Abraham Lincoln in Political Cartoons About 80 cartoons show the evolution of Lincoln's image from his first campaign for the presidency in 1860 through the Civil War to the early 1900s. Be warned, this site has some annoying pop ups! Turn on you pop up blocker before visiting.
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Abraham Lincoln is a mythic figure in the American psyche. He liberated the slaves and became a martyred president. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., played an important symbolic role in the modern civil rights movement. From its steps, with Lincoln looking down from the shadows behind, Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963. Generations of American children have memorized Lincoln's November 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address, beginning "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," and ending with the stirring appeal "that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Those words and the image of the thoughtful, bearded man, his face prematurely aged from years of terrible war, are what most Americans think of when they consider Abraham Lincoln today. It is a far cry from how his contemporaries saw him during his lifetime. Instead of "Four score and twenty," they often quoted him beginning statements with "That reminds me of a joke."
Lincoln was the first person to bring the humor of the West to national politics. He frequently used humor to make a point. Diverging from speeches and conversations to tell a joke or relate an anecdote, he used "hoss sense," or the shared wisdom of the people, to garner support for his positions. In a 1915 study of the development of Western humor, Fred Lewis Pattee credited Lincoln with being the first person to put that emerging brand of humor into the national spotlight. "The saddest man in American history, he stands as one of the greatest of American humorists," Pattee wrote. "His laughter rings through the whole period of the war, man of sorrows though he was, and it was the Western laughter heard until now only along the great rivers and the frontier and the gold coast of the Pacific." Lincoln's frequent use of humor was noted in a number of the cartoons published during his presidency. Although "that reminds me of a joke" can be found in cartoons published throughout the war, Lincoln's image also evolved. When he was elected to the presidency in 1860, he was clean-shaven and very youthful in appearance. He began to grow a beard shortly after the election, and it and the signs of age caused by the war appear in later cartoons.