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Mystery of Abe Lincoln's Bixby letter solved

Posted on Friday, 21 July, 2017 | Comment icon 6 comments

Did Lincoln really write the letter himself ? Image Credit: Alexander Gardner
Forensic linguists have 'almost certainly' determined who really wrote the famous Civil War-era letter.
The 'Bixby Letter', as it has become known, was a letter sent in 1864 to Boston resident Lydia Bixby who was grieving over the death of all five of her sons during the American Civil War.

"I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming," the letter stated. "But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save."

But did Abraham Lincoln actually write the letter himself ? While the letter was indeed signed in the president's name, many believe that it was actually written by his secretary, John Hay.

Now in a new bid to solve this mystery once and for all, forensic linguists from the University of Manchester and Aston University applied a new cutting-edge analysis method known as N-gram tracing which works by searching for linguistic sequences in a person's writing.

By using a computer to analyze hundreds of examples of writing from both Lincoln and Hay, the team was able to determine that the famous letter was most likely written by Hay, not the president himself.

"Most of what we see in the Bixby letter is found in the writing of Hay, but not in Lincoln," said English language and linguistics lecturer Dr. Andrea Nini.

Source: | Comments (6)

Tags: Lincoln, Bixby

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Ozfactor on 21 July, 2017, 5:38
I had never heard of this letter as I am not American so I looked it up and it is a beautiful letter, as apt today as it was then poor Mrs Bixby , what a sacrifice her family made x
Comment icon #2 Posted by DebDandelion on 21 July, 2017, 17:34
I don't understand why the author of the letter is important. It's beautifully written for a family that suffered a great loss. Who wrote it isn't important (to me anywho), it's the letters' content that is the masterpiece and the grieve it brought the tragedy...
Comment icon #3 Posted by Boozemonkey on 21 July, 2017, 20:49
To lose 5 sons to a just cause....
Comment icon #4 Posted by taniwha on 22 July, 2017, 6:30
There's something familiar about that letter, ahhh yes, found it...
Comment icon #5 Posted by Claire. on 22 July, 2017, 10:49
Lydia Bixby did not lose all five sons. Two sons (and possibly a third one) survived. One deserted the army, one was honorably discharged, and another either deserted or died a prisoner of war. I don't know how the confusion occurred and why the condolence letter mentioned all five of them.
Comment icon #6 Posted by C L Palmer on 13 September, 2017, 15:44
They've had wordprint analysis for decades now. It's been used from everything to determining whether Shakespeare or Marlowe wrote certain poems to identifying how many different people contributed to the Book of Mormon. It's not a new technology, bit I'm glad to see it's still in use.

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