Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III (April 4, 1853 – July 15, 1871) was the fourth and youngest son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and named after his paternal grandfather, Thomas Lincoln. The nickname “Tad” was given to him by his father, who observed that he had a large head and was “as wiggly as a tadpole” when he was a baby.
Upon their father’s election as President, both Tad and Willie moved into the White House and it became their new playground and home. In February 1862, both Lincoln boys contracted typhoid fever and both boys were bedridden. Willie died on February 20, while Tad recovered. After his brother’s death, his parents became even more lenient toward his behavior.
During the time his father was alive, Tad was impulsive, unrestrained, and did not attend school. John Hay wrote that the boy’s numerous tutors in the White House usually quit in frustration. Tad had free run of the White House, and there are stories of him interrupting presidential meetings, collecting animals, charging visitors to see his father, and more.
On April 14, 1865, Tad went to Grover’s Theatre to see the play Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp while his parents attended the performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. That night, his father was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth. When news of the assassination spread to Grover’s Theatre, the manager made an announcement to the entire audience. Tad began running and screaming, “They killed Papa! They killed Papa!” He was escorted back to the White House while his mother pleaded to have him brought to his father’s deathbed at the Petersen House. “Bring Tad—he will speak to Tad—he loves him so.” Late that night, an inconsolable Tad was put to bed by a White House doorman.
President Lincoln died the next morning, on Saturday, April 15, at 7:22 am.
About the death of his father, Tad said:
“Pa is dead. I can hardly believe that I shall never see him again. I must learn to take care of myself now. Yes, Pa is dead, and I am only Tad Lincoln now, little Tad, like other little boys. I am not a president’s son now. I won’t have many presents anymore. Well, I will try and be a good boy, and will hope to go someday to Pa and brother Willie, in Heaven.”
After the assassination, Mary, Robert, and Tad Lincoln lived together in Chicago. Robert moved out after a short time, and Tad began attending school. In 1868, they left Chicago and lived in Europe for almost three years, in Germany and later in England.
Lincoln suffered from what one modern commentator has called a “complex speech and language disorder” related to some form of a cleft lip or palate. This caused some problems when Lincoln was in school in Chicago. While at the Elizabeth Street School, his schoolmates sometimes called him “Stuttering Tad” because of the speech impediment, which he was able to overcome as a teenager.
On Saturday morning, July 15, 1871, Lincoln died at the age of 18.
The cause of death has been variously referred to as tuberculosis, a pleuristic attack, pneumonia, or congestive heart failure. Lincoln’s death occurred at the Clifton House hotel in Chicago. In an obituary, John Hay affectionately referred to him as “Little Tad”.
Funeral services were held for Lincoln in his brother Robert’s home in Chicago. His body was transported to Springfield and buried in the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, alongside his father and two of his brothers. Robert accompanied the casket on the train, but Mary was too distraught to make the trip.