Depression seems so much an offshoot of modern life, with its manic pace and social systems that—despite all the talk about connectedness—layers so many with feelings of alienation. Yet, people throughout history have battled the condition: Most notably our 16th president. You know, the one who ended slavery and saved the union?
Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Allan B. Schwartz, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of nephrology and hypertension at Drexel University College of Medicine, takes a long look at what drove Lincoln to sometimes openly talk about suicide. Turns out it was love. Lincoln suffered great losses during his early years including the death of his mother when he was 9. “By the time he was 20, he had also buried an aunt, uncle, sister, and a newborn brother,” Schwartz writes.
But one death, in particular, threw young Lincoln into despair. When he was 24-years old he met the love of his life, 18-year old Anne Rutledge, a beautiful and vivacious young woman. Rutledge died, most probably from typhoid and Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon later wrote: “his heart, sad and broken, was buried in her grave.” A grave later made famous in 1916 when Rutledge’s “voice” was include in Edgar Lee Masters’ famous collection of poems, Spoon River Anthology.
In those days the standard treatments for what was called melancholia were usually useless and sometimes harmful. Despite the personal burden depression inflicted on Lincoln, Schwartz cites Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness in arguing that the condition contributed to Lincoln’s greatness. Lincoln’s “own experiences gave him greater empathy for the slaves, influencing him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and urge approval of the Thirteenth Amendment.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer