Historical Markers
Lincoln Biography Historical Marker
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Lincoln Biography

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
28 W. Market St., West Chester

Dedication Date:
September 17, 1952

Behind the Marker

The brick Lincoln Building in West Chester, PA, where the first biography of Abraham Lincoln was published, in 1860.
The Lincoln Building,  28 W. Market Street, West Chester, PA, 2011.
By late 1859, Abraham Lincoln was emerging as a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. He was a party leader in Illinois, one of the key Democratic-leaning states that the Republicans had to control to win the White House. In 1858, Lincoln opposed Democrat Stephen Douglas for the Senate seat in Illinois. Although Douglas was chosen as Senator, Lincoln's strong performance during their 1858 debates won him national attention. He had also placed second in the balloting for vice-president at the 1856 Republican convention in Philadelphia. Lincoln was not the most likely choice, but he was becoming a serious contender.

Curious about the Illinois attorney, Joseph Lewis, publisher of the Chester County (Pa) Times contacted a friend of his in central Illinois named Jesse Fell who was close to Lincoln. Fell convinced the candidate to provide an autobiographical sketch that Lewis could turn into a marker flattering newspaper profile.

"Here with is a little sketch, as you requested," Lincoln wrote. "There is not much of it, for the reason, I suppose, that there is not much of me." He warned Fell that if "anything be made of it," he hoped it would be "modest" and "not go beyond the materials." He was concerned that he might look too ambitious. "Of course," he added, the profile "must not appear to have been written by myself."

Lincoln then offered a summary of his life, emphasizing his "undistinguished" origins and lack of education. He joked that if "a straggler supposed to understand latin" appeared in his childhood community, "he was looked upon as a wizzard." He ended with a memorable description. "I am, in height, six feet, four inches, nearly;" he wrote, "lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and grey eyes - no other marks or brands recollected."

The subsequent profile that was published in the Chester County Times on February 11, 1860 was reprinted in Republican newspapers across the North.
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