Was Abraham Lincoln bipolar?

Much is known about Lincoln’s bouts of melancholia, and I, ever the one on the prowl to find famous people who are or were bipolar found my attention instantly riveted upon this fact. So, armed with the mighty google, I sat out in search of an answer to this question, Was Lincoln bipolar? Apparently I’m not the only one who’s wondered this, for almost immediately I found the following website

Distilling from it a bit, was Lincoln ever hypomanic? Well, according to one William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner and biographer, “He was gloomy, abstracted, and joyous—rather humorous—by turns.” In the milder forms of bipolar disorder, hypomania will present as just being happy, with the telling symptom being how the sufferer will repeatedly cycle between melancholia and happiness, with ‘cycle’ being the operative word here.

And pressured speech, another tell-tale sign of bipolar disorder, how did Lincoln fare there? Lincoln was known to be a great talker (when in the mood for it), and he could talk on and on, story after story, almost as if compelled to speak, and at such times seemed tireless. And Lincoln’s penchant for extended bouts of story telling dovetails nicely with the bipolar symptom of Racing Thoughts/Flight of Ideas wherein the sufferer may feel they cannot slow their minds down.

Perhaps the hall mark of the bipolar disorder is the irritability that often accompanies it. What evidence is there that Lincoln was often irritable? According to editors Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacker [Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln], “In the White House, Lincoln lost his temper more than once.” And according to the man himself, “I have been angry…[and] if I had encountered the man who caused my anger, I certainly would have hurt him,” a very telling remark indeed.

Bipolar disorder is an inherited one, so what evidence is there that Lincoln had any first degree relatives with this disorder? To quote (from the blog by Joshua Wolf Shenk) no less an authority on this disorder than professor Nassir Ghaemi, Tufts University, “Thus, the bipolar relative (and likely relatives), Mordecai Lincoln, in Lincoln’s family should raise our suspicion that Lincoln himself either had hypomanic periods that are difficult to document, or perhaps experienced a variety of depression that might biologically be similar to bipolar disorder.”

So, it’s all conjecture at this point, I know, yet I can’t help feeling that he and I have something in common, something beyond all rhyme or reason—I know the pieces fit.

“Cold silence has a tendency to atrophy any sense of compassion
Between supposed lovers
Between supposed brothers”


  1. #1 by Visit Your URL on July 5, 2012 - 12:21 am

    Great Article!

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