Could you imagine taking up a collection today for the First Family if the president is killed? It happened in 1865, when the widowed Mary Lincoln feared a destitute life. It’s an example of “collective generosity at a time when the country was really, really in bad shape physically, politically, financially,” says James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.“Generosity came out for the Lincoln family.”
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Cornelius has accepted a donation of three family letters – two written by Mary and one written by son Robert – addressing this subject, as well as a ledger listing the donors. Cornelius says while the Lincoln family would not have gone hungry, the situation led Congress to pass a law providing for the survivors of a president who dies in office. Cornelius says the letters will be on display soon.