The Bearded President
In The Beginning…
Now beards were not much in style then during the late 18th century. In fact having any facial hair was pretty much a social taboo. From the rich down to the poor, it was all about the clean shave look. Folks would shave every day, and no less than every third day.1 Hence when Mr. Washington went to newly formed Washington D.C. in 1790, after being elected in 1789, he was shorn as a newborn babe.
The Beard Times are a changing
This clean-cut trend continued until the turn of the 19th century. Then the hair above the ears started migrating south and eventually the trend of sideburns started. Sailors enjoyed the look as it make them more rakish in appearance2 and the
European men embraced the trend during the height of the Napoleonic period due to the very cool Hussar look. We may have to cover them later. So the sideburns became more popular and inevitably folks began bridging the gap between the sideburns. Soon royalty became involved in the beard craze and then of course it was fair game for everyone.
Back to Beardless Abe
So back to our main man Abe. Abe was on his way to becoming the 16th president and still sporting a bare chin. According to “Lincoln – Puts on (H)airs”3, perhaps the greatest name for a book ever, Lincoln decision to grow a beard made headlines.
On December 27, 1860, the following item appeared in the Evansville Daily Journal: “They say that Old Abe is raising a pair of whiskers. Some individual of the cockney persuasion remarked that he was ‘a puttin’ on (h)airs’”
And we complain about our news cycle. The beard was the look of a pioneer man, namely someone who was busy farming/hunting/surviving to worry about being clean-shaven. So Abe’s decision to grow a beard was an interesting move. So why the stubble movement?
Dear Mr. President
A young 11-year old girl named Grace Bedell had a father who was a staunch Republican. As such, he was a big fan of Lincoln and brought home a picture of him. Grace found the picture and like any other 11-year old, decided to write Mr. Lincoln.
Oct. 15, 1860 Hon. A. B. Lincoln, Dear Sir: My father has just come 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 won't 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 will 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 a going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try and get everyone 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 cutting as can be. When you direct your letter direct it to Grace Bedell, Westfield Chataqua County, New York. I must not write any more answer this letter right off. Good bye. Grace Bedell
So #1, this girl writes much better than I ever will, and #2, it is an interesting snapshot of the time as women cannot vote, but they can annoy their husbands to vote their way. Amazingly Lincoln read her letter and responded.
Springfield, Illinois, 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 daughter. 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, A. Lincoln
So something Grace said had resonated with Abe and despite his reply, actually started growing a beard. And apparently it worked for him and he became the best beard of all history. Ok, maybe not. But it was a marked improvement as you can see and apparently enough women teased their husbands to vote for him.
In the end, it’s all about the beard
The beard saw quite the resurgence during the Civil War as opportunities for shaving were few and far between. Pretty soon it was a fashion statement. Especially in the Navy. All but two men in that picture have a beard or mustache. One of the two men is an Admiral. AN ADMIRAL! So as long as you are a Civil War Admiral you do not need a beard.