Abraham Lincoln


Lincoln’s salary was $25,000/year.(Adjusted for inflation, this would be equal to $589,856 in 2009.)

White House Management and Budgets

The White House operated in a somewhat informal manner. The comings and goings of the President were not always recorded or known, and the financial records were a law unto themselves. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Maunsell Field recalls:

“there was very clever financiering done in the White House in those days, about which the President was supposed to have little or no knowledge. He only knew that the establishment was conducted in a marvelously economical manner.”


It is hard to pinpoint with any accuracy exactly how many staff were on the White House payroll during Lincoln’s presidency. One reason for this is that it was common for many of his staff to fulfill multiple roles. For example, top level security advisers also performed personal bodyguard duties, as did footmen and general servants. Some aides would organize travel as part of their duties, and others would act as meeters and greeters, or watch over Lincoln’s sons.

However, based on our research so far, we can estimate Lincoln had at least the following staff at any one time:

  • 5 personal aides/advisers
  • 6 security staff, including bodyguards, footmen, advisers, doorkeepers
  • 25 to 30 cavalry available for escorts
  • 3 personal staff; e.g. maids, barbers, valet
  • 2 personal healthcare staff; e.g doctor and nurse
  • 1 head gardener

All of these staff probably had additional servants and assistants, but these are the core staff we know about.

There are very few figures available that give an indication of what White House staff were paid. However, during a fraudulent episode involving Mrs Lincoln and the White House gardener John Watt, Senator Orville H. Browning recorded in his diary that

“Watt’s wife was now nominally stewardess at a salary of $100 per month, all of which, by private arrangement, went into Mrs. Lincoln’s pocket.”

As this was a fraudulent arrangement it is hard to say whether $100 per month was an accurate salary for a stewardess, but we might reasonably assume so. $100 in 1861 adjusted for inflation was $2359 in 2009.

Some of Lincoln’s key staff and their duties are profiled below.


  • Benjamin Brown French (1800-1870) – Duties: Factotum (general adviser), marshal
    As a general servant and adviser to Lincoln’s aides, French undertook numerous duties. These included introducing Mrs Lincoln to receptions in the Blue Room, overseeing expenditure of White House redecoration, and acting as deputy marshal as the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield.
  • William S. Wood – Interim Commissioner of Public Buildings, train trip co-ordinator
    Wood was later replaced by Benjamin Brown French. Wood was not favored by Mrs. Lincoln, as he was involved with trying to fire gardener John Watt. William Wood was criticized for his spending, including $6000 for annual maintenance and another $20,000 for a special redecoration.
  • John Nicolay – presidential secretary
  • Maunsell B. Field – assistant treasury
  • William O. Stoddard (1835-1925) – assistant Secretary from 1861-1864
  • Edward Duffield Neill (1823-1893) – assistant secretary from 1864-1865
  • William Slade – presidential aide
    A key White House staff member, Slade’s family had close connections to the Lincolns. Slade’s duties included supervision of the black workers in the Executive Mansion, and organizing White House functions.


  • Ward Hill Lamon (1828-1893) – Washington D.C marshal, chief of protocol, security advisor, personal bodyguard
    Lincoln did not have official bodyguards, but Lamon took responsibility for the personal security of the President, starting from the time Lincoln became president-elect. He would sometimes personally guard Lincoln by laying outside outside his bedroom door, and would also provide stern advice to Lincoln on matters of personal security. In December 1864, Lamon wrote the President:
    “I regret that you do not appreciate what I have repeatedly said to you in regard to the proper police arrangements connected with your household and your own personal safety. You are in danger. … To-night, as you have done on several previous occasions, you went unattended to the theatre. When I say unattended, I mean that you went alone with Charles Sumner and a foreign minister, neither of whom could defend himself against an assault from any able-bodied woman in this city. And you know, or ought to know, that your life is sought after, and will be taken unless you and your friends are cautious for you have many enemies within our lines. You certainly know that I have provided men at your mansion to perform all necessary police duty, and I am always ready myself to perform any duty that will properly conduce to your interest or your safety.”
  • Thomas Stackpole – doorkeeper, security
  • John Parker – bodyguard, security
  • Thomas Pendel – chief doorkeeper, security
    Thomas Pendel was the White House guard who replaced Edward McManus as chief doorkeeper in 1864. His other responsibilities included guarding Tad Lincoln, and lighting and holding candles in the windows of the White House during Lincoln’s speeches.
  • William Henry Crook (1839-1915) – Duties: Security
    A Washington policeman who guarded the White House, the President, and the First Family from January 1865 and until long after Lincoln’s assassination. Crook was on duty on April 14, 1865 before President Lincoln was assassinated.
  • Charles Forbes – Duties: Footman, driver, messenger, security.
  • As a footman, Forbes was responsible not only for the smooth running of the presidential carriage, but for various other servant duties, such as watching over Lincoln’s youngest son, Tad. Footmen were something of a status symbol amongst the servant-employing classes, so it is no surprise that the President would have such staff. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Forbes was on messenger duty, and responsible for watching over the presidential party, along with another guard, John Parker. However, both Forbes and Parker went to a bar during the intermissions, and assassination scholar Michael Kauffman noted that

    “Abraham Lincoln had no bodyguards in the modern sense. It was the messenger Charles Forbes who had allowed Booth into the box, and consequently Mrs. Lincoln held Forbes responsible for the president’s death. To deflect the blame, Forbes filed a formal complaint against a White House guard, patrolman John F. Parker, and charged him with leaving his post outside the president’s box to have a drink. Parker was tried and acquitted.”

Personal Staff:

  • Mary Ann Cuthbert – Duties: Chief housekeeper, maid, seamstress
    Cuthbert originally was the replacement for Mrs Lincoln’s first personal maid (named Ellen). She later became chief housekeeper for the White House, and was often given confidential assignments for Mary Todd Lincoln.
  • Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907) – seamstress, confidante to Mary Lincoln
    A former slave, “Madame Elizabeth”, asked Mary Lincoln if there was any work available at the White House. The response she got from Mary was “That, Mrs. Keckley, will depend altogether upon your prices. I trust that your terms are reasonable. I cannot afford to be extravagant. We are just from the West, and are poor. If you do not charge too much, I shall be able to give you all my work.”
  • William Johnson ( – 1864) – personal barber, shoeshiner, valet, laborer, messenger
    Johnson served as Lincoln’s barber before Lincoln became President, and Lincoln worked hard to gain other employment for Johnson in the White House. Johnson was black however, and other staff in the White House did not share Lincoln’s enthusiasm for employing Johnson. Johnson did work in a number of roles, and also accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg, where he caught smallpox (possibly from Lincoln himself) and died. President Lincoln paid for Johnson’s funeral from his own personal funds.
  • John Watt – gardener
    John Watt was a corrupt head groundskeeper. He was a favorite of Mary Todd Lincoln, and Watt encouraged Mrs. Lincoln to manipulate White House funds. After Watt was dismissed 1862, he tried to blackmail the First Family for $20,000, but was paid off by the Agricultural Bureau with $1500, in return for providing three letters which incriminated Mrs. Lincoln in financial irregularities. The appropriation of money meant for buying fertilizer was one fraudulent transaction Mrs. Lincoln was involved in. The money was used for a state dinner instead.

Healthcare Staff:

  • Robert K. Stone – personal physician to the Lincoln family
  • Rebecca R. Pomroy (1817-1884) – nurse
    Personal nurse to the First Family, Rebecca R. Pomroy looked after Lincoln’s sons Tad and Willie when they were sick, and consoled Mrs. Lincoln when Willie died.


In comparison with the military precision of today’s Secret Service protection of the President, Lincoln’s security arrangements could be described as ‘relaxed’. This approach was often at Lincoln’s own request, and was often a source of conflict between the President and those charged with protecting him.

When Lincoln first came to office, he dispensed with the mounted and foot guards that stood at the White House gates. Staff were often concerned at President Lincoln’s isolation when he worked in the East Wing late at night. There was no security guards on the doors whatsoever, and anyone could enter and exit the building at will . Lincoln also often used to ride his horse solo, with no protection at all.

Later in his presidency however, his security was improved, mostly due to the insistence his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Washington D.C. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon, and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. He was provided with a cavalry escort and White House guards, known as the “President’s Mounted Bodyguard”. Members of this unit were recruited from a cavalry of over one hundred men. The Mounted Bodyguard stationed two mounted guards at the White House gates, and always escorted the president when he went out on horseback or in his carriage. Around 25 to 30 cavalry, carrying sabres, would also escort the president.

War Department employees were also given strict instructions not to let Lincoln return to the White House alone at night. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon sometimes personally guarded President Lincoln.

In 1864, the D.C police chief, Mr. William B. Webb, designated four police officers to be a special 24 hour guard for President Lincoln. Two men would guard Lincoln from 8am to 4pm, and one man stood guard from 4pm until midnight, and then another officer would stand watch while the President slept. The police officers all carried revolvers, and would either stand outside the room, follow Lincoln around, or patrol the nearby corridors.

For all that however, President Lincoln would often wear plain clothes, and talk to people in the street freely (who would often not know who he was). John Nicolay, his secretary and later biographer, wrote:

“Madmen frequently made their way to the very door of the executive office, and sometimes into Mr. Lincoln’s presence.”


Early in his presidency, Abraham Lincoln would ride alone on horseback to various locations around D.C. He would travel without an escort and without any security. In this scenario, this costs of transporting the president would of course be minimal.

Later, he was escorted by 25 to 30 cavalry. The poet Walt Whitman often observed Lincoln travelling around Washington D.C on horseback or by carriage. He writes:

“I saw him this morning about 8:30 coming in to business, riding on Vermont Avenue, near L Street. He always has a company of twenty-five or thirty cavalry, with sabres drawn and held upright over their shoulders.

The party makes no great show in uniform or horses. Mr. Lincoln on the saddle generally rides a good-sized, easy-going, gray horse; is dressed in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty; wears a stiff black hat; and looks about as ordinary in attire, etc. as the commonest man. A lieutenant with yellow straps rides at his left; and, following behind, two by two, come the cavalry men in their yellow-striped jackets. They are generally going at a slow trot, as that is the pace set them by the one they wait upon. The sabres and accoutrements clank, and the entirely unornamental cortege as it trots toward Lafayette Square arouses no sensation; only some curious stranger stops and gazes. … Sometimes the President goes and comes in an open barouche. The cavalry always accompany him with drawn sabres.”>

In summer, Lincoln and his wife would make regular summer afternoon outings in a barouche (a barouche is a fashionable horse drawn carriage, often used for social outings). Walt Whitman noted that “The equipage is of the plainest kind – only two horses and they nothing extra.”

White House decor

The spending on luxury items in the White House was as much of an issue in Lincoln’s time as it is now. President Lincoln was furious at some of the items purchased on the authorization of his wife. Some of these items included:

  • $2,500 – “elegant, grand carpet”
  • $2,500 – “new silver and replating of cutlery”
  • $6,000 – wallpapering, painting the outside of the house and other necessary work

Other items President Lincoln approved during his presidency included:

  • $952.48 for carpetings purchased by Mrs. Lincoln
  • $7,500 to Wm. H. Carryl and brother for purchases made by Mrs. Lincoln
  • $1,500.00 to A. P. Zimandy for set of glass ware “rich cut and Engd with U.S. Coat of Arms.”
  • $264.00 to Daniel Appleton and Co., New York, for books purchased for Executive Mansion library

Benjamin Brown French was the staff member in charge of White House redecoration expenditure. His first task was to pay off the expenses incurred under his predecessor, William S. Wood. French wrote in his diary (December 16, 1861):

I went & had an interview with her [Mrs Lincoln], and with the President, in relation to the overrunning of the appropriation for furnishing the house, which was done, by the law, ‘under the President.’ The money was actually expended by Mrs. Lincoln, & she was in much tribulation, the President declaring he would not approve the bills overrunning the $20,000 appropriated. Mrs. L. wanted me to see him & endeavor to persuade him to give his approval to the bills, but not to let him know that I had seen her!”

To cover Mrs Lincoln’s spending, French organized a deficiency appropriation from Congress of $4500 and shifted funds from other projects to cover to overspend. President Lincoln stepped in however, and according to French’s diary, offered to pay the excess from his own pocket:

“It can never have my approval. I’ll pay out of my own pocket first – it would stink in the nostrils of the American people to have it said that the President of the United States had approved a bill over-running an appropriation of $20,000 for flub dubs for this damned old house, when the soldiers cannot have blankets.” …. “elegant, grand carpet, $2,500. I should like to know where a carpet worth $2,500 can be put” … “the house was furnished well enough, better than any one we ever lived in…”

Evidence of Lincoln’s frugality can be seen in other documents, such as this descriptions of the President’s writing desk:

“there is hardly an ornamental or a superfluous article of furniture in the room. This second hand mahogany upright desk, from some old furniture auction – or that is what it looks like – here by the middle window, is Mr Lincolns working desk.”