President Abraham Lincoln had a lifelong commitment to compassion. His work with the Emancipation Proclamation may be the most well-known example of this trait but Lincoln’s compassion didn’t just encompass humans, it stretched to animals as well. He had many pets throughout his lifetime and even helped wild animals who became trapped in some way. His children were indulged with animals, and one of his sons, Thomas (“Tad”), had a pair of white rabbits.
The rabbits were gifted to Tad after a tragic loss. In February of 1864, the White House stables caught on fire. Lincoln noted the smoke from a second story window in the White House and came running out, asking the guards what was burning. When they realized it was the stables, Lincoln took off running. He asked upon his arrival if the horses had been removed and when he was told that they were not, tried to tear open the doors with his bare hands to get to them. Sadly, none of the horses could be saved.
Tragic abounded for the Lincolns early in 1864. Just 10 days after the terrible fire, William “Willie” Lincoln, the Lincoln’s third son, passed away from typhoid fever. The entire family grieved terribly over the loss of Willie, and none more so than Tad. People across the nation reacted to the Lincoln’s grief by sending gifts, and a man named Michael Crock sent the pair of rabbits hoping that they would help ease Tad’s grief.
If the rabbits had names, they have since been lost to history. Margaret Truman writes in White House Pets that Tad did enjoy his rabbits, and “often stroked their soft, silky fur.”
What happened to the rabbits is unknown. It is likely they remained with the Lincoln family at least until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, when things were thrown into a turmoil. One hopes that they were able to bring some solace to little Tad Lincoln, who had lost so much.