Mathew Brady's portrait photograph of Abraham Lincoln

Did This Photo Get President Abraham Lincoln Elected?

A single photo in the media can make or break a political career – was a photograph the reason Abraham Lincoln was elected President?

Looking back, most people hold President Abraham Lincoln in very high esteem. He helped usher the US toward equality (although we’re clearly still working through that one), and officially ended the country’s only civil war (so far – I am snarky today!). All in all, history portrays Lincoln as one of the most remarkable men in the history of the United States. It’s only natural to think he was born with the qualities we all admire, but what if he wasn’t? What if a single photograph and propaganda helped get him elected?

In today’s day and age, a single photograph can make or break an indvidual’s reputation. Especially a public figure or celebrity. Suppose the wrong photograph leaks, a life can be ruined instantaneously. But when the right photo circulates, it can change a person’s life for the better. It was no different during the presidential election of 1860 when photographer Mathew Brady’s image of Abraham Lincoln went viral (or, rather, the 1800s equivalent of viral).

Can the spectacle of modern politics today be traced back to a photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken during the presidential election in 1860? Host Vincent Brown reveals the specific choices made by Lincoln and renowned portrait photographer Mathew Brady in hopes of casting the candidate as presidential in his iconic 1860 portrait.