Americans were fascinated with the invention of the daguerreotype, which allowed the middle-class to obtain affordable portraits. Mathew Brady and other notable photographers exhibited portraits of "Illustrious Americans" on their gallery walls and encouraged the public to admire these images much as one would view an exhibit of paintings in an art gallery. Once inside the studio, visitors were thrilled that they, too, could be pictured in a shiny, silvery likeness.
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States. On April 12, 1861, one month into his first term, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina, marking the start of the Civil War. The war continued until April 9, 1865, when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Less than one week later, Lincoln was fatally shot by the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The Library's daguerreotype of Lincoln is the earliest known portrait of the President. It was most likely taken in Springfield, Illinois, in 1846 or 1847 shortly after Lincoln was first elected to the House of Representatives.
The eccentric New York editor Horace Greeley began publishing the influential New York Tribune in 1841. The Tribune strove to improve the nation morally and was particularly lauded for its coverage of political events. Greeley was known for his directive, "Go West, young man," and personified the ebullient spirit of American Republican politics in the 1850s. In his hobnail boots, long coat, and stove-pipe hat, Greeley was a fixture of the national scene.
George Peter Alexander Healy was one of the most successful portrait painters of the mid-nineteenth century. At the age of twenty-one, Healy went to France to study painting under Lucien-Alphonse Gros. Shortly thereafter he was commissioned to paint portraits of French and English royalty. Upon his return to the United States in the 1840s, Healy painted many prominent statesmen, as well as business leaders and members of society.
Stephen Douglas, a United States Senator from Illinois, played a major role in U.S. politics prior to the Civil War. Douglas was elected to the Senate in 1847. He supported the Mexican War and helped guide the Compromise of 1850 through Congress. He ran against Lincoln for president in 1860. After his defeat, Douglas supported Lincoln's views.
Solomon Nunes Carvalho was born in Charleston, South Carolina, into a Jewish family of Spanish-Portuguese descent. Carvalho worked as both a painter and a photographer. During the winter of 1853-54, Carvalho accompanied the explorer John C. Frémont through the territories of Kansas, Colorado, and Utah searching for a railroad route to the Pacific. The daguerreotypes that Carvalho took on this expedition no longer exist. It is believed that the copy daguerreotype of an Indian village that came to the Library with the Brady collection was made from one of Carvalho's daguerreotypes.
Lucy Stone was an early advocate of women's suffrage. In 1850 she organized the first national convention to address women's rights. Upon her marriage to Henry Blackwell, Stone retained her maiden name. Blackwell and Stone edited the Woman's Journal, a successful weekly publication of the suffrage movement. Stone remained an active force in the struggle for women's rights until her death in 1893.