Following his famous “Gettysburg Address” on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln was ill for about three weeks. In fact, he was quarantined for a time.
Doctors say he probably had small pox, a common but also deadly illness in his day.
According to reports, Lincoln became ill the night before his famous speech honoring the fallen soldiers at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The president was said to have been dizzy and weak. On the train returning to Washington following the speech, he developed a headache and his fever persisted.
His doctor Robert King Stone diagnosed his illness as a cold, then bilious fever (a form of malaria) and then scarletina (scarlet fever). Dr. Washington Chew Van Bibber was consulted. Dr. Bibber said it was varioloid, a form of small pox.
It is thought that his valet, William H. Johnson, who spent time caring for the president during that time and died in early January of 1864 had smallpox.
The president joked about his diagnosis that he was contagious. He had said everyone who came to the White House always wanted something. And he commented “For once in my life as President, I find myself in a position to give everybody something.”
President Lincoln was not able to return to work at the business of government for twenty-five days.
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