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Gilbert: Lincoln's Beard

10/15/10 5:55PM By Peter Gilbert
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(HOST) And now, today's commentary, from Peter Gilbert, who is executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council. He tells a wonderful, true story from the tense days before the secession of South Carolina and then other southern states and the onset of the Civil War. It's of charming childhood meeting presidential greatness.

(GILBERT) On October 15, 1860 -- a hundred and fifty years ago today -- eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, a town on Lake Erie, wrote Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln.  It was about three weeks before the election.

She wrote, "My father has just come home from the fair and brought home your picture.  I am a little girl only 11 years old, but I want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are.  Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter.   I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you anyway and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you 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.  My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to but I will try to get everyone to vote for you that I can I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be.  I must not write any more answer this letter right off.  Good bye."

Four days later, Lincoln sent this reply:

"My dear little miss.

"Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying that I have no daughters. I have three sons -- one seventeen, one nine, and one seven years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. 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"

Roughly four months later, on President-elect Lincoln’s trip from his home in Springfield, Illinois to Washington, the train stopped in Westfield.  When he addressed the assembled crowd, Lincoln said that if Grace Bedell were in the crowd, he'd like to meet her.

A newspaper reported, "There was a momentary commotion, in the midst of which an old man struggled through the crowd, approached, leading his daughter, a girl of apparently twelve or thirteen years of age, whom he introduced to Mr. Lincoln.  Mr. Lincoln stooped down and kissed the child, and talked with her for some minutes... The young girl’s peachy cheek must have been tickled with a stiff whisker, for the growth of which she was herself responsible."
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