Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861


Why was the Brady photograph of Lincoln so important?

On the morning of February 22, Lincoln and a friend strolled to the Broadway offices of Mathew B. Brady (1823–1896), New York City’s most successful commercial photographer. Photography was undergoing a big boom, and Lincoln did not wish to miss this opportunity for what we would today call “cheap publicity.”

The photograph taken (or, more properly, “made”) that afternoon is one of the many striking representations of Lincoln. The man’s height and length are readily apparent, as is his awkwardness. The enormously strong hands are displayed, as is a rather tight expression in the mouth, indicating a firm will. As was the style, Lincoln was portrayed with his left hand resting on two large books, one of which may have been the Bible. The photograph was reproduced a great number of times, and copies of various kinds later appeared in thousands, if not millions, of homes, mostly in the Northern states. Lincoln did not exaggerate when he claimed “Brady and the Cooper Union made me President.”


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