Lincoln: “Get up, you hussy!”

Young Abe in the early 1840s.

In his March 26, 1843 letter to Martin M. Morris, Lincoln provided a word description of how he, Lincoln, appeared to voters who knew nothing of his background. “It would astonish if not amuse, the older citizens to learn that I (a stranger, friendless, uneducated, penniless boy, working on a flatboat at ten dollars per month) have been put down here as the candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction.”

After viewing the daguerreotype image one can readily appreciate how early 1840s voters, who knew Lincoln only by his appearance, would think that he was “the candidate of pride, wealth, and aristocratic family distinction.”

“If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said, I am, in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and grey eyes — no other marks or brands recollected”

Abraham Lincoln, Autobiography, December 20, 1859

Lincoln’s Face

from “Abraham Lincoln’s Organic & Emotional Neurosis” by Edward J. Kempf
April 1952, Volume 67, Number 4 edition of the A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, Pages 419-433.

All these differences in the development of the facial muscles and bones, and the weakened functioning of the ocular and facial muscles on the left side in particular, indicate that Lincoln suffered a serious injury to his brain before adulthood. The sharp depression in the forehead above the left eye with a definitely palpable edge in the life mask, previously described, shows where his skull had been fractured, and the permanent differences in the nervous tone of the muscles of the two sides indicate that his brain was then permanently injured.

With this conclusion in mind, I searched the history of Lincoln’s childhood for evidence of such an accident and found that it occurred in his 10th year. He was driving an unshod horse hitched in a circular mill for grinding corn or sugar cane; and, growing impatient of her slow pace he shouted, “Get up, you hussy,” and gave her a whack with a stick. She kicked back, hitting him in the forehead. He was knocked unconscious for many hours and was thought for a time to be dead. He seems to have recovered without apparent serious after-effects, since he received no special medical attention for the head injury, the doctor living many miles away…

The skin of Lincoln’s face was weather-beaten, coarse, deeply grained, dark, and generally sallow or muddy. Many years of close exposure in youth before an open wood fire where he read, possibly left a permanent trophic effect. Deep creases over the forehead, at the outside corners of the eyes and around the mouth indicate an unusual amount of facial work in using the eyes and in laughing…

Lincoln’s face was completely shaven until, in his campaign for the presidency in 1860, he was persuaded by a young girl’s suggestion to grow a beard. The numerous changes in the style of cutting his beard and hair indicate that he and his barbers or Mrs. Lincoln indulged in no little experimenting for satisfactory effects. His photographs show how they tried a number of different trimmings with one constant feature, namely, shaving of the upper lip and lower lip and upper half of the chin, while letting a beard grow on the lower half of the chin and throat and sides of his face. The coarse, black hair of his head was generally cut so as to remain unusually long, probably for reducing the prominence of his ears. He was self-conscious about his hair, and parted it on either side as he fancied, but it was soon disheveled by the nervous habit of running his fingers through it.

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