Abraham Lincoln's DNA


In 1962, after diagnosing a 7 year old boy as having Marfan Syndrome the doctor traced the culprit gene through the family. He discovered that the little boy was an 8th generation descendant of Mordecai Lincoln II, the great-great grandfather of the president. This in no way proves that Abraham Lincoln carried the gene but it raises the possibility.

Marfan syndrome affects about 1 in 20,000 people. It is named after the French paediatrician who in 1896 described the symptoms of a girl with severe skeletal abnormalities. All the complications can be explained due to problems with connective tissue. Height, eye problems, sudden death to aortal abnormalities are all possible problems. Sufferers show a wide variation is the extent of the problems from this disease. In July 1991 three teams of researchers reported that Marfan syndrome was due to a defect with the fibrillin coding gene.

Because of the family connection, and because of photographs which show Abraham Lincoln as possibly being very tall (His chin level with capped heads of officers, and by far the tallest in the photograph) it is possible that he suffered from the syndrome.

Samples of Abraham Lincoln’s blood and tissue remain in museums. This came from the events surrounding his assassination, and the preservation of clothing and artefacts from that time.

Should Abraham Lincoln’s blood be tested for Marfan Syndrome?

    1. What are the questions we must ask about this proposal?
    2. Is the proposal consistent with the best traditions of scholarship and research?
    3. Does the proposal violate Lincoln’s privacy or his views on the disclosure of personal health and medical information?
    4. Is it acceptable for a museum to allow historic items to be destructively tested?
    5. Is the proposal consistent with the standards of ethics in disciplines of science and history?
    6. Would there be any benefits for sufferers of Marfan Syndrome?

Source: Abraham Lincoln's DNA, Philip R. Reilly, CSHL Press, ISBN 0-87969-580-3

A.J. Palmer 3.02.01