The Story Behind: The Photograph that Won Lincoln the Presidency

Photograph/Matthew Brady

Photograph/Matthew Brady

Pioneer photographer Mathew Brady is best known for his photographs of the vivid battlefields of the American Civil War (1861–1865). However, he also photographed 18 Presidents of the United States, one of whom was Abraham Lincoln. This particular image of Lincoln was shot on 27 February 1860, just moments before he could deliver his famous Cooper Union address in New York. The success of the speech won him the approval and support for his presidential candidacy among New Yorkers.

In the weeks succeeding the event, the image appeared in publications like Harper’s Weekly, who converted the photograph to a full-page woodcut portrait, commending Lincoln on his triumph. Later, in October, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper also featured the image. Brady himself sold several carte-de-visite photographs of the image as well.

When asked about the photograph, Brady recollected how he drew Lincoln’s collar up high, in order to give him a more distinguished appearance. A year after securing the Republican nomination and the presidency, Lincoln met Brady and told him that this image and his Cooper Union speech were responsible for him winning the Presidency.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: did you know, photograph, Carte de Visite, United States, The story behind, Abraham Lincoln, President, Mathew Brady, American Civil War, Cooper Union, April 2015