A leading expert on President Abraham Lincoln said the recent discovery of an $800 check cashed by the 16th president on April 15, 1865 indicates he was planning ahead and anticipating some expenditures, possibly a trip for his wife Mary or a return to the war front for himself. Lincoln had a habit of letting his monthly paychecks of $2,000 accumulate in his desk drawer, leading many to conclude he was careless when it came to his finances.
“Now we at least know that he did get some cash together, perhaps to carry them through the spring and summer,” said Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer. “It’s good to know he wasn’t as careless or blasé about his money as we’d thought. He was replenishing—even though he tragically did not live to spend his money.”
Lincoln cashed the check the day before he was attacked at Ford’s Theatre and two days before he died.
The First National Bank, where Lincoln had an account, is a short block east of the White House. The ornate white pillared building still stands on the northwest corner of 15th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW but is no longer the First National Bank.
The $800 check turned up in a Columbus, Ohio bank storeroom along with checks signed by other presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Ulysses S. Grant. They had been left behind by the Union Commerce Bank when it was acquired by Huntington Bank in 1983.
The checks are on exhibit at some of Huntington’s banks.
Holzer said the check is a significant find because “anything in Lincoln’s hand from the days right before his assassination holds both historic and emotional importance.”
There has been some speculation Lincoln had cashed the check to pay off bills Mary had run up at various stores. Holzer says he does not draw the same conclusion.
“Do we imagine he was going to invite them all the White House, line them up, and hand out some cash?,” he asked. “Not Likely. Lincoln would have written checks directly to them.”