President Lincoln: Beardless?

 Lincoln bust


In public common knowledge, Abraham Lincoln always had a beard. But, in fact, he hadn’t sported a beard (as far is as known) until he became president. At the suggestion of the young girl Grace Bedell, he decided to let his whiskers grow out. He stopped shaving in November of 1860. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington for his Inauguration he had a full beard. And that image-the one of Lincoln with the beard-is the “true” Lincoln image in most people’s minds. So for the record, let’s be reminded that until the last few years of Lincoln’s life-he was beardless.


But there is the possibilty that Lincoln had a period of time being beardless as president. Really?  Yes! This is not a new revelation, but most people don’t know about it. I refer back to the May 1979 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. In an article: ‘The Long Lost Lincolns’ by Harold Holzer and Lloyd Ostendorf, the “beardless” Lincoln is discussed. Lincoln may have shaved off his beard due to a skin rash induced by smallpox. Most scholars believe Lincoln had contracted smallpox around the time of his Gettysburg Address-November 1863. It was a mild form of the illness. When Lincoln returned to Washington from Gettysburg, he took to his sick bed and “almost disappeared from official view.”


One Henry H. Cross claimed to have painted LIncoln while president-beardless. The canvas portrait of Lincoln features him beardless. What is really interesting is that when the painting is studied it becomes obvious that the Lincoln as depicted is not a young man. His face is very care-worn-like what we would have expected Lincoln’s face to look like as president without a beard.  It was Mr. Cross who stated that President Lincoln had to shave off the beard due to the skin rash. It is also known that even though Lincoln was, indeed, ill-he still had “enough spirit” to please “favor-seekers.” Perhaps, he favored Cross with a few sittings for the painting. I think it’s probably true. I suppose we have no real way of knowing? Henry H. Cross died in 1918.  

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3 Responses to “President Lincoln: Beardless?”

  1. Paula Konecny says:


    I was intrested in seeing the Lincoln Beardless painting done by H.H. Cross.

  2. B. Nash says:

    Yes, I recall those photos taken in January 1864. I don’t know. The story sounds plausable-but we’ll never know.

  3. Dave Wiegers says:

    I went thru a couple of my books and found a photo of Lincoln in January of 1864 only a couple of months after his bout with smallpox. In this photograph he has a pretty full beard. If he shaved it after his return from Gettysburg, he grew it back almost immediately.

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