Abe & Fido: The Story of the Original Fido

For most residents of the U.S., the name “Fido” is synonymous with “dog.”

Google the name, and you’ll come up with dog-related news headlines, websites, products and stories.

Ever wonder why? Why Fido?

It took a traumatic moment in U.S. history to make Fido a household name: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Fido was Lincoln’s dog.

Abe & Fido by Matthew Algeo

Abe & Fido

Abe & Fido tells a well-researched story of a man whose kindness to animals would seem exemplary today, but was somewhat odd in the 19th century. It seems fitting to review this book — and offer a signed copy as a giveaway — to celebrate the 100th annual Be Kind to Animals week, sponsored by the American Humane Association.

This concise and well-written book offers a view into what life was like for companion animals back in 1865 — and it wasn’t very pretty. Author Matthew Algeo told me that he was “moved by the difficulty of a stray dog’s life in 19th century America. Strays’ lives were short and brutal.” It’s safe to say Fido’s existence would have been fleeting and challenging if a certain tall, gentle man with a soft spot for all creatures hadn’t adopted him off the street in 1855. Fido “became one of the most pampered — and most famous—pooches in the country,” Algeo said.

Stories about Lincoln’s compassion for animals are sprinkled throughout the book, along with just the right amount of history to understand the context of the era. There’s the time Lincoln rescued a pig from the mud by the side of the road — at risk to his best traveling suit — and the time he stopped to return baby birds to their nest, telling his companions that he “could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother.”

Where’s Fido?

Lincoln had several dogs over his lifetime who, “in his country accent, he called ‘yaller dogs'” — yellowy tan pups, kind of like Jasper. Fido comes from the Latin fidelitas, or faithful, a not uncommon name for a dog back in the mid 1800’s.

Abraham Lincoln's dog Fido may have looked a bit like Jasper.

I imagine Fido looked a lot like Jasper.

Even though Lincoln’s wife Mary was not a fan of dogs, Fido had the run of the house — almost unheard of at the time. The dog’s favorite spot to hang out was on a special seven-foot-long couch that had been custom made to accommodate Lincoln’s tall frame. Terrified of loud noises, Fido hid under the couch during thunderstorms. It was mostly because of this that Lincoln did not bring Fido with him and his family to the White House when he was elected. Knowing that the dog would be enormously stressed by the noise of the long train ride, and the 21-gun salutes, artillery fire, and fireworks that would accompany his inauguration and other events in Washington, Lincoln made the decision to give the dog over to the care of John Eddy Roll — whose boys were good friends with Lincoln’s sons Willie and Tad.

The Lincoln’s sold most of their furniture before they left Springfield for D.C.  — but not the couch, which went with Fido to his new home.

LIke Jasper, Abraham Lincoln's dog Fido knew that comfy couches were meant for dogs.

LIke Jasper, Fido knew that comfy couches are meant for dogs.

One of the Roll boys, John Linden Roll, later told author Dorothy Kunhardt that the family was given specific instructions on how to treat Fido. They had to promise “never to leave him tied up in the backyard by himself. He was not to be scolded for wet or muddy paws. He was to be allowed inside whenever he scratched at the door and be allowed in the dining room at dinner time because he was used to being given tastes by everybody around the table.”

Tell me Fido wasn’t loved — and maybe a bit spoiled.

Lincoln loved cats, too

When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Lincoln was reported to answer: “Cats.” There always seemed to be a few around the Lincoln home — and not just as mousers. One friend noted that Lincoln’s “favorite way of forgetting his worries was to get down on the floor to pet and pay with the cat.” Once, when visiting union troops, the President came across a few motherless kittens; not only did he stop by to play with them several times, but he also instructed his officers to care for them.

Old friend N.W. Miner dined with Lincoln at the White House one evening, and noted an extra place set at the table. According to Miner’s daughter Mary Miner Hill:

The door opened and in walked a beautiful tabby cat and jumped in the chair next to the President. Mrs. Lincoln said to my father, “Mr. Miner, don’t you think it is shameful for Mr. Lincoln to feed Tabby with a gold fork?” Mr. Lincoln replied: “Mr. Miner, if the gold fork was good enough for Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby,” and he fed the cat during the meal.

Elsa Clair would like a seat at the table.

I don’t blame Lincoln. Who could resist a sweet kitty face?

That said, according to Algeo, “there are many issues on which Abraham Lincoln took a firm uncompromising stand; however, concerning the superiority of dogs or cats, the great emancipator was uncharacteristically noncommittal.”

That’s a man I can admire, one who refuses to play the dog person versus cat person game. A lover of all animals.

The end of Abe & Fido

We all know how Abraham Lincoln’s story ends. When the President’s body was returned to Springfield in May of 1865, Fido was brought back to the house he had called home, where people stopped by to pay their respects and perhaps give a pat on the head to Lincoln’s faithful friend. It is said that the dog “watched the funeral procession ‘forlornly,’ mutely wishing farewell.”

It is about this time that the only known photos of Fido were taken, probably paid for by John Eddy Roll. Eventually, Roll had one printed up as a carte de visite, which was sold as a collectible souvenir at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The assassination rocked the country, and all things Lincoln were treasured after the President’s death — including photos of his dog. This was probably the impetus that put the name Fido on everyone’s lips.

Lilah has turned to the page featuring the only three known photos of Fido.

Lilah has turned to the page featuring the only three known photos of Fido.

I’ve always felt a great way to assess another person’s character is by watching how they treat animals; to acknowledge, speak for, and care for those who do not have a voice is a beautiful and humane quality.  Algeo told me he thought that “Lincoln’s love of animals in some ways reflected his politics, particularly his empathy for the downtrodden and oppressed. The suffering of animals troubled him deeply.”

Read the book

I don’t often write book reviews, unless I find one I love. Abe & Fido is a fast read, well-written and enlightening. Even if you’re not a history buff or a Lincoln fan, if you’re an animal lover, through Algeo’s words you’ll find in Abraham Lincoln a kindred spirit. You’ll come away knowing more about the man and his humanity, and understand the significance of his views, which were not quite aligned with the times.

I liked the book so much I shared it with my husband, and have mentioned it to nearly every dog lover and animal friend I’ve spoken with recently. Learning about the original Fido — his place in history, and what he meant to the man who presided over one of our nation’s most trying times — felt like an unknown hole in my knowledge of all things canine has just been filled.

Jasper is looking at a photo in the book Abe & Fido of sculpture by Paul Manship called Abraham Lincoln the Hoosier Youth, which includes one of the young Lincoln's dogs.

Jasper is looking at a photo of sculpture by Paul Manship called Abraham Lincoln the Hoosier Youth, which includes one of the young Lincoln’s dogs.

While author Matthew Algeo and his wife currently live with a cat — another much-loved and long-lived kitty passed away last year — his own experience with dogs was limited. He wrote Abe & Fido because he thought “Fido would be an interesting avenue for exploring Lincoln. ” Many books have been written about our sixteenth president, he said, “but none that really examined his attitude toward animals, which was extremely progressive.”

I had to ask Algeo if he had any plans to write about influential cats. Though he admitted there were no current cat projects, he mentioned one of his favorite poems “For I Will Consider my Cat Jeoffry” by the English poet Christopher Smart. “I think Jeoffry would be an interesting cat to write about.”

Your Chance to Win a Signed Copy of Abe & Fido

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy of Abe & Fido but was not paid for this story.

To celebrate Be Kind to Animals Week, we’re giving away a signed copy of Abe & Fido.

The lucky winner is Abby Chesnut!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sweepstakes listed on Hypersweep and Online-Sweepstakes.com.

20 Comments on "Abe & Fido: The Story of the Original Fido"

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  1. That’s very interesting ! We don’t know a lot about history of the United States, and we enjoyed reading the stories behind the history ! Purrs

  2. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    guys…..what a total lee awesum post two day !!!! a paws…a paws…a paws !!! we gived ya 984 …paws…up….we troo lee enjoyed reedin thiz & we lurned sum stuffz two ~~~ ♥♥♥ best fishes two everee one in de contest !!

  3. Linda Szymoniak says:

    I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember. Abe Lincoln is my favorite American president. Sounds like the perfect combination to me!

  4. Kitties Blue says:

    Tis book sounds so interesting. Would love to win a copy. Thanks for a very good and thorough review, Susan.

  5. We had no idea where the name Fido came from! Very interesting. It sounds like a great book. And you did a terrific review of it! Made me want to read it!

  6. zooperson says:

    Good post. I would love a copy of the book.

  7. slimdoggy says:

    Thanks for the review – this sounds like a great book. It’s always fun to get a glimpse into the real life of famous people, especially ones that are so revered.

  8. My brother recently recommended this book to me. Great review!

  9. meowmeowmans says:

    What a wonderful review. Yet another reason that President Lincoln is such a fascinating figure. This book definitely sounds like one I’d like to read!

  10. Robin says:

    This sounds like a wonderful book! Abraham Lincoln was such an inspiring man and the fact that he loved animals just makes him that much more awesome. It’s too bad his wife wasn’t as big of an animal fan as he was.

  11. Oooooo! I love history and animals. Will put this on my summer reading list, for sure!

  12. Ann Staub says:

    This sounds like a really cool book. I had no idea where the name “Fido” came from so I guess that now I do! It’s amazing to think that dogs were pampered like that even way back when 🙂

  13. Daniel Scott says:

    I know my wife would love reading this book. I want to win a copy for her. Our dog Artie had the name when we adopted him. We kept the name because it suite him so well.

  14. This sounds like a good book! I didn’t realize that Lincoln loved cats as well as dogs. 🙂

  15. Sounds like a great book!

  16. Abby Chesnut says:

    Whaaaaat?! I didn’t know that Fido was Lincoln’s dog! So cool! I would love to read this book to learn more about their relationship! Jada’s name came from the character Jada from Mortal Kombat!

  17. MyDogLikes says:

    I am SO intrigued by this book! I saw it on Fidose and now here! I have to enter and if not, just break down and buy it for my summer reading list! Great review, thanks so much for sharing-you have given me a sense of urgency to read it!

  18. This looks like a fantastic read – I’ll be in Washington DC next week before BlogPaws, so the timing is perfect.

  19. Barkocity says:

    Great review! Sounds like a terrific book. Thank you for sharing:)

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