Abraham Lincoln, 1860

Leopold Grozelier, after Thomas Hicks

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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The hypo

This picture of a fresh-faced and eager Lincoln was designed to advertise the appeal of the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1860. Lincoln always maintained a public image of sober good sense, leavened with his characteristic sense of humor. But he had been burdened from his early days with a sense of melancholia that he called “the hypo,” a slang term for morbid depression.


Lincoln’s friends noticed how he would have “spells” of dark hopelessness when he would retreat into himself, emerging only by dint of working hard and being sociable. Lincoln has been medically “diagnosed” more than any other president, but whether he was clinically depressed in the modern sense cannot be determined, despite the confidence of some scholars. The nineteenth-century term “melancholia” seems less anachronistic, not least because of Lincoln’s sense of fatalism that life had to be endured.

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