#10 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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“My dear little Miss….”

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On This Date

HD Daily Report, October 19, 1860

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Close Readings

Matthew Pinsker: Understanding Lincoln: Letter to Grace Bedell (1860) from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

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Other Primary Sources

Letter from “True Republicans” to Abraham Lincoln, October 12, 1860

Letter from Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1860

Philadelphia Inquirer article from February 20, 1861

Lexington Weekly Globe remarks from November 22, 1860 found in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln volume 4, pg. 144

Grace Bedell, recollection of Abraham Lincoln encounter, 1918



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.”

David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 258-259


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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.