Issue Date: February 9, 2009
City: Springfield, IL
Born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) was the first U.S. President born outside the original thirteen colonies. During his childhood, Lincoln’s family moved first to Indiana, then settled in Illinois.
Lincoln was an avid reader with a quest for knowledge. Although he received less than 18 months of formal education, Lincoln’s self-education was extensive.
At 22, Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois. He supported himself by working a variety of odd jobs, including shopkeeper, postmaster, surveyor, and rail-splitter. Unusually tall and strong, Lincoln was an able wrestler and talented with an axe. He served as captain of the local militia during the Black Hawk War and was widely respected by the men in his command.
Although he despised the nickname, Lincoln began to be known as the “Rail-Splitter” during the 1860 presidential campaign. To emphasize his humble beginnings, supporters marched into the Illinois State Republican Convention holding split rails painted with the slogan “Abraham Lincoln, The Rail Candidate for President in 1860.” Because of – or perhaps despite – the nickname, Lincoln won the nomination and the presidential election.
Did An 11-Year-Old Girl Convince Lincoln To Grow A Beard?
On October 15, 1860, 11-year-old Grace Bedell wrote a letter to Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln. She suggested he grow a beard – which he did shortly after!
During the 1860 election season, young Grace Bedell saw a picture of Abraham Lincoln and told her mother he’d look better with a beard and that she intended to tell him so. And in fact, she did. On October 15, she wrote a letter to Lincoln, telling him she wanted him to be president and that she would vote for him if she could. She also urged him to grow a beard. Grace told Lincoln he would be “much improved in appearance, provided you would cultivate whiskers.”
Young Grace further promised to convince her brothers to vote for Lincoln if he grew a beard. “You would look a great deal better as your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” she explained.
Lincoln was so amused by the letter that he wrote back to her four days later. “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin now?” Despite Lincoln’s comment, that he thought it might be odd to change his appearance, he had a full beard by the time he caught the train for the capital for his inauguration.
Along the way to the capital, Lincoln stopped in Bedell’s hometown, told the crowd of her letter and asked to meet her. Two statues and a plaque were created in Westfield, NY in 1999 to honor their meeting.
Other reasons for Lincoln’s new fashion may include concerns about his youth. At age 51, Lincoln was the youngest person elected President at the time, and may also have added the beard to suggest maturity.