Lincoln was under no illusions about his looks. One story goes that when a political rival accused him of being two-faced, Lincoln dryly replied “If I had another face, do you think I’d be wearing this one?” His homely looks were no problem when he was a relatively low-profile Illinois attorney. When he became the Republican nominee for President, however, people all over the country were suddenly clamoring for images of him – they wanted to get a look at the man who would most likely be leading their country come November.
Thanks to advances in photography, printing, and lithography, it was now easier than ever to mass-produce images. Pictures of Lincoln appeared on campaign buttons, banners, ribbons, pamphlets, posters, you name it. And not all of his supporters were pleased with the results.
Most Lincoln buffs are familiar with Grace Bedell, the youngest Lincoln fan to suggest that his looks could use an overhaul. The eleven year old native of Westfield, New York wrote him a letter on October 15 hinting that Lincoln’s political outlook would be brighter if he grew a beard. She wrote “I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband's to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Lincoln, at that time, read only a fraction of the incoming letters he received. He employed a secretary to handle the flood of mail directed to him ever since he had captured the Republican nomination for Presidency, most of which were written by people either offering political advice or asking for a job. Nevertheless, Grace Bedell’s letter somehow found its way into his hands, and Lincoln was charmed enough by it to write her a personal letter back. He brought up the issue of a beard to the “dear little miss”: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?”
But Grace Bedell wasn’t the only person to suggest Lincoln grow a beard. Campaign buttons and daguerreotypes featuring Lincoln’s angular visage were adorning the chests of Republicans everywhere, and these partisans were troubled by Lincoln’s sharp cheeks and thin neck, which no doubt attracted scorn and derision from Democratic observers. Three days before Grace Bedell wrote her famous letter, a group of citizens calling themselves “True Republicans” took it upon themselves to write to Lincoln offering the very same suggestion:
To the Hon. Abm. Lincoln
Allow a number of very earnest Republicans to intimate to you, that after oft-repeated views of the daguerreotypes; which we wear as tokens of our devotedness to you; we have come to the candid determination that these medals would be much improved in appearance, provided you would cultivate whiskers and wear standing collars.
Believe us nothing but an earnest desire that "our candidate" should be the best looking as well as the best of the rival candidates, would induce us to trespass upon your valued time
Your most sincere & earnest well wishers
P. S. We really fear votes will be lost to "the cause" unless our "gentle hints" are attended to. T. R.
The last photograph of Lincoln without a beard was taken on August 13, 1860. Sometime after that, Lincoln visited his barber, an African-American man named William Florville. As Florville sharpened his razor in preparation for a shave, Lincoln stopped him, saying “Billy, let’s them them a chance to grow.” The first photograph of him with newly-sprouted whiskers was taken on November 25, 1860.
While Grace Bedell has generally been given all the credit for this decision, perhaps the truth of the matter is that Lincoln was being pressured from more than one direction to do something about his appearance. His beard might well have been an early instance of a political public relations machine at work - "spinning" Lincoln's looks from those of a homely lawyer to those of a distinguished statesman.
 Grace Bedell to Abraham Lincoln, 15 October 1860, Detroit Public Library.
 Abraham Lincoln to Grace Bedell, 19 October 1860, in Roy P. Basler et al, eds., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 129.
 Anonymous to Abraham Lincoln, 12 October 1860, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress.
 Lloyd Ostendorf, Lincoln’s Photographs: A Complete Album (Dayton, OH: Rockywood Press, 1998), 67.