Doctor diagnoses smallpox in Lincoln during Gettysburg Address

Rod Davis comments on the theory that Abraham Lincoln has smallpox.


Abraham Lincoln has been dead for 142 years, but he still manages to make medical headlines, this time from doctors who say he had a bad case of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Physicians in Baltimore said last week that Lincoln might have survived being shot if today’s medical technology had existed in 1865. Last year, University of Minnesota researchers suggested that a genetic nerve disorder rather than the long-speculated Marfan syndrome might have caused his clunky gait….

Rodney Davis, a Lincoln historian at Illinois’ Knox College, said people who don’t read Lincoln biographies may not know about his smallpox, but ”it’s not anything that’s ever been suppressed. It’s just never been all that significant given the highlights of his career.”

Citing an autobiography of J.M.T. Finney Jr., an early 20th century surgeon, the report says a physician summoned by Lincoln’s personal doctor diagnosed a mild form of smallpox. Upon hearing the contagious diagnosis, the report says, Lincoln joked that while he was constantly hounded by people who wanted something from him, ”’For once in my life as President, I find myself in a position to give everybody something!”’

Read the New York Times article.