon the Mississippi River a few miles below Helena, has been desolated during the present war, propose returning to reoccupy and cultivate said plantation,” Lincoln wrote in the letter.
“(And) it is my wish that they be permitted to do so, and that the United States military forces in that vicinity will not molest them or allow them to be molested, as long as the said Mr. and Mrs. Craig shall demean themselves as peaceful, loyal citizens of the United States.”
This beautiful example of Lincoln’s “malice toward none” is an amazing lesson in the divided times we live in. Nathan Raab President of the Raab collection said “It’s uncommon to find something where a figure of such great prominence and historical importance is connecting so personally on such a national level,” Raab said. “You get a rare behind-the-scenes look and insight into how the war affected Lincoln himself.”
As we feel more distant from our countrymen than ever and as we write about the slow creep toward another Civil conflict in America, it’s more important than ever before that we remember one day of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men”. That as Lincoln did, we strive for Victory and reach out with forgiveness and love toward our fellow Americans. At least for a day or two we must open our hearts to each other and remember that we are brothers and sisters.