Beards make a difference. It certainly made a difference on election night in 1860 when it was announced that Abraham Lincoln would be the next President of the United States. Tall, benevolent but oddly thin faced in a world where beards were in fashion. So how did this gaunt-faced politician we now revere as one of the greatest leaders America has ever seen get elected? We can attribute this to the letter written by an eleven-year-old girl from Westfield New York to a then clean-shaven Mr. Lincoln. A letter that may have tipped the election of 1860.
October 18, 1860
Westfield, NY, Chautauqua Co.
Hon. A B Lincoln,
My father had just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only eleven 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 got 4 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 but I will try and 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 Chatauque County New York. I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye.
“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.”
Lincoln responded to Gracie,
October 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 piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well-wisher
Needless to say, Lincoln took her advice, and his beard was born. In this early 1861 photograph one month after receiving the letter from the 11-year-old Grace Bedel, you can see Lincoln growing out his famous stubble and then fully bearded on his way to the inauguration.
On his way to the inauguration, Lincoln stopped in Westfield New York to visit the little girl who gave him such potent advice. Famously it is told that he bent down kissed her on the cheek and said,
“Gracie, look at my whiskers. I have been growing them for you.”
Honorary statue of Grace Bedell and Abraham
Lincoln. Westfield New York.
Boston Beard Works - author
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