Mathew Brady photographs presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln

Mathew Brady photographs presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln


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On February 27, 1860, President Abraham Lincoln poses for the first of several portraits by noted Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady. Days later, the photograph is published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with the caption, "Hon. Abram [sic] Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President."

A relatively new art form, the photograph (or daguerreotype) showed an unusually beardless Lincoln just moments before he delivered an address at Cooper Union that day. The address, in which he articulated his reasons for opposing slavery in the new territories, received wild applause and garnered strong support for his candidacy among New Yorkers.

Lincoln was re-introduced to Brady a year after his election. The president shook Brady’s hand and said Mr. Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president. Brady went on to photograph Lincoln several more times before Lincoln’s death in 1865. Brady also snapped photos of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s sons.

Brady’s works also include shots of President Zachary Taylor at his inauguration in 1849, President Millard Fillmore in 1850 and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861. After Brady’s wife approached Mrs. Grant on behalf of her husband, General Ulysses S. Grant agreed to let Brady tag along with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many of his resulting works now reside in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Lincoln was not the first presidential candidate, or president, to be photographed—that honor went to John Quincy Adams in 1843.

READ MORE: How US Presidents Have Communicated with the Public—From the Telegraph to Twitter


Feb 27, 1860: Mathew Brady Photographs Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln - Photo taken in Feb. 1860 by Mathew Brady.

On this day in 1860, President Abraham Lincoln poses for the first of several portraits by noted Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady. Days later, the photograph is published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with the caption, Hon. Abram [sic] Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President.

A relatively new art form, the photograph (or daguerreotype) showed an unusually beardless Lincoln just moments before he delivered an address at Cooper Union that day. The address, in which he articulated his reasons for opposing slavery in the new territories, received wild applause and garnered strong support for his candidacy among New Yorkers.

Lincoln was re-introduced to Brady a year after his election. The president shook Brady’s hand and said Mr. Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president. Brady went on to photograph Lincoln several more times before Lincoln’s death in 1865. Brady also snapped photos of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s sons.

Brady’s works also include shots of President Zachary Taylor at his inauguration in 1849, President Millard Fillmore in 1850 and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861. After Brady’s wife approached Mrs. Grant on behalf of her husband, General Ulysses S. Grant agreed to let Brady tag along with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many of his resulting works now reside in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Lincoln was not the first presidential candidate, or president, to be photographed–that honor went to John Quincy Adams in 1843.


February 27, 1860: Mathew Brady Photographs Candidate Lincoln

On this day in 1860, Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln poses for the first of several portraits by noted Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady. Days later, the photograph is published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with the caption, Hon. Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, Republican Candidate for President.

A relatively new art form, the photograph (or daguerreotype) showed an unusually beardless Lincoln just moments before he delivered an address at Cooper Union that day. The address, in which he articulated his reasons for opposing slavery in the new territories, received wild applause and garnered strong support for his candidacy among New Yorkers.

Lincoln was re-introduced to Brady a year after his election. The president shook Brady’s hand and said Mr. Brady and the Cooper Institute made me president. Brady went on to photograph Lincoln several more times before Lincoln’s death in 1865. Brady also snapped photos of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and two of Lincoln’s sons.

Brady’s works also include shots of President Zachary Taylor at his inauguration in 1849, President Millard Fillmore in 1850 and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1861. After Brady’s wife approached Mrs. Grant on behalf of her husband, General Ulysses S. Grant agreed to let Brady tag along with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many of his resulting works now reside in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Lincoln was not the first presidential candidate, or president, to be photographed–that honor went to John Quincy Adams in 1843.


How One Mathew Brady Photograph May Have Helped Elect Abraham Lincoln

Before his graphic photographs of the Civil War made him America's best-known pioneering photojournalist, Mathew Brady had a New York studio specializing in portraiture.

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In 1844 Brady opened his first studio advertising it the following year as the “First Premium New York Daguerreian Miniature Gallery.”

His portraits had the presence of carefully painted miniatures, and he was just as exacting about lighting and obtaining natural poses.

A new exhibition in the Daguerreian Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, “Antebellum Portraits by Mathew Brady,” provides a rare look at this early side of Brady’s practice that quickly grew to two New York studios and one in Washington, D.C.

“We chose to focus on Mathew Brady’s pre-Civil War portraiture because it was during the period from 1844 to 1860 that Brady built his reputation as one of the nation’s most successful camera artists,” says Ann Shumard, the senior curator of photographs who organized the exhibition.

Eventually the daguerreotype made way for another method, the ambrotype, and before the end of the decade, salted-paper prints from glass plate collodion negatives. 

It was a salted-paper print of Abraham Lincoln, taken on February㺛, 1860, the day Lincoln addressed a large Republican audience in the lecture hall at Cooper Union in New York, that may have had a significant impact on American history. 

While Lincoln was denigrated in his campaign as little more than a bumpkin, Brady’s photograph of a beardless Lincoln in a smart suit, his collar showing high so as to hide an unusually long neck, helped give him a sophisticated look that matched his timeless words. Publications from Frank Leslie’s Weekly to Harper’s Weekly made a full-page woodcut of the Brady portrait to illustrate Lincoln’s ascension as his party’s nominee. When it also became the cover of the published Cooper speech, which was widely distributed, it had an impact as well. Lincoln himself is to have said that it was “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me President.” 

And while the images of Lincoln on the five dollar bill and penny are based as well on Brady portraits, they wouldn’t have been possible without that first portrait.

Some 5,419 glass plate negatives from the Mathew Brady Studio were acquired by the Smithsonian as a group from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection through the estate of Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt. Thirty-five years ago, modern prints were struck from the negatives that are shown on a rotating schedule. 

Among the dozen images on display in the new exhibition are such celebrated figures as Martin Van Buren, 11 years after his term as the eighth President and John C. Fremont, the explorer who became the first U.S. senator from California and the Republican's first candidate for president in 1856.

There is also a rare image of Dolley Madison, the celebrated wife of the fourth president James Madison, photographed in 1848, the year before she died, in Washington, D.C. She had moved back to the capital following the death of her husband 12 years earlier, and she is pictured alongside her niece Anna Payne. 

There is also a carefully posed 1851 family portrait of Brady himself, with his wife Juliet "Julia" Brady and his sister Ellen Brady Haggerty, taken perhaps to show the possibilities of family portraiture from the studio. 

Not much mention is made in the show of Brady’s handy Washington D.C. studio ironically, it had the same name as the museum where it is now on view: The National Portrait Gallery. 

Among the portraits are soldiers who would fight on both sides of the impending Civil War, from John Pelham, who fought under J.E.B. Stuart in the Confederate cavalry to Union Gen. George Henry Thomas.

Also represented are scientist John W. Draper and poet Frederick W. Lander, who plotted a way for the transcontinental railroad before he too became a Union general.

Artists were also among those Brady depicted in these early days, and the exhibition includes portraits of Thomas Cole, Charles Loring Elliott and John Frederick Kensett.

Winning an international award at the London World’s Fair in 1851 did a lot to raise Brady’s reputation, and he made the most of it with newspaper advertising and handbills.

“Having spent most of the past year in Europe, in examining the most celebrated galleries and works of art, especially in France and Italy,” one said, “Mr. Brady has introduced into his establishments all the improvements and discoveries of those countries, and is prepared to execute every description of work pertaining to his business, in the highest style of the art.”

Also on view in the museum and not far from the “Antebellum Portraits” exhibition is another grouping called “Lincoln’s Contempories” that include such figures as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Ward Beecher and P.T. Barnum. 

Some have direct connection with the others—Jessie Benton Fremont, the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, was married to John C. Fremont. 

And among the surprising numbers of actors depicted in the display, one of them was Edwin Booth, in a 1866 portrait. His brother, John Wilkes Booth, had assassinated the president the year before. 


Abraham Lincoln in Photographs

An early daguerreotype image of Abraham Lincoln originally taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois in 1846-1847. Early 20th-century print from a 19th-century copy negative. ID.00.1334.112

Take a look at images from The Henry Ford’s wonderful, eclectic collection of Lincoln-related photographs. These images span the years from Lincoln’s career as an Illinois legislator during the 1840s to his tragic death in 1865.

The original daguerreotype of this image of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives. It is believed by many to be the earliest known image of Lincoln, who was 37 or 38 years old when it was taken. At this time, Lincoln was a husband and father of two small boys, had a successful law practice in Springfield, and had just become a junior member of Congress.

Daguerreotypes like this one are one-of-a-kind photographs made on silver-coated copper plates. In order to make photographic prints, copy negatives had to be made from the original daguerreotypes. This photographic print was made in the early 20th century from a 19th-century copy negative. In 1902, Frederick Hill Meserve, an early collector of photography, found glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio in a Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse. Meserve carefully preserved the negatives and made the later photographic prints of the earlier images--including this photographic print in our collection.

Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin campaign button for the 1860 presidential election containing tintype portraits of the Republican Party candidates on each side. ID. 72.31.396

This campaign button from the 1860 presidential election shows a tintype photograph of Abraham Lincoln. The image of Lincoln is a copy of an 1858 ambrotype portrait, probably taken by Roderick M. Cole, of Peoria, Illinois. The tintype on the other side of the button shows Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s running mate. This use of photography in political campaigns was still unusual at the time--most campaign buttons did not include photographic images of the candidates.

Lincoln was one of several presidential candidates in 1860, a time when Americans were deeply divided over the issues of states’ rights and slavery. The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln as their presidential candidate. At the Democratic convention, the party could not agree. Northerners turned to Stephen Douglas of Illinois, while southerners selected John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. There was also a third party choice of John Bell of Tennessee. Throughout most of the South, Lincoln’s name was not even on the ballot! With the vote split among so many candidates, Abraham Lincoln carried all of the eighteen free states to win the 1860 presidential election.

Photographic print of President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan and his military officers at Antietam, Maryland in 1862. ID.P.189.3727

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln often conferred with his military commanders in the field, as this image of an 1862 visit to General George B. McClellan and his officers at Antietam, Maryland, shows. Lincoln – at 6-foot 4-inches and wearing his distinctive top hat – towers over McClellan and his officers. Alexander Gardner took the original photograph on October 3, 1862. This copy print was made in 1926 by the Ford Motor Company Photographic Department in Dearborn, Michigan.

Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln taken by Alexander Gardner on November 8, 1863. Early 20th-century print from the original negative. ID.94.0.40.1

This image of Abraham Lincoln is an early 20th-century photographic print made from an original glass plate negative taken by Alexander Gardner in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, November 8, 1863. Lincoln is shown seated on one of the chairs that was used by the House of Representatives in the 1850s and then replaced and sold as surplus at auction in 1859. Alexander Gardner bought some of these chairs to use in his photographic studio.

The original glass plate negative was among the large group of Civil War era negatives found and preserved by Frederick Hill Meserve in 1902. For many years, Meserve, who collected thousands of Lincoln photographs, made meticulous prints from original negatives, helping to preserve Abraham Lincoln’s photographic legacy. Meserve made this photographic print from a glass plate negative measuring about 20 x 16 inches. This very large format, called a mammoth plate, captured an incredible amount of detail--even the wrinkles in Lincoln’s boots are clearly visible.

This Lincoln photograph is the curator’s favorite because the details captured truly bring this great man to life.

Carte-de-visite showing President Abraham Lincoln and son Tad, from original photograph by Anthony Berger taken February 9, 1864. ID. 2005.0.12.6

This sentimental photograph shows President Abraham Lincoln and his youngest son, Tad. Anthony Berger, working for the Mathew Brady Studio, took the original photograph on February 9, 1864. The image was retouched and printed after 1865 by Berger and other photographers, including the unidentified photographer who produced this example. In Berger's alteration, the chair had different details from the chair in the Brady studio.

This popular image of Lincoln and Tad was offered for sale in the form of photographs, lithographs and engravings because of its appealing subject of Abraham Lincoln as a father. In the mid-19th century, small photographs like this one, known as cartes-de-visite, were a popular size to gather into photograph albums similar to the one Lincoln holds in this image. Photographs of famous people like Abraham Lincoln were often purchased and placed in albums along with those of one's family and friends.

Carte-de-Visite of Abraham Lincoln catafalque in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda, April 19-21, 1865. ID. 36.713.2

This image is of Abraham Lincoln’s catafalque, a temporary structure built to support his coffin during the three days he lay in state in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda in April 1865. Although the original photographer is unknown, we do know that D.C. Burnite of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, created this small size photographic print called a carte-de-visite. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, plunged Americans into deep mourning. Many people collected mementos like this to help them visualize the events of President Lincoln’s funeral and as a way of expressing the national grief.

Mourning badge for Abraham Lincoln, 1865. ID. 66.143.753

This mourning badge was handmade from a small oval tintype portrait of President Abraham Lincoln set into a rope-twist brass frame. The image is surrounded by a black crepe rosette, and decorated with black and white ribbons. This small button, just 2-3/8 inches in diameter, would have been worn during the spring of 1865 to express mourning for the recently assassinated president.

Carte-de-visite showing the chair occupied by President Lincoln at the time of his assassination at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., 1865. ID.71.36.3

Abraham Lincoln sat in this rocking chair when he was mortally wounded at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on the evening of April 14, 1865. Mathew Brady made the original glass plate negative of the chair for his Brady's National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Shortly after, Brady transferred many of his negatives to the photographic supply firm of E. & H. T. Anthony & Company of New York City to pay his debts. Anthony & Co. published this carte-de-visite photograph in 1865. At a time before television and internet news, this photograph helped people visualize events surrounding President Lincoln’s death. (The Lincoln assassination rocker is in the collections of The Henry Ford and is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.)

Where did the Abraham Lincoln photographs in The Henry Ford’s collection come from?

While Henry Ford did not have much interest in military or political figures, Abraham Lincoln was the exception. Lincoln, like Ford, was a self-made man and Ford greatly admired his leadership during a difficult time in U.S. history. Henry Ford collected many Lincoln-related artifacts, from the Logan County, Illinois courthouse where Lincoln practiced law in the 1840s to the chair he was sitting in the night of his assassination in 1865. Ford also sought many smaller artifacts to bring this great president’s story alive to inspire schoolchildren and guests visiting Greenfield Village. Photographs that Henry Ford gathered included some 19th-century originals, but also many copy photographs of important images. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Ford had professional and highly skilled photographers in his company’s Photographic Department make many large format and high quality copies of historical originals.

After Henry Ford’s era, museum staff continued to add Abraham Lincoln material, including many photographs. The largest Lincoln-related collection was acquired in 1966 from Thomas Irwin Starr. Starr lived in Michigan and worked for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company as an editor of the employee publication from 1935 to 1954. Fascinated by Lincoln, he built his collection over many years. The material that Starr collected includes letters, documents, books, newspapers, photographs, prints, and ephemera.

Cynthia Read Miller is Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford.


Mathrew Brady’s Lincoln

Despite being a homely man, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed being photographed. He recognized the compelling power of the photograph, and frequented emerging photostudios. There are over 120 daugerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, stereographic cards and cartes de visites of Lincoln.

His favorite photographer was of course Mathew Brady, whose above photo changed the course of the nation. Taken on February 27th 1860–just hours after Lincoln’s famous Cooper Union speech, the photo of the obscure presidential candidates dispelled the notion that hideous Lincoln was unelectable. Three months after it was taken, and publicly circulated, Lincoln was nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. The photograph was widely circulated during the national campaign, both in the illustrated press and through the popular Currier and Ives prints.

A month before the election day, Lincoln received a letter from one Grace Bedell, an 11-year-old girl from Westfield, New York, which urged him to grow a beard because “[growing a beard would] look a great deal better for your face is so thin,” and it would make him more popular. It would prove to be so. When Lincoln left Springfield on February 11th, 1861, bound for the White House, he was fully bearded. On route, he stopped in Westfield and met Grace and he said he took her advice.

Lincoln would also later admitted that “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president of the United States,” adding the photograph “dispelled the opposition base on the rumours of my long ungainly figure, large feet, clumsy hands, and long, gaunt head making me into a man of human aspect and dignified bearing.”


Abraham Lincoln Carte-de-Visite Photo By Mathew Brady of Which Lincoln Said "I Look Most Like That One"

Of this partially opaque vignette portrait made from one of the five Matthew Brady photographs taken in Washington on January 8, 1864, Lincoln said: &ldquoI don&rsquot know that I have any favorite portrait of myself but I have thought that if I looked like any of the likenesses of me that have been taken, I look most like that one.&rdquo

Before television, before radio, before even, the daily use of photography itself, Lincoln realized the political importance of his image: a Western Everyman, rawboned, striking but unhandsome, and instantly recognizable. Lincoln sat for his photo some forty times, and his unmistakable visage graced thousands upon thousands of carte-de-visites &ndash 4 by 2 ½ inch trade cards on which a 3 ½ by 2 ¼ inch image was affixed &ndash like the one he signed for an admirer, here.


Brady’s Self-Portrait of 1861

Brady, a man with a mission for whom the camera was “the eye of history,” transformed his New York gallery into a press agency. In his window, he showed a picture taken by Gardner entitled, “The Dead at Antietam,” so New Yorkers could see the real nature of this war. “He has brought home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along streets, he has done something very like it,” wrote The New York Times. Panzer explains his choice to work at the front by his need to make a fresh start. The field of operations offered a new arena for investigation, an open setting opposed to the confined atmosphere of the studios. The columns and the tables were now trees, tents, posts and photographers were in close contact with high-ranking officers. But taking a photograph on glass plates and bringing them to the studio was a real challenge: “No one will ever know what I lived through to secure those negatives,” he said. “The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life” (Newhall 91).

Let’s turn to the self-portrait taken by Brady in 1861 after his return from the battle of Bull Run, a heavy defeat for Lincoln’s army—of which no photo remains (Panzer 10). Although Brady’s portrait is sometimes accompanied by the mention “photographer unknown,” Alan Trachtenberg calls it a self-portrait. Brady is standing full length with his hands in his pockets and his right leg forward as if he were about to move. When the war was declared, he said: “I had to go. A spirit in my feet said go and I went” (Rosenheim 64). This position shows that he is no longer content with being a studio photographer but instead has to be where the action is. The profile shot is emblematic of his modus operandi as a discreet but keen observer on the field of action. As in a mute dialogue, the left profile of Brady mirrors Lincoln’s right profile. He is held spellbound by what he is staring at.

Mathew Brady, The Photographer, returned from Bull Run, 22 July 1861. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Both the boater hat—the emblem of the profession since Bayard’s self-portrait (1839)—and the trench coat with its multiple pockets, which was to become the traditional jacket of reporters, are in keeping with his mission. By leaving it unbuttoned, his frailty and receptiveness are underscored. The chain of his fob watch and the bow tie remind us that, despite the American Civil War, Brady has preserved a certain distance that could be interpreted as politeness. His existence as a photographer certainly depended on his capacity to keep in touch with influential people. By this mixture of discretion, watchfulness, motion, receptiveness, and elegance, Brady introduced to his field a new figure which will give birth to a new icon: that of the war reporter.

But any foundation implies a site and a limit. Thus, at the bottom of the picture, in simple handwriting with carefully drawn capital letters, elements of temporality and localization reinforce the sense of human fragility: “Photo taken July 22, 1861, Brady, The Photographer returned from Bull Run.” These elements with their journalistic accuracy as well as their euphemistic and metaphoric reference to the Bull Run massacre, are like an epitaph, as if Brady had run away from the kingdom of the dead to bear witness. And this is exactly what happened: He wandered for many days and in total confusion among dying soldiers before he could find his way back. Through this confrontation with the emptiness of this no man’s land, the photographer fills the void of the spatio-temporal framework of Bull Run, and because he remains at the “degree zero of narration” (Seymour Chatman) through these metaphoric references, his self-portrait can emerge as an iconic representation.

Moreover, the light background is deliberately chosen, since this self-portrait is not a daguerreotype but made on a glass plate covered with wet collodion. Against this light background—symbolic of nothingness—Brady can free himself, build a new identity, and create a new discourse, a new story: that of a historian. Indeed, from 1862 onwards, Brady considered himself the archivist of a national photographic fund (Panzer 113) which he called “an essential auxiliary to future historical inquiry.”


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Photo, Print, Drawing [Letter from Mathew Brady to President Abraham Lincoln, asking Lincoln to sit for a photograph]

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Original Caption: Cassius M. Clay

Not to be confused with the Cassius Marcellus Clay that would later become Muhammad Ali. Cassius Marcellus Clay was nicknamed the “Lion of White Hall.” He was a Kentucky planter and politician who was one of the biggest supporters of the abolition of slavery. During the Civil War, He was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as the United States minister to Russia. His main contribution was gaining Russian support for the Union. Among his many achievements, In 1853, Clay granted 10 acres of his land to John G. Fee, an abolitionist, who founded the town of Berea. In 1855, Fee founded Berea College, a school open to all races. In 1862, Lincoln recalled Clay to the United States to accept a commission as a major general in the Union Army. Clay refused to accept this unless Lincoln would agree to emancipate the slaves under Confederate control. Lincoln agreed to do this and issued the proclamation in late 1862, to take effect in January 1863.


Watch the video: Brady Photograph of Lincoln