24 Vintage Photographs of Abe Lincoln
By Lucas Reilly
Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary John Nicolay believed that no photograph could capture Honest Abe’s essence: “There are many pictures of Lincoln,” he said, “[but] there is no portrait of him.” Over 130 photographs of Lincoln exist—here are a few you may not have come across before.
The daguerreotype above, taken around 1846, is the earliest known photo of Lincoln. He was 37 years old and had just started campaigning for national office. Abraham Lincoln would later win a seat in the US House of Representatives as a member of the Whig party, a spot he held for two years.
In 1854, Lincoln returned to politics. This photo was taken in Chicago while he campaigned for a spot in the Senate. At this time, Lincoln publicly declared his distaste for slavery. He lost the election.
A reporter once described Lincoln’s mop as “Wild Republican hair.” In this 1857 photo, Abe looks like he just got out of bed.
In 1858, Lincoln squared off against Stephen Douglas for Illinois’ Senate seat. The battle sparked seven heated debates on slavery. Here, supporters gather outside Lincoln’s Springfield home. Lincoln is the tall, white figure by the doorway.
Lincoln said this was one of his favorite photographs. He used it heavily during the 1858 campaign, distributing it to supporters.
It’s the summer of 1860, and Lincoln stands outside his Springfield home with his two sons, Willie and Tad (Abe is the tall one behind the fence). Although it was the heat of his presidential run, Lincoln had time to relax at home. He made no speeches during the campaign; his success rode on a wave of outside support.
When Lincoln won the election, an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell wrote the President-elect a letter: “You would look a great deal better [if you grew a beard] for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” Lincoln took her advice, and his beard was born. In this early 1861 photograph, you can see Lincoln growing out his famous stubble. Lincoln later visited the little girl and told her, “Gracie, look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.”
Here’s what the crowd looked like at Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration. The Capitol Building’s dome was still incomplete.
Here, Lincoln stands with Allan Pinkerton (left) and Gen. John McClernand (right). Pinkerton was a Union spy who had saved Lincoln’s life by foiling an early assassination plot. McClernand, an Illinois democrat, was one of Lincoln’s closest friends.
Lincoln greets some troops after the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. General McClernand stands far right while Lincoln faces Gen. George McClellan (middle). McClellan, who was not fond of the president, would run against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.
Lincoln with McClellan after Antietam. Antietam was the first major Civil War battle to happen on Union soil. It was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history: 23,000 casualties and over 3,500 killed.
Lincoln sits with his private secretaries, John Nicolay (left) and John Hay (right), on November 8, 1863. Hay wrote in his diary that it was the best picture of the President he had ever seen.
Lincoln before giving the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. He’s the hatless one in the very middle. Lincoln’s famous speech was only 10 sentences long.
Lincoln walks to the podium to give the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln appears to be the figure in the middle, his iconic stovepipe hat peeping over the crowd, though other historians believe Lincoln is elsewhere in the crowd.
Lincoln addresses the crowd at his second inauguration ceremony in January March 1865.
Here’s a close-up, as Lincoln reads from the podium.
It’s 1865, and Abe sports a frazzled hairdo that’s a wee bit ahead of his time. It’s believed that Lincoln combed his hair high in this picture because he had a life mask appointment.
Lincoln with his son, Tad, in 1865. By this time, Lincoln had already lost his son Willie to typhoid.
Lincoln reads with his son, Tad, in February 1865. This is the only known picture of Lincoln wearing spectacles. It’s also no surprise that Lincoln is holding a book. Lincoln had only one year of schooling, but his deep love of reading catapulted him ahead of his formally educated competitors.
This is Lincoln’s last portrait, purportedly taken on April 10, 1865—one week before his assassination. It’s also one of the few portraits that shows Lincoln grinning.
Lincoln was shot April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln’s body toured the US for three weeks. The funeral train stopped in New York on April 25 and was displayed in City Hall, shown here.
Lincoln’s hearse proceeds through New York City. The house on the left corner is the home of Cornelius Roosevelt, the grandfather of Teddy Roosevelt. You can see Teddy and his brother, Elliott, peering out the shuttered window on the second story.
By 1900, Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Ill. was falling apart. Plans to renovate the tomb were made, and his body was exhumed, shown here. His coffin was then opened to ensure that burglars hadn’t stolen anything. His body was incredibly well preserved: everything—including his beard—was still intact.