Lincoln: The Image

Honest Old Abe

The most reliable index of political popularity in the mid-19th century was the creation - and display - of formal portraits designed to be hung on parlor walls in private homes, like religious icons of old. In this genre, Lincoln had no equal. His fresh, strong face - its mole, scars, and other flaws neatly masked by sympathetic artists - seemed to reveal strength, determination, and native wisdom. Flattering portraits served as powerful antidotes to rumors that Lincoln was simply too ugly to serve as president.

"Don't, for God's sake, show his picture," joked one Democratic campaign song in 1860.

The potent symbols of his rise from obscurity - the log cabin, the log rail, the rail-splitter's maul, and the flatboat - reminded viewers of the limitless opportunities of American democracy. 

View these images to see a more formal, dignified Lincoln.