Letter to Grace Bedell (October 19, 1860)
#10 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents
On This Date
Other Primary Sources
How Historians Interpret
“Visitors did not know what to make of this President-elect. He surprised even his old friends by growing a beard. During the campaign some New York ‘True Republicans,’ worried that Lincoln’s unflattering photographs would cost the party votes, suggested that he ‘would be much improved in appearance, provided you would cultivate whiskers, and wear standing collars.’ A letter from an eleven-year-old girl in Westfield, New York, named Grace Bedell promised to get her brothers to vote for Lincoln if he let his beard grow. ‘you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin,’ she suggested. ‘All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President.’ Amused, Lincoln replied, ‘As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affec[ta]tion if I were to begin it now?’ He answered his own question and by the end of November was sporting a half beard, which he initially kept closely cropped. No one knew just what to make of the change. Perhaps it suggested that he was hiding his face because he knew he was not ready to be President. Or maybe it demonstrated the supreme self-confidence of a man who was willing to risk the inevitable ridicule and unavoidable puns like ‘Old Abe is…puttin’ on (h)airs.’ Or possibly it hinted that the President-elect wanted to present a new face to the public, a more authoritative and elderly bearded visage. Or maybe the beard signified nothing more than that the President-elect was bored during the long months of inaction between his nomination and his inauguration.”
- “Candidate Lincoln,” Library of Congress online exhibit
- Lincoln’s Daughter? (Essay by Matthew Pinsker)
Miss. Grace Bedell Springfield, Ills.
My dear little Miss. Oct 19. 1860
Your very agreeable letter of the 15th. is received.
I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons—one seventeen, one nine, and one seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family.
As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well-wisher A. LINCOLN.