Historian Claims This Was Abraham Lincoln's Last Meal Before His Assassination

The president of the United States is often thought of as such a revered and important leader that some forget they are people, too. And like any person, they must eat to survive. And just like us average folk, these political figures have their favorite types of foods and meal preferences. For example, Teddy Roosevelt loved his fried chicken with gravy, while Barack Obama satisfied his sweet tooth with sea-salted caramels (per First We Feast). And the further back in time we go, certain presidential eating habits seem more and more basic. 

In fact, one of America's most beloved and influential leaders, Abraham Lincoln, had pretty simple desires when it came to food. Among Lincoln's favorite dishes was reportedly chicken fricassee, or simmered chicken and hearty vegetables in a rich sauce, according to Martha Stewart. Though that's about as fancy as Honest Abe got. As Lincoln's own private secretary John Hay stated (via History): "[T]he pleasures of the table had few attractions for him." 

Although there is generally little attention paid to the eating habits of the president, Lincoln's food preferences have been scrutinized. That's due in no small part to the fact that Lincoln was the first United States president to be assassinated. Because of that, some have asked: What was Lincoln's last meal before he died? Apparently, history's not quite sure what he ate before his death. But one historian has some guesses.

For Lincoln, food was fuel

Abraham Lincoln reportedly saw food primarily as an energy source rather than a decadent indulgence. As such, History says his food choices generally were pretty straightforward and even sparse. Those included things like coffee, eggs, fruit, biscuits, and milk. He also enjoyed meals that his wife prepared for him, like corned beef and cabbage. Though he had a tendency to keep things simple, he still had his favorites. 

Some of Lincoln's other favorite foods were apples, corn cakes, oysters, gingerbread men, and bacon, according to Mental Floss. Elsewhere, in "Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln," he spoke of another favorite, corn cakes — a type of dessert — and said he could eat them "as fast as two women could make them." As far as apples were concerned, a far more nutritious snack, White House staff couldn't keep enough fruit in the larder. 

Clearly, just like everyone else, Lincoln had his preferences when it came to the food that he ate, though Lincoln's private secretaries noticed that the 16th U.S. president didn't eat all that much. John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary, even commented that his boss "ate less than anyone I know." For breakfast, he sometimes had just hot coffee and a single egg; for lunch, a simple biscuit, fruit, and milk; and for dinner, he also ate sparingly, Hay said. Feeding Lincoln was such a challenge, in fact, there were times that his wife and first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, consulted with the White House cook about how to make meals to entice her husband's appetite.

Was this really on the table at Lincoln's final meal?

For a man of such meager appetites, to modern tastes, Abraham Lincoln's final meal sounds extravagant, according to historian Andrew Caldwell in his book "Their Last Suppers: Legends of History and Their Final Meals." Notably, Caldwell cites no sources to support what he claims was the food Lincoln ate as he dined at the White House one final time before he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, embarked for the theater.

Other historians believe that the final Lincoln menu is unknown, but according to Caldwell, Lincoln's final meal was "mock" turtle soup, roast Virginia fowl with chestnut stuffing, baked yams, and cauliflower with a cheese sauce — all fancier than Lincoln's typical appetites. Menu aside, a bit more is known about what Lincoln's last evening was like. He had apparently spent the time reading to his friends from a book before he and his wife headed to the dinner table, where they reportedly lingered only about half an hour. 

Possibly explaining Lincoln's fancy final meal: It was Good Friday, leading up to Easter, which could have been cause for celebration, though Lincoln's religious views are debated (via the AP). Still, author Edward Steers thinks it likely that Lincoln's final meal would have been more in line with his normal, spartan eating habits. Regardless, after their meal, the president and first lady got in a carriage to attend a play, "Our American Cousin," at Ford's Theatre, where later that night he was assassinated.