Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Picture That Launched the Presidency

Of all the Presidents who have had strong ties to New York City, Abraham Lincoln might not jump into the forefront of consciousness. In fact, by most accounts, Honest Abe only graced the Big Apple with his presence a grand total of six times (and one of them was in a casket). Yet, his influence on NYC is undeniable if not particularly direct. Perhaps his most triumphant and well-known visit was for his career-making address at the Cooper Institute in February of 1860. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the would-be President as he was effectively launching his platform to the public. The age old adage rang just as true in Lincoln’s day – “if he could make it there…” and he was well-aware that New York was a critical and decisive audience. Though he had given speeches in Congress ten years earlier, he was regarded as an "entire stranger" to the East and considered rough around the edges in more ways than one to the de rigueur populous of NYC. Lincoln was armed and ready with an arsenal of arguments compiled after months of pouring over volumes in the Springfield State Capitol library. A lawyer by trade, he decided his best strategy was to base his speech on facts garnered from first-hand interviews of all the signers of the Declaration, and the document itself, as well as the entire history of the slave trade. Though he was intellectually prepared, the fact remained that Lincoln appeared as though he had only just crawled out from his log cabin in the rural West. In an attempt to urbanize his look, Lincoln’s wild hair was tamed and trimmed and his photograph was taken by then-shutterbug of the stars: Mathew Brady. By cleverly employing symbolic props worthy of the Da Vinci Code, Brady was able to clearly convey Lincoln’s intellectuality, selflessness, and strength and as well as highlight his most flattering physical features. Though the Cooper Union address was hailed by the New York Tribune as "one of the happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this city," many still argue that it was a haircut and a picture that ultimately won Abraham Lincoln the Presidency. 

                                  From frumpy...                                        to FABULOUS!