Opinion: Call of duty?


Mary Todd Lincoln presented a bit of a challenge for sober old Abe. Many modern psychologists and historians attribute her behavior, which was considered at the time to be an indication of significant impropriety, as evidence that the first lady was suffering from bipolar disorder.  Since the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did not identify the category of issues that define the condition until 1980, it is impossible to imagine that Mary would have been able to get the help that she needed – or that her loyal husband was not suffering, too. One can imagine the jeering from his political opponents at her actions and the pleading from his family and allies to keep her from further embarrassing them.

What responsibility does a significant other have to keep their partner under wraps? It is certain that the president knew that his wife was not in accord with the expectations of the day. Perhaps she was ill or simply didn’t want to follow the standard. What right did he have to impose his will upon her? What right did they have to peer into the Lincoln bedroom? Should others be allowed to judge him for her comments? Did they live at a time when marriage meant ideological lockstep?

Hillary, Nancy, Jackie, Barbara or Michelle – what liberty can they expect to express themselves with or without regard to the impact that it would have on their spouse or anyone else? Do we take an oath along with our partner to play along? Today, many demand that Martha-Ann Bomgardner and Ginni Thomas quiet down. The opinions of these women, when stated, have led to calls by some that their husbands, now U.S. Supreme Court justices, should resign. What duty do we have to speak our minds if it means we are silencing our partners?