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Lincoln: The Image

An American Saint

The sentimental image of Abraham Lincoln culminated in depictions of the president with his wife and family. Countless Lincoln family prints published after his death launched a new phenomenon that is today routinely visible - where the media blazoned forth images and pulp stories about the president's wife and children.

With his assassination, the president's critics were silenced. In his younger days, Lincoln had spoken of the "political religion" of the nation. Now he became its reigning patron saint.

A photograph of the entire Lincoln family was never taken. Mrs. Lincoln was not photographed with her husband, and while their sons all sat for the cameras, only Tad posed with his father. Though the war left the president little time for family, after his death admirers demanded pictorial assurance that their beleaguered leader had enjoyed the solace of home and hearth.

In just five years, graphic artists had introduced, embellished, and transformed the Lincoln image. They not only illustrated Lincoln's transfiguration, but arguably influenced it as well. The backwoods candidate for president about whom audiences knew so little in 1860 became, by 1865, according to the caption of one reverential post-assassination print, "The best beloved of the nation."

Evidence can be seen in the depiction of the martyred president in a manner audiences now demanded. Engravers and lithographers turned to two symbols that Americans held sacred: religion and George Washington. While few chief executives had been placed at Washington's right hand, the Father and Savior pairing provided a comforting symmetry to a grieving nation. The messianic implication was not accidental.

These images illustrate how the country viewed Lincoln in death.