How an 11-Year Old Girl Convinced Lincoln to Grow His Beard

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In what has to go down as one of the all-time great moments of political image consulting, an 11-year old girl suggested to a fresh-faced Abe Lincoln that he grow a beard. And then he did. The website Letters of Note even has copies of the girl's letter and Lincoln's response. Beyond being  the cutest historical footnote of all time, Ms. Grace Bedell, had some solid reasoning behind her request.

"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," she wrote, "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." [emphasis added.]

The bearded Lincoln is such an indelible American image that it's almost hard to believe his response to the girl.

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?

Your very sincere well wisher

A. Lincoln

Of course, as Andrew and the New York Times' awesome Disunion blog point out, there was a lot more to growing an Antebellum beard than you might think and Grace's letter was probably not actually the reason Lincoln bearded up. Facial hair had a politics and a history, etc.

All of which reminds this particular bearded reporter that we haven't had a President with facial hair since William Howard Taft. It's time that changed. Say it with me: up with this, we will not put!

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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