Dr. Harold Schwartz on Lincoln and the Marfan Syndrome


Dr. Harold Schwartz is a cardiologist from Huntington Park, California who, while treating a patient in 1959, discovered a common lineage between the male patient and Abraham Lincoln. While Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue of the body, is a genetically inherited disease, Dr. Schwartz worked to analyze and piece together the connection linking both Lincoln and the boy. While researching the genealogy with the aid of specialists, Schwartz discovered that Lincoln's great-great-grandfather Mordecai Lincoln II possessed a connection between the two, and Schwartz worked to create a Pedigree to trace the inheritance of the gene through the Lincoln family. While there is a lot of speculative work that has went into creating this visual aid, it serves as a good prediction of how Lincoln came to receive this disease. While in connection to directly receiving this gene, Lincoln is believed to have manifested the disease from his Mother, Nancy Hanks, who too was abnormally time for her time and was believed to have died from Marfan complications. The presence of the gene in Lincoln's Father is unknown as there is little documentation regarding the life and death of the president's father. In addition to inheriting the gene directly from his Mother , Lincoln was said to have passed on the gene to his children. Although his youngest son Tad died of suffocation, it was said that Lincoln's other two sons both died of Marfan complications themselves and suffered from common Marfan ailments, although not diagnosed at the time as being symptoms of the disease. The article posted by Harold Schwartz provides both insight and an amazing amount of detail when researching the mystery surrounding the presence of the Marfan gene within the Lincoln family, and provides a vast amount of insight behind the curious disease.


Lincoln Contributions

Abraham Lincoln and the Marfan Syndrome

Harold Schwartz, MD, Huntington Park, Calif

The Marfan syndrome was found in a male descendant of Mordecai Lincoln II, great-great-grandfather of Abraham Lincoln. The common ancestry of the patient and the 16th president appears to establish genealogically that Lincoln's unusual morphological characteristics were manifestations of the genetically determined arranged of connective tissue described by Marfan in 1896.

"THE WORLD has a legitimate interest in the ancestry of noted," wrote W. E. Barton in 1929. "Not that heredity alone accounts for any man...but no man can be fully understood apart from his inheritance of bodily and mental traits."

On the problem on Lincoln's peculiar morphological organization, William H. Herndon, President Lincoln's former law associate and later biographer wrote to a friend "...I would consult some of the best...physicians on the very question ...physiologists, histologists, anatomists, etc.... Please get your learned men to assist us. The idea is worthy of a search and an opinion from science."

This classic letter, written in behalf of the world's interest in the heritage of one of its greatest statesmen, has long awaited a scientifically founded answer, which this report will try to provide.

Postulation and Descriptions

In 1959 I established the presence of the Marfan syndrome (arachnodactyly) in a young male who, in 1960 was found to be of the Lincoln lineage (Fig 1, case 1). This discovery led to the presumption that Abraham Lincoln's unusual physical features might also be due to the Marfan syndrome. To substantiate this hypothesis a study of many historical sources was undertaken. From the vast Lincoln literature a description of the 16th president was obtained which disclosed growth, skeletal, and eye findings highly consistent with the postulated diagnosis.

Abraham Lincoln-Many well-documented and repeated descriptions show that Abraham Lincoln was unusually tall as a child and that, beginning at 11 years of age, he experienced a period of rapid growth which brought him to his full height of 76 inches (193 cm) at 17 years of age. His extremities were disproportionately long as compared to his overall height; his fingers were elongated and bony, and he had unusually large feet. In weight he varied from 160 to 180 lb (72.6 to 81.6 kg); his leanness and lack of subcutaneous fat accentuated his linear proportions. The skin was leathery and sallow. his head, while relatively small for his body, was thin and elongated, with large ears set at a wide angle. The midfacial and nasal structures were similarly long, thin. and somewhat asymmetrical. The eyes were small, blue-gray; the eyelids were heavy with a tendency to droop. It was frequently noted that there was an intermittent squint of the left eye, and it has been established that he was hyperopic.

Standing, he had a slight stoop, which emphasized the narrowness of his sloping shoulders, and a chest so thin as to have been described by Herndon as a "sunken breast." Seated, he has been described by a contemporary as having "spiderlike legs" (Fig 2) the very simile used years later by Marfan in his original description of this entity. When moving about he was characteristically loosejointed in all his actions and motions.

Marfan Syndrome-As presently understood, the Marfan syndrome is a hereditary disarrangement of connective tissue, affecting one of more of three systems- skeletal, visual, and cardiovascular.

Excessive long-bone growth produces disproportionately elongated arms, legs, fingers and toes, as wells a dolichocephaly with long facial features, resulting in a high-ached palate. Overgrowth of the ribs may lead to various pectus deformities or to a very thing chest. Weakness and laxness of ligaments, tendons, and fasciae produce kyphoscoliosis, pes planus, loose-jointedness, herniae, and malpositioned ears. A striking sparcity of subcutaneous fat exaggerates the already linear structure.

In the visual system, dislocation of the lenses is diagnostic, whereas other cases show various abnormalities of the lens, cornea or sclera. Strabismus may occur; sever myopia is common, and high-grade hyperopia is reported.

The cardiovascular system is frequently affected with changes that produce aneurysms, usually but not invariable of the ascending aorta. The aneurysms tend to dissect or rupture, resulting in sudden death. The aortic and mitral valves may be disturbed, resulting eventually in congestive heart failure. Varicosities are common.

The only histological finding is that of medionecrosis of the aorta with fragmentation and degeneration of the elastic fibers.

Correlation.-Relating this summary to the physical features of Abraham Lincoln, we see that in the skeletal system he manifested many of the characteristics of arachnodactyly. Likewise, he has been shown to have two applicable eye findings, hyperopia and strabismus. It must be noted that cardiovascular involvement and herniae were not present to our knowledge. Hernia, however, was the initial medical problem of the patient whose case has led to this communication, and cardiovascular disturbances are at least suspect in the direct line of the president.

While in general this family is of relatively pyknic stock, a search of the archives reveals scattered kin of Lincoln with characteristics similar to the greatest of their line, as would be expected in a genetic entity known to be of an irregularly dominant type of inheritance.

The evidence that Lincoln's unusual morphological organization could be due to the Marfan syndrome has evolved from the case of the young male whom I say in consultation in 1959 and in whom the classical skeletal features and proportions of the Marfan syndrome were manifest. Some months subsequent to the initial diagnosis, the patient's connection with the Lincoln lineage was uncovered and his genealogy traced back nine generations to Mordecai Lincoln II, born in 1686. Mordecai Lincoln was also the great-great-grandfather of Abraham Lincoln.

Conclusions and Summary

A classic example of the Marfan syndrome was found in a young male of the Lincoln lineage. Genetic and genealogic evident suggests strongly that Abraham Lincoln likewise had arachnodactyly, derived from an ancestor common to both individuals. Beyond the descriptive evidence recorded by Lincoln's contemporaries and biographers, certain clinical findings and personality characteristics appear to substantiate and further objectify the impression, which the historical background serves to integrate.

With the patient presented here as proband, an extensive genetic study of the kin of Lincoln in several areas and several collateral lines is still under way to satisfy further the requirements of "a sufficient number of generations." Pending this more definitive report, it remains for Lincoln scholars and interested physicians to make an objective and dispassionate study of the Marfan syndrome and its significance as it pertains to Abraham Lincoln.


Transcribed by Ashley Graham.