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The Republican Party built popular support for Lincoln by portraying him as “Old Abe the Railsplitter,” a down-to-earth, common man who had risen through hard work. Republican political clubs decorated their headquarters with fence rails and organized massive rallies throughout the North. A poster from a rally inspired young Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, to write Lincoln that growing a beard would improve his chances of victory.

Growing Whiskers

About one month after receiving this well-intentioned letter from Grace Bedell, an impetuous eleven-year-old living in Westfield, New York, Lincoln began to grow a beard. It is impossible to say what actually prompted Lincoln to lay aside his razor in the late fall of 1860, or even the degree to which Miss Bedells recommendation influenced his decision. However, during his trip to Washington as president-elect, Lincoln stopped at Westfield for a carefully orchestrated meeting with Miss Bedell, and to the delight of reporters and bystanders alike, kissed her and declared he had taken her advice.

Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1860. Holograph letter. On loan from Detroit Public Library, Burton Historical Collection (069.00.00) Digital ID # al0069_01, al0069_02, al0069_03

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Lincoln's Beard

Lincoln writes to eleven-year-old Grace Bedell: 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 it now? Some theorize that the spots on the letter are the result of snowflakes that fell on the page while Grace excitedly read the Republican candidates note on the way home from the post office.

Abraham Lincoln to Grace Bedell, October 19, 1860. Holograph letter. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (070) Digital ID # al0070

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Lincoln Portrait, ca. 1858

Although six midwestern cities claim to be the place of origin for this beardless photograph of Abraham Lincoln, the actual place and date have not been definitively established. The best evidence points to the studio of Henry H. Cole of Peoria, Illinois, whose cameraman was his brother, Roderick M. Cole. In later life, Cole identified the photograph as one he made at his Peoria gallery during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.

Roderick M. Cole. Abraham Lincoln. Albumen print, ca. 1858. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (071) Digital ID # al0071

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Lincoln with a Beard

The first photograph of the president-elect with a beard was taken at the Springfield studio of C.S. German. Typically an interested party would arrange for the sitting; in this instance, sculptor Thomas D. Jones of Ohio. Jones was in Springfield to make a bust of Lincoln from life. One expert on Lincoln photographs assigned a slightly earlier date to this portrait than the one here inscribed.

C.S. German. Abraham Lincoln. Albumen print, possibly January 26, 1861. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (072) Digital ID # al0072

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Grace Bedell Recalls Her Meeting with Lincoln

Fifty-eight years after the event, Grace Bedell responded to a request to retell the story of her childhood encounter with Abraham Lincoln, which took place in 1861 in Westfield, New York, during the president-elects train trip to Washington. At age sixty-nine, she still had vivid memories of Lincoln seeking her out in the crowd, taking her by the hand, and kissing her on the cheek.

Grace Bedell to J. E. Boos, May 8, 1918. Holograph letter. On loan from a private collector (091.00.01) Digital ID # al0091_01, al0091_02, al0091_03, al0091_04

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