Teach PA History
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Public Views of Lincoln
Background Information for Teachers

In the 1830s, a new printing process called "lithography" was developed that allowed mass production of colorful prints inexpensively. Print publishers like Currier and Ives competed to sell timely prints of the latest news just days after events happened. New magazines like Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Weekly, and Vanity Fair were founded to tell the news in a brand new way – in pictures!
This new media form coincided perfectly with Abraham Lincoln's election and presidency. Political cartoons editorialized through witty caricature and writing. Lincoln was an ideal topic, not only because he was producing headlines, but also because his long, lanky form and rough-featured face begged to be caricatured.
Some of the cartoons appearing in the magazines and in prints served as a kind of public opinion poll on Lincoln as president. Other illustrations and prints hung in Americans" homes to display patriotism during the Civil War. For students today, interpreting these images of Lincoln offers a visual way to better understand changing public views of this complex president at a complex time.

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