Romantic Rivals: John Wilkes Booth and Robert Todd Lincoln

In early 1865, John Wilkes Booth allegedly became involved in a romantic rivalry with Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln, when they competed for the affection of a senator’s daughter.

Robert Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth both became enamored with Senator John Parker Hale’s daughter, Lucy Hale.

Although it is not clear when Lucy Hale met Robert Todd Lincoln, according to the book Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, Hale met John Wilkes Booth in January of 1865 when she checked into the hotel he was staying at, the National Hotel in Washington, with her father, the former New Hampshire Senator John Parker Hale, who was in town for the announcement of his newly appointed position of Ambassador to Spain.

Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln

Although Hale and Lincoln’s relationship never became romantic, Lincoln allegedly had feelings for her. Coincidentally, so did Booth.

According to the book, New Hampshire Book of the Dead: Graveyard Legends and Lore, Booth sent Hale a letter on Valentine’s Day in 1865 telling her:

“You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead and your close resemblance to her surprised me the first time I saw you…To see you has indeed offered me a melancholy pleasure, if you can conceive of such, and should we never meet nor I see you again – believe me, I shall always associate you in my memory, with her, who was very beautiful, and whose face, like your own I trust, was a faithful index of gentleness and amiability. With a thousand kind wishes for your future happiness I am, to you, a stranger. ”

Booth’s sister, Asia Booth Clarke, mentioned the love letter in a memoir she wrote about Booth titled John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir:

“The following passage from a letter by Junius Booth after he and Wilkes had returned to New York alludes to this valentine. The date, the Tuesday before February 14, 1865: ‘John (Wilkes) sat up all Monday night to put Miss H’s Valentine in the mail, and slept on the sofa so as to be up early; kept me up early; kept me up last night until 3 1/2 A.M. to wait while he wrote her a long letter – kept me awake by every now and then using me as a Dictionary. He says he shall remain here until Wednesday…'”

Booth and Hale’s relationship quickly progressed and many sources state they were secretly engaged shortly after, although there is no proof of this. In her memoir, Clarke published another letter from Junius, describing a conversation with Booth in which he confessed that he was in love with Hale in March of 1865:

“I then told him what I had read about his wasting his time in Washington when he could do so much better in the oil counties. He said it was true but that he would not live in the oil regions for all the wealth in them & that he was in love with a lady in Washington [Lucy Hale] & that was worth more to him than all the money he could make.”

Although Booth was an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy, Hale knew nothing of his plans to harm the president.

John Wilkes Booth photographed by J.A. Keenan of Philadelphia in 1865

John Wilkes Booth photographed by J.A. Keenan of Philadelphia in 1865

Booth even attended Lincoln’s second inauguration as a guest of Hale’s on March 4, 1865, just six weeks before he killed the president.

When Booth was killed in a stand off two weeks after the assassination, police discovered several photos of young women in Booth’s diary, including a photo of Lucy Hale.

On June 18, 1878, the Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean discovered the romantic rivalry between Booth and Lincoln and published an article suggesting it was “a new motive for Booth’s action in regard to President Lincoln.”  The paper later printed a rebuttal of the story from Robert Todd Lincoln who denied ever knowing Hale, according to the New Orleans Times:

“A highly romantic story concerning the reasons why J. Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln is going the rounds of the papers. In this it is said that Booth and young Robert Lincoln were rivals for the love of Miss Bessie Hale, daughter of Senator Hale. The parents of Miss Hale favored the suit of Lincoln, and through jealousy and rage Booth conceived the terrible crime of killing the president, the father of young Lincoln. Mr. Robert Lincoln puts a quietus to the story through the Chicago-Inter Ocean. He says that he never knew Miss Hale, and consequently could not have been her lover, and that he and Booth were never rivals. He also denies knowing Mrs. Temple, who is the author of the story.” 

Lucy Hale eventually married U.S. Senator William E. Chandler and Robert Todd Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan.

John Wilkes Booth at Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration on March 4, 1865

John Wilkes Booth at Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865

This rivalry was not the only connection between the Booth family and the Lincoln family. In fact, a series of events have linked the two families over the years.

According to some sources, Abraham Lincoln was a fan of John Wilkes Booth, after having seen him perform at Ford’s Theater, and even invited John Wilkes Booth to the White House in 1863, an invitation Booth declined.

In addition, Edwin Booth voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and then he saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln shortly after.

Unfortunately, the final connection between the two families was when John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in April of 1865. A manhunt ensued for Booth, who was later shot and killed himself, and the entire Booth family was arrested and detained on suspicion of conspiring to kill the president. They were later released when officials found no evidence of their involvement.

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies; Michael W. Kauffman; 2005
New Hampshire Book of the Dead: Graveyard Legends and Lore; Roxie Zwicker; 2012
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir; Asia Booth Clarke
Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, James Giblin; 2005
Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean; “Booth and Bob Lincoln”; June 18, 1878
New Orleans Times; June 27 1878
American Heritage; They All Loved Lucy; Richard Morcom; October 1970:

Romantic Rivals: John Wilkes Booth and Robert Todd Lincoln
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