One of the most famous photographs of Abraham Lincoln was taken by the noted photographer Matthew Brady on February 25, 1860 in New York City.
It was the afternoon before Lincoln delivered a famous speech at the Cooper Union that evening. The photo was reproduced widely during Lincoln’s campaign for the presidency that year and later became known as the Cooper Union portrait.
Lincoln later said the photo and the speech he gave that night “made me president.”
The photo is certainly a striking one and presents Lincoln very favorably. Lincoln had the reputation of being a rough-hewn Westerner. This picture shows him as something else — a handsome and rather elegant, serious man. He is youngish but not too young. He is smoothly dressed, but he’s not a dandy. In the picture he looks serious and thoughtful, ready to take on the responsibilities of a nation torn apart by the issues of abolition and slavery.
If this photograph is the one that most people saw during the presidential campaign, it is little wonder that Lincoln gave it a good deal of the credit for getting him elected to the presidency.
But is this what Lincoln really looked like?