What Did Abraham Lincoln Look Like In Color?

President Abraham Lincoln is remembered for many things: helping to abolish slavery, leading the United States out of the Civil War, and being one of the most widely-respected presidents of all time. But one thing President Lincoln isn't known for is dashing good looks. Lincoln was, by most accounts, a rather unusual-looking man, to put it lightly. But not everyone did put it lightly. In fact, per CNN, one journalist described Lincoln as "the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms, and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame," adding that Lincoln "has most unwarrantably abused the privilege which all politicians have of being ugly."

That journalist was correct about one thing: Elected officials don't necessarily need to be handsome to be good at their jobs. That said, being more physically appealing can sometimes help politicians gain support from the public. For example, Abraham Lincoln Online documents a famous incident in 1860 in which an eleven-year-old girl, Grace Bedell, wrote to Lincoln asking him to grow out his beard. "If you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of [my brothers] to vote for you," Bedell wrote, adding, "You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin," and, "All the ladies like whiskers." Lincoln ultimately agreed with Bedell. From 1860 until his assassination in 1865, President Lincoln would never again be seen without his iconic beard — one that gave him the more refined look we're all familiar with today.

In color, it's clear how much the presidency aged Abraham Lincoln

Whether or not Abraham Lincoln's beard helped him get elected in 1860 is unclear, but we can say that photography played a key role in his success. Having been born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana, the presidential candidate feared that voters would view him as a "country bumpkin," as InsideHook puts it. As a result, Lincoln was incredibly grateful to photographer Matthew Brady for taking a picture of him with a sophisticated look and a dignified suit; that photograph helped improve Lincoln's reputation nationwide, and he later cited it as one of the key reasons he won the presidency.

However, the Science and Media Museum points out that the first practical processes for color photography weren't developed until the 1890s — several decades after Lincoln's death. But that doesn't stop us from visualizing what Lincoln would have looked like in color. Pictured above is a digitally colorized version of a photograph of President Lincoln taken on November 8th, 1863 by Alexander Gardner — just two weeks before Lincoln delivered his iconic Gettysburg Address. In this picture, you can see Lincoln's tan skin creased by premature, stress-induced wrinkles; likewise, his dark brown hair has some early white streaks. Lincoln was only 54 at the time, but the piercing gaze of his grey eyes makes him seem much older. Of course, you can also see Lincoln's iconic brown "whiskers," which do help his thin face seem fuller. For that, we can thank young Grace Bedell.