Mathrew Brady’s Lincoln

Despite being a homely man, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed being photographed. He recognized the compelling power of the photograph, and frequented emerging photostudios. There are over 120 daugerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, stereographic cards and cartes de visites of Lincoln.

His favorite photographer was of course Mathew Brady, whose above photo changed the course of the nation. Taken on February 27th 1860–just hours after Lincoln’s famous Cooper Union speech, the photo of the obscure presidential candidates dispelled the notion that hideous Lincoln was unelectable. Three months after it was taken, and publicly circulated, Lincoln was nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. The photograph was widely circulated during the national campaign, both in the illustrated press and through the popular Currier and Ives prints.

A month before the election day, Lincoln received a letter from one Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old girl from Westfield, New York, which urged him to grow a beard because “[growing a beard would] look a great deal better for your face is so thin,” and it would make him more popular. It would prove to be so. When Lincoln left Springfield on February 11th, 1861, bound for the White House, he was fully bearded. On route, he stopped in Westfield and met Grace and he said he took her advice.

Lincoln would also later admitted that “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president of the United States,” adding the photograph “dispelled the opposition base on the rumours of my long ungainly figure, large feet, clumsy hands, and long, gaunt head; making me into a man of human aspect and dignified bearing.”