He was known as Honest Abe because his supporters felt he was trustworthy. It was his saving grace because Abraham Lincoln had a bit of a reputation for being unkempt and unpolished. Surprisingly, this was before he grew his iconic beard. The clean-shaven Abe ran in the presidential race of 1860, with critics straight-up calling him ugly.
To be fair to his critics, though, Lincoln had a sort of darkness about him, with sunken cheeks and black hair and grey eyes. He was tall and lanky. He almost looked lifeless, like an extra in the Walking Dead or a character out of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. His charm, it can be concluded, was wrapped up entirely in his perceived honesty. And it worked. Abraham Lincoln was elected and became the 16th President of the United States of America.
Still, his appearance was picked apart in the court of public opinion. One newspaper went so far as to call him a “horrid-looking wretch.” But, from all outward indications, it seems like Lincoln got used to criticism of his appearance.
That is until a little girl convinced him to grow a beard.
Abraham Lincoln gets a safer, new look
11-year-old Grace Bedell took it upon herself to write a letter with some advice for the gaunt-looking presidential candidate prior to the election, assuring the politician that if he just grew his whiskers, she might be able to convince her brothers to vote for him.
"I have yet got four brothers 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 husbands to vote for you and then you would be President."
Just a couple of weeks before the election, the soon-to-be president wrote back to the young girl, asking, "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 wearing them now?"
By this time, there was no time to sway the election with a brand new beard, but Lincoln won anyway. Soon after his big win, he began growing out his whiskers as Grace had suggested. He even stopped in to visit the young girl while he was on a trip in her hometown, so he could show her the beard in person. She approved.
Honest Abe had not even been sworn in as president yet when he learned of a possible assassination attempt, though. He didn’t know when and where someone would try to kill him, he just knew they would, and so he wore a large hat and relied on his new beard to hide his identity while traveling to Washington, D.C. for his own inauguration. Abe traveled by train, kept his hat low and his head bowed, and no one was the wiser. He went unrecognized thanks to the president-elect’s new mane. Everyone was used to seeing him with a clean-shaven, sunken-cheeked face. No one expected a beard. As we all know, he made it to his inauguration, beard and all, so it’s entirely possible that Abraham Lincoln’s whiskers and a little girl named Grace Bedell saved the president’s life.
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