Lincoln Aide May Have Written Letter
Jul. 21, 1999
BOSTON (AP) _ Six score and 15 years ago, ghostwriting of presidential letters may already have been a White House practice.
A history professor says a letter from Abraham Lincoln to a Boston woman whose five sons were believed killed fighting for the Union during the Civil War was actually written by Lincoln's personal secretary, John Hay.
The letter, dated Nov. 21, 1864, has been one of the president's best known pieces of writing, along with the Gettysburg and second inaugural addresses. It was even cited in the movie ``Saving Private Ryan.''
The brief note tells Lydia Bixby: ``I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save.''
Michael Burlingame, a history professor at Connecticut College and author of ``The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln,'' says certain words and phrases in the letter also show up frequently in letters, poems and other pieces written by Hay, but were rarely or never used by Lincoln.
For example, Hay used the word ``beguile'' more than 30 times in his writings, but Lincoln never used it, Burlingame told The Boston Globe. Also, phrases such as ``I cannot refrain from tendering you'' were occasionally seen in Hay's work, but were never seen in Lincoln's, he said.
Additionally, Hay pasted a copy of the letter into a scrapbook containing newspaper accounts of his personal writings.
Burlingame's assertion is just the latest debunking of the Bixby story. Historians have long said Bixby really only lost two sons in the war, was a Confederate sympathizer, destroyed Lincoln's letter in anger and ran a house of prostitution in Boston, the Globe said.