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Why Did Lincoln Grow A Beard?

Few people think of a clean shaven Lincoln when they consider the sixteenth President. However, for years he was just that. It was only in the last few years of his life that he left his beard grow.

Delegates from his own party often urged Lincoln to grow a beard and wear high collars, fearing that the public would vote for his opponents simply because of his gangly appearance. Lincoln, however, had resisted their efforts to change his appearance.

A letter in 1860 from a young girl seems to have changed his attitude toward growing a beard. Grace Bedell, an eleven year old from Westfield, New York was the author of that letter. Her father was a carriage and stove maker in Westfield, a staunch Republican. Two of her older brothers, however, were Democrats, and they often teased their younger sister about the appearance of the Republican nominee for President.

Lincoln without a beard

Grace chose to do something about the teasing. She wrote the following letter to the man she knew as A. B. Lincoln:

Hon A B Lincoln

Oct. 15, 1860

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 wont 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 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 every one 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

Lincoln with a beard, as we are most accustomed to seeing him

Lincoln quickly answered Grace's letter:

Springfield, Ill., Oct. 19, 1860

Miss Grace Bedell

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

From his letter it would seem that he was less than anxious to comply with her suggestion. It obviously meant more to him than he led observers to believe, however, and it wasn't long before he began to let his whiskers grow.

After winning the election, Lincoln passed through Westfield on his way to Washington. In Westfield, his train stopped so he could greet those supporters who had gathered at the station. From the platform he called young Grace from the crowd. Probably somewhat embarassed at the attention, she joined the newly elected President, who pointed out to her his new facial adornment, telling her that he had indeed taken her advice. Before departing, Lincoln gave Grace a kiss on the cheek.

While many would argue that their opinion counts for little with today's politicians, at least once in our nation's history a little girl's suggestion helped form the image that Americans hold of one of their most beloved political figures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lincoln