Why Did Abraham Lincoln Grow his Famous Beard?

I enjoy sharing the stories I discover in my family history research with my family. Often, I bore them to tears but from time to time I manage to turn up a tidbit of information that sticks. For my youngest son learning that we are distant cousins to Abraham Lincoln is that detail that stuck. He loves telling anyone willing to listen that he is related to Abraham Lincoln.

It was a couple years ago when he was about 9 that the topic of Abraham Lincoln being a distant leaf on the family tree came up. He was learning about Abraham Lincoln at school and he came home bragging that he knew why Abraham Lincoln grew his famous beard.

A History Lesson

I had to admit as he grinned like the Cheshire cat that he did in fact know something that I did not. He proceeded to educate me on the story of why Abraham Lincoln decided to grow his beard.

August 13, 1860 Last photo of Lincoln without his beard

On October 15, 1860 a young lady by the name of Grace Bedell, at the ripe wise age of 11 years old, wrote a letter to the republican presidential nominee insisting that growing a beard would help him get elected.

Grace wrote

Hon A B [sic] Lincoln…

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 11 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 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. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to 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 Chautauqua County New York.

I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye

Grace Bedell

Grace Bedell in 1870s

The future president returned a letter to Grace Bedell.

Springfield, Ill Oct 19, 1860

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 silly affectation if I were to begin it now?

Your very sincere well wisher

A. Lincoln

Shortly after the exchange with young Miss Grace the future president began to grow his whiskers.

In 1861, Lincoln and Miss Grace met in person. When the two met the president, elect was sporting a full face of whiskers.

Did the advice of the young Miss Grace Bedell help to get Abraham Lincoln elected to the highest office in the United States? We may never know how much impact the decision made in his election but her advice definitely impacted the image most people think of when they picture Abraham Lincoln.

That’s the story of how Lincoln grew his famous beard…and how I got a history lesson from my son.

February 9, 1861
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