Sunday, September 27, 2015

Louise L. Stevenson's "Lincoln in the Atlantic World"

Louise L. Stevenson is a professor of history and American studies at Franklin & Marshall College. Her books include Scholarly Means to Evangelical Ends: The New Haven Scholars and the Transformation of Higher Learning in America, 1830-1890 and The Victorian Homefront: American Cultural and Intellectual Life, 1860-1880.

Stevenson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Lincoln in the Atlantic World, and reported the following:
Why the Beard, why the Atlantic World?

Page 99 in Lincoln in the Atlantic World shows two photographs of Abraham Lincoln. They reveal his efforts to style himself after the model of fashionable young men and political luminaries of the republican Atlantic World.

A clean-shaven, rather pasty-faced Lincoln sat for the first photo by William Marsh, and English immigrant, in Springfield, IL, on May 20, 1860. [photo left; click to enlarge] Two days previously, the Republican Party had nominated the Illinoisan as its candidate in the 1860 presidential contest.

With the election decided, on November 25, 1860, Samuel G. Altschuler posed Lincoln, now the president elect, for another portrait. Experts claim that this photograph is the first to show Lincoln with the sproutings of a beard.

Conventional biographies of the sixteenth president report that he grew the beard in response to a letter that the president had received before the election from Grace Bedell, an 11 year-old from Westfield, NY. As Lincoln replied to her, that’s “partially” so.

Chapter 3 of Lincoln in the Atlantic World reveals that he had larger reasons with their origins in the political upheavals affecting Austria, France, Great Britain, Hungary, and Italy in the late 1840s and 1850s. The campaign of Lajos (Louis) Kossuth to liberate Hungary from Austrian rule especially affected Lincoln. In Springfield, he led a committee that invited the Hungarian to the Illinois capital during his fundraising tour of the United States in 1851 and 1852. Across the country, Kossuth’s hat and neatly trimmed facial hair started a trend. Men could grow a beard and groom it with a new product called “Whiskerando.” Everyone could buy Kossuth hats, liquor bottles, jewelry, handkerchiefs, and wall decorations.

In the 1850s the young, fashion-forward men committed to the Republican Party cause who surrounded Lincoln, like Elmer Ellsworth and John George Nicolay, sprouted facial hair. As Lincoln assumed the presidency of a constitutional government that he called the world’s last best hope is it any wonder that he sought to signal a global audience that he led a government dependent on the consent of the governed? His beard did just that.
Learn more about Lincoln in the Atlantic World at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue