Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Anthony Berger
Albumen silver print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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The most satisfactory likeness.”


Despite his reputation as an expert speaker in everything from joke-telling to formal oratory, Lincoln was very careful about what he said and was, in fact, very reticent about speaking in public, especially extemporaneously. He frequently disappointed crowds at serenades and other informal events by not doing much more than greeting them. He did not want to speak off the cuff and risk being misunderstood.


Lincoln was aware of the power of words, so he husbanded them for maximum impact, and subjected his major speeches and state papers to many revisions. Lincoln also had a larger sense that it was not fitting for the president to speak too much, especially on informal matters. To keep himself—literally—in the public eye, Lincoln relied on photographs of himself, not words.

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