Did an 11-year-old influence a national election?
Story to remember Abraham Lincoln on his birthday 213 years ago (February 12, 1809).
On October 15, 1860, * eleven-year-old Grace Bedell from Westfield, New York, wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a candidate for President from Illinois. She admitted it was “very bold” for her to write just a few weeks before the national election. But she “very much” wanted Lincoln to be President.
Grace wrote Lincoln that her father “came home from the fair and brought your picture.” She noticed in the picture that Lincoln had a narrow face. “You would look a great deal better if your whiskers grew,” she wrote. Then suggested that “ladies like whiskers” and would “tease their husbands” to vote for Lincoln.
Her four brothers were split on who they preferred for President. But both of her parents supported Abe. She agreed with them.
Before completing her note, she asked Lincoln if he had any daughters. If you have any daughters “as large as I am,” give them my love. Grace thought maybe this older daughter, if he had one, could write her back if Lincoln were too busy.
Lincoln responded within the week, thanking Grace for her “very agreeable letter of the 15th. Regrettably, I have no daughters, but three sons: seventeen, nine, and seven.” At the time of the letter Lincoln questioned the whiskers: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?”
He closed with “very sincere well wishes.”
After the 1860 Presidential Election, Lincoln took a long train trip to Washington, D.C. from Illinois for his inauguration. Lincoln visited several larger cities, including New York City and Philadelphia. But he made a special stop in one small town: Westfield, New York. There he thanked Grace and had a surprise. He bent his tall figure down to shake Grace’s hand, so she could get a better look at his face:
“You see I grew these whiskers for you!” +
Your chance: Presidents and governors answer letters from Americans of all ages. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts and opinions. You can write the President today at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500 or open White House.gov to send an email message.
Your thoughts and ideas are important because you will become voters who are especially important to America’s future!
*More than five months into the Civil War
+ America did not have national pollsters in 1860 and the letter came so close to the election, the impact Lincoln’s whiskers is impossible to judge. But Lincoln did continue to wear them. He either thought they helped soften his image or he liked not needing to shave!