The Story of Lincoln’s Beard

Gutzon Borglum (the principle sculptor behind the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore) created this bust of a younger Abraham Lincoln, which was based on his 1860 life-mask. While still a young presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln toured across the country.  The tall, clean-shaven congressmen from Illinois grew from a poor rail-splitter to a politician and was known for his gregarious nature.  One young fan, Grace Bedell, wrote to Lincoln to show her support and made a suggestion about his appearance.  In October, 1860 she wrote:

Dear Sir,

My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you won’t think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother’s and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you.  You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is a going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try and get everyone to vote for you that I can.  I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty.  I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace
Bedell Westfield Chatauque County New York.

I must not write any more answer this letter right off

Good bye

Grace Bedell

Four days later Lincoln responded:

My dear little Miss.

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

While Lincoln made no promises to young Grace, when the two met in February 1861, the newly-elected president was sporting the full beard that became one of his trademarks.