Abraham Lincoln, 1865

Alexander Gardner
Albumen silver print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Listen to historian David Ward discuss this image

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“Now he belongs to the ages.”


One of the most haunting images in American history and art, this portrait was taken in February 1865. The picture of Lincoln—hollowed, careworn, and yet with a slight smile still after four years of war—is given added poignancy by the crack that appeared in the negative after it was developed.


Inadvertent, the crack nonetheless symbolizes the division of the Union that Lincoln dedicated himself to prevent. Looking forward, the line of fracture seems almost to presage the path of the bullet that John Wilkes Booth would fire on April 14.


With Lincoln’s death, cracks would again appear in the Union, as the government struggled to determine how America would be reconstructed. After the assassination, this image became an icon in the deification of the martyred president.

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