William Wallace Lincoln was born about ten months after his brother Eddie died on February 1, 1850. He was named after Dr. William Wallace, an in-law and physician who nursed Eddie Lincoln in his final days.
Abraham Lincoln was frequently arguing cases on the Illinois Judicial Circuit when his oldest son Robert was growing up. The work kept Lincoln away from home, and he never developed a close bond with Robert. By the 1850s, the development of railroads allowed him to stay in Springfield on weekends, and he grew very close to Willie and his younger brother, Tad. Both parents were fiercely proud of their children: William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, said they would take any chance to "get them to monkey around—talk—dance—speak—quote poetry, etc." Their father would take the boys on wagon rides through Springfield and help with the babysitting, an unusual practice for men at the time.
Abraham Lincoln was especially fond of Willie. Once, after watching Willie solve an interpersonal problem, Lincoln remarked that he (Lincoln) solved problems the same way. Those who knew the boy considered him intelligent, generous, and kind-hearted.
Tad and Willie did have a mischievous streak: When Lincoln brought them to the office, he would allow them to roam freely, and the children would turn over furniture and papers, to Herndon's consternation. During Lincoln's train ride to Washington in February 1861, Willie and Tad would ask visitors, "Do you want to see Old Abe?" and point to someone else.
The public was not used to having children in the White House, and showered the boys with presents; Willie received a pony, to which he was devoted, and both boys loved to imitate the soldiers posted on the south lawn. When he could break away from the pressures of the office, Lincoln would often play with his children; a visitor once found Willie and Tad (and two of their friends) pinning the President of the United States to the floor.
Willie became ill in early 1862, after riding his pony in bad weather. His condition fluctuated from day to day. Mostly likely the illness was typhoid fever. Gradually Willie weakened. Both parents spent much time at his bedside. Finally, on Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 P.M. the young boy passed away. Abraham said, "My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!" Both parents were deeply affected. Lincoln generated no official correspondence for four days. Mary was so distraught that Lincoln feared for her sanity.
Tad was sick with the same illness at the same time. He survived. There is evidence that Willie, like his father, had the genetic cancer syndrome multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B or MEN 2B).
Willie was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. After President Lincoln's assassination, Willie's casket was exhumed and he was moved to a temporary tomb. He was reinterred at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, on September 19, 1871 alongside the remains of his father and his brother, Eddie.