“Columbia’s Noblest Sons”: Washington and Lincoln in Popular Prints
The admiration of these two former presidents has risen to the level of a posthumous apotheosis in artistic representation.
By Harold Holzer
Historian, Lincoln Scholar
“I venture to claim for Abraham Lincoln the place next to George Washington.” So wrote George S. Boutwell, the Civil War congressman from Massachusetts who went on to serve under Ulysses S. Grant as secretary of the treasury. “Between Washington and Lincoln,” he suggested in reminiscences published in the late 1880s, “there were two full generations of men, but of them all, I see not one who can be compared with either.”
By the time Boutwell expressed those views, few Americans could see anything to dispute his judgment. Inventive, suggestive, and ubiquitous popular prints of the first and sixteenth presidents—showing Washington at first inspiring Lincoln and ultimately sharing with him a unique pantheon of American glory—had by then stamped the message of their almost mystical association indelibly onto the popular consciousness. In the revealing words of the captions to two such prints, joint portraits of “Columbia’s Noblest Sons” (as they were called in the graphic arts) became nothing less than our “National Picture.”
But the evolution of these interconnected images did not spring overnight from the universal mourning that greeted Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Although eulogists then gave full expression to the growing belief that the martyred Civil War leader had in death gained a stature equal to that of the father of his country, pictorial evidence of the origins of the genre could be found as early as the 1860 election. There had been prophetic echoes, too, in Lincoln’s own words, almost from the beginning of his political career—cautiously at first, then with increasing conviction, signaling a belief that by aspiring to Washington’s “spotless” record, as he described it, he might in time aspire to be his historical heir. Pictures would eventually vivify Lincoln’s aspirations.
Getting right with the nation’s founders was a staple of both political rhetoric and political pictures in mid-nineteenth-century America; in fact, that aspiration had been evident early and repeatedly enough to inspire John Adams to term it “one of the national sins of our country … [the] idolatrous worship paid to the name of George Washington by all classes and nearly all parties.” Lincoln was not immune to the temptation. In his Lyceum and Temperance addresses in Springfield, for example, he piously invoked the first president’s name, suggesting in the latter that “to add brightness to the sun or glory to Washington, is alike impossible.” But when the Kansas-Nebraska Act “aroused” Lincoln back into the national arena after his long political hiatus, he returned with a new sense that Washington’s example did not exist merely to be admired, but to be emulated—and when necessary, used—to advantage. Debating Stephen A. Douglas at Ottawa, he would equate his opposition to popular sovereignty with a desire to place the institution “where Washington … placed it.” At Cooper Union two years later he repeated the same message. 
With such rhetoric on record—the Cooper Union address was printed in newspapers and circulated in at least three pamphlet versions—it would have been natural for American printmakers to begin visually echoing these associations once Lincoln catapulted to national prominence in 1860. Although his nomination for president triggered a huge public demand for his portraits, few artists immediately responded with Lincoln-Washington images. Only a handful surfaced in 1860. 
Lincoln’s initial “appearance” with Washington came only a few months after the convention, in the Chicago publisher Edward Mendel’s crude lithograph of an 1859 photograph by Samuel Fassett of that city. Mendel’s work was quickly advertised as the “most accurate Portrait yet published,” applauded by Lincoln himself, whose letter of praise was reprinted in full. Mendel had shrewdly sent Lincoln a copy of the portrait, and Lincoln acknowledged it as a “truthful Lithograph Portrait of myself”—the word truthful underlined. To Lincoln, there may have been sufficient “truthfulness” in the flattering inclusion of the Washington bust to excuse all the picture’s obvious artistic shortcomings.
So far as we know, Lincoln’s letter to Mendel was advertised only once, otherwise it might well have inspired rival printmakers to take up the Washington-Lincoln genre too. Only one did so, with a mysterious, undated campaign-era lithograph that featured Washington on one side ( Figure 1) and Lincoln on the other (Figure 2). Its unusual format meant that it could not be displayed without necessarily hiding one or the other subject, suggesting that this print may have been designed to be waved at parades and rallies, held aloft on the end of a pole. The only other known contribution from this period, also designed for outdoor rather than parlor display, came from the New York firm of H. H. Lloyd. Lloyd combined the famous Gilbert Stuart Athenaeum portrait of Washington with a Mathew Brady photograph, taken at the time Lincoln was invoking Washington at Cooper Union, for an elaborate Lincoln-Hamlin campaign poster titled “The National Republican Chart”; the poster suggested that Washington was somehow blessing both the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket and the Republican platform. This was no image-making watershed, however; the Lloyd firm used precisely the same Washington portrait for a “National Political Chart,” which gave more prominence to John Bell and Stephen A. Douglas than to Lincoln. Only after the election did Lloyd issue a “New Political Chart,” with Lincoln standing alone, dwarfing even the emblematic image of Washington. It was a sure sign of things to come.
Figure 1 & 2, lithographer unknown
Lincoln did much to speed his own transfiguration. Once elected, he pointedly and regularly invoked the Washington name, reassuring the South, for example, that it “would be in no more danger [from me] … than it was in the days of Washington.” Even so, it required a major leap of faith, perhaps taste as well, to compare oneself to (much less to suggest that one faced greater challenges than) the very founder of the nation—”the eagle, the standard, the flag,” in the words of one Washington contemporary, “the living symbol of the Republic.” Yet departing Springfield for his inauguration a few weeks later, Lincoln told his neighbors—in words he surely knew would be printed in newspapers throughout the nation—that he had before him “a task greater than that which faced Washington.” He ended by asking the guidance of “that Divine Being, who ever attended him [emphasis added],” suggesting that he shared with Washington not only a political legacy but also a special relationship with God. 
In city after city, as his train steamed eastward toward the capital that bore Washington’s name, the president-elect called forth the comforting specter of the American St. George. In Cincinnati, he promised the South, “We mean to treat you … as Washington … treated you.” And in Trenton, the day before Washington’s birthday, he discoursed nostalgically about the influence exerted on him as a child by Weems’s Life of Washington, admitting that he was “exceedingly anxious that that thing which they struggled for … shall be perpetuated.” To allow the Union to disintegrate, he added once in the White House, would violate the very legacy he had inherited. There was neither “manhood nor honor in that,” he protested, adding: “There is no Washington in that.” The extraordinary message was clear: Lincoln was not only Washington’s political successor, but his spiritual heir as well.
Once again, however, the printmakers’ response to the rekindled imagery of words proved sluggish and uninspired. Of course, public demand for Lincoln pictures had been sated by then by the plethora of campaign portraits still in circulation. As a result, only one early wartime print took note of Lincoln’s renewed Washington emphasis—and even that effort was attributable chiefly to convenience and coincidence. A bust of Washington had been the centerpiece of an outdated 1852 engraving depicting the leaders of antebellum America gathered before the emblematic symbol of the first president. To update “Union”—whose title seemed now particularly appropriate even if its cast of characters no longer was—a printmaker had simply dusted off the old plate, burnished out the face of its central figure John C. Calhoun, and superimposed that of Lincoln.
Figures 3 & 4 / Lincoln Museum
It did not seem to much matter that the resulting composite was an anachronism; Lincoln was shown inexplicably posing alongside men who were long dead, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Only a few concessions to the sea change in American politics in the intervening decade were attempted: Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, was inserted where former president James Buchanan had stood in the original; General John Wool was put in place of defeated presidential aspirant John Bell; and three Southerners, W. P. Mangum of North Carolina, William R. King of Alabama, and Howell Cobb of Georgia, were replaced, respectively, by Secretary of State William H. Seward, General Benjamin F. Butler, and the orator Edward Everett. 
When this version, too, became outdated because Lincoln grew a beard, yet another state of the engraving appeared. The Lincoln of Cooper Union was “updated” through the addition of hastily drawn whiskers, but with the implausible 1852 figures still dominating the scene. It is difficult to imagine what Lincoln-era audiences made of this perplexing assemblage, but surely if they purchased the print for their homes it was because Lincoln was all but wrapped around the inspiring, nation-affirming symbol of his predecessor. And the fact that the Lincoln updating went through two separate printings indicates its considerable appeal. Further proof can be found in publisher William Pate’s catalog of titles for 1861, in which “Union” was prominently listed at $1 wholesale, just below four different portraits of George Washington. Washington was still the predominant American symbol, occupying a place, as “Union” proved, even in those prints that did not portray him directly. But Abraham Lincoln was beginning to catch up.
For a time, Washington’s resonating presence remained a staple of early Civil War iconography. It was much in evidence in early group portraits of all sixteen presidents, prints that suggested the continuity of both the Union and the institution of the presidency in the face of secession and rebellion. Many examples, including one 1861 chromolithograph, were so hastily rushed to the marketplace that their Lincolns were still clean-shaven, even though the future president had begun sporting whiskers nearly four months before his inauguration. But it was Washington who remained the focus, slightly larger than his successors. One typical example, the 1861 lithograph titled “Peace,” produced by Middleton, Strobridge & Company, did not even grant Lincoln the respect his new office demanded: It referred to him colloquially as “Abe. Lincoln” and all but submerged him not only to Washington but also to symbolic scenes that represented commerce and the compatibility of slave and free labor.
Yet another sign of Washington’s uninterrupted dominance of national iconography could be seen in “Family Record of American Allegiance,” an 1861 novelty item designed to accommodate private oaths of “true and faithful allegiance” to the Union (Figure 5). While Lincoln’s portrait crowned the cluster of celebrities that included Anderson, Butler, George B. McClellan, and Winfield Scott, Washington’s overarching likeness loomed largest, as did the text of his “Sentiment” reprinted on a nearby scroll. In fact, as much space was devoted to Washington’s vision of “an indissoluble Union of the States” as to the sentiments of Lincoln, Douglas, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson combined.
Figure 5: Currier & Ives, “Family Record of American Allegiance,” 1861. (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
As the quotations suggest, Union and the Constitution had emerged as the common threads that bound Lincoln and Washington, helping to forge the permanent cultural affiliation that was to achieve its greatest visual form once the Union was saved and Lincoln martyred. But for all his earlier efforts to instill such mystic chords of memory, even to applaud the first effort to portray it, Lincoln himself ceased calling up the ghost after Washington’s Birthday in 1862, the same year Johnson & Fry of New York issued an engraving of him gazing at a bust of Washington while clutching the Constitution and trampling on a document labeled “articles of secession.” As for Lincoln himself, he never publicly mentioned Washington again. By the following year, he no longer had to do so. In the historian James M. McPherson’s words, Lincoln had supplanted the first American Revolution with a second American revolution, and its chief symbol would be himself.
Once Lincoln changed the purpose of the Civil War from preserving the Union (which Washington helped forge) to eradicting the institution of slavery (which the Founders had tolerated), Washington became for Lincoln—if not his image-makers—an inexpedient and outdated symbol. But evoking comparisons between the two presidents remained, for graphic artists, irresistible, and for their audiences, inescapable. Henry Ward Beecher, for one, claimed to see early in the war that Lincoln had been “ordained” to purge the Union “of a worse oppression” than that which confronted the Founders. “Joined together one and inseparable,” he predicted with uncanny foresight, “we shall hereafter hear on jubilees the shouts ‘Washington and Lincoln!—the Fathers.'” Americans would not only hear such jubilees but see their pictorial equivalents as well. 
From the beginning, it helped that portraitists had been affixing noticeably Washingtonian embellishments into the fabric of Lincoln’s image. For example, early scenes showing Lincoln mauling rails affirmed not only his rise from poverty but also reminded voters that the man who could so effortlessly chop wood was a worthy successor to a man who, according to legend, had hurled a coin across a river. Myth also held that Washington could never tell a lie, and “Honest Abe’s” integrity would be vivified in many prints, including one depicting the Greek philosopher Diogenes discarding his fabled lantern after finding at last in Lincoln the long-sought honest man.
Of course, there were image differences too, but they were pointedly ignored by America’s graphic artists after Harper’s Weeklycharged pictorially only two days before Lincoln’s inauguration that the president-elect believed—along with Seward, Beecher, Horace Greeley, and even John Brown—that no communion was possible with slave-holders, even a slaveholder such as Washington ( Figure 6 ). There were other differences as well. As one period observer noted, Washington “belonged to the Colonial aristocracy,” whereas Lincoln was “made of … homely stuff … a man of the people.” But even prints that shrunk the size of Mount Vernon failed to disguise Washington’s wealth and social status. On the other hand, prints of Lincoln’s far humbler house in Springfield were unable to transform “the simple home of an American statesman” (as one journalist described it) into a hearthstone magnificent enough to have bred a successor to Washington. Perhaps that explains why one printmaker decided in 1865—to use the words of today’s image-making spin doctors—to “level the playing field” by updating an old image of Henry Clay’s huge Kentucky estate, Ashland, simply retitling it “The Home of Our Martyred President” ( Figure 7 ). However clumsily, the publisher was in a way confirming one Lincoln eulogist’s phophesy that, ferences notwithstanding, “Mount Vernon and Springfield will henceforth be kindred shrines.” 
[LEFT]: Figure 6: “No Communion with Slaveholders,” from Harper’s Weekly, March 2, 1861. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
[RIGHT]: Figure 7: Henry Clay’s mansion “Ashland” as “The Home of Our Martyred President.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
Additional disparities were ignored or overlooked. Washington, for example, was the quintessential military hero, and Lincoln very much the civilian. Somehow, one cannot imagine Lincoln in Union blue, although in one scene a printmaker did suggest how he might look conferring with his commanders on the battlefield.
And as Harper’s Weekly had made clear, Lincoln’s relationship with black Americans was far different from Washington’s, yet printmakers never made an issue of the first president’s sole personal blemish. Only the most sophisticated period audiences would notice that although several prints showed grateful liberated slaves kneeling to Lincoln, blacks seen in prints kneeling to Washington were so posed because they were his property (Figure 8). Washington owned slaves, whereas Lincoln freed slaves, but this huge disparity was never illustrated in prints that portrayed the two together. Washington was, even in life, a figure literally placed on a pedestal by the image-makers, a status Lincoln would attain only after his death.
But all the dissimilarities between them, even if audiences ever wholly contemplated or comprehended them, were quickly forgotten when Lincoln became the final casualty of the war to save Washington’s Union. Overnight, Lincoln was elevated into the realm of martyrdom, a metamorphosis immediately visible in a rush of deathbed prints that bore an eerie resemblance to those that had depicted the comparatively peaceful but equally lamented death of Washington.
Then, on the Sunday after Lincoln’s murder, eulogists ascended pulpits throughout the North to compare Lincoln to Jesus, Moses, and, significantly, to an American god as well. Henry Ward Beecher immediately predicted that Lincoln’s “simple and weighty words will be gathered like those of Washington.” So would his portraits. Another eulogist would even take note of the fact that a Lincoln picture had been hung directly below Washington’s for the occasion of his oration. He shared with his audience his belief that in the “coming days their portraits shall hang side by side.” Within weeks, that prophesy would be fulfilled. 
Figure 8: Unknown printmaker’s depiction of Washington with Mount Vernon slaves. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Surely it was not lost subsequently on ordinary Americans, even those who bore witness to Lincoln’s funerals only through the medium of popular prints, that no such catharsis had gripped the country since the funeral of Washington had proved the first universal exception to America’s deeply rooted fear of hero-worship and “excessive mourning.” 
Eulogists and journalists continued hammering away at the tragedy. Only a few weeks after Lincoln was laid to rest, Charles Sumner shared with a Boston audience his view that “the work left undone by Washington was continued by Lincoln.” And Wendell Phillips was soon predicting that “history will add … [Lincoln’s] name to the bright list” of American heroes led by Washington, “that galaxy of Americans which makes our history the day star of the nations.” Printmakers may well have been inspired to visualize and market such declarations. 
Some historians have likened the impassioned political culture of the nineteenth century to a civil religion. In this atmosphere—quite literally, and with astonishing speed for the period—printmakers created in popular art an exclusively American heavenly pantheon, a nondenominational civil afterworld only vaguely religious in nature. Within it was visualized Lincoln’s apotheosis for the consolation and patronage of his bereaved admirers. Maudlin as they may seem today, such prints offered in their time reassuring visions of the exaltation that Phillips had described, where it was possible to imagine Lincoln being welcomed into immortality by Washington himself (Figure 9).
Figure 9: J. A. Arthur’s version of S. J. Ferris’s “Washington & Lincoln (Apotheosis).”
In these graphics, Washington served as the official gatekeeper of the historical afterworld, offering a laurel wreath and extending his arms to welcome an awkwardly posed Lincoln, whom angels escorted skyward. One such print appeared in editions large enough for parlor display and small enough for insertion into family photograph albums. A sure sign of its popularity was its ability to inspire piracies, like one hastily sketched by an Ohio artist and later published as a lithograph. “Heroes and Saints with fadeless stars have crowned him,” declared a Lincoln dirge that might easily have been inspired by such a print, “and Washington’s dear arms are clasped around him.”  One variation on the theme added an angel offering a palm of victory and a laurel wreath symbolizing triumph and eternity ( Figure 10 ). And a Philadelphia-made example, scarcely better in artistic realization, could nevertheless boast of capturing the spirit of the apotheosis in its caption: Here were “The Founder and the Preserver of the Union,” their celestial meeting verifying that the government “brought forth” by Washington had endured under Lincoln ( Figure 11 ).
[LEFT]: Figure 10: J. Sartain after Hermans, “Abraham Lincoln, The Martyr Victorious.”
[RIGHT]: Thurston, Herline & Co., “The Founder and the Preserver of the Union (Apotheosis).” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
Even in those apotheosis scenes in which he did not act as heavenly greeter, Washington was a visible figure testifying not only to Lincoln’s resurrection but also to a new theme emerging in prints, however anomalous, to unite them: freedom. In one example, the figure of Liberty herself crowns her newest martyr, but while leaning heavily upon a bust of Washington (Figure 12). The allegorical figure carries a capped liberty pole, the symbol of the manumission of slaves, and at her feet are broken shackles representing emancipation together with the Proclamation itself. Here was fresh visual evidence that publishers had found a means of bridging the gulf that separated the two presidents on slavery. Prints could sidestep the issue and still emphasize the theme of liberty by suggesting that, after all, the Emancipation was a second Declaration of Independence for those left out of the first.
Figure 12: Frank Neil, “Liberty Crowning Her Martyr.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
In “Reward of the Just,” Lincoln simply replaced Washington in a resurrection scene ( Figure 13). That curiosity piece invited viewers to compare Lincoln with Jesus rising from the grave. In fact, its design owed its creative debt to Washington. The clues to its origins were ample, if obscure: a shield featuring far too few stars for the 1860s; a Roman warrior’s fasces, an incongruous emblem of power; an American Indian inexplicably prostate with grief; and even the badge of the Society of the Cincinnatus draped from the open catafalque—hardly Lincolnesque symbolism.
Figure 13: D. T. Weist, “In Memory of Abraham Lincoln, the Reward of the Just.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
The explanation was simple, if invisible: the 1865 print was copied directly from a sixty-year-old original that had depicted the apotheosis of Washington ( Figure 14 ). All Philadelphia lithographer D. T. Weist bothered to do in pirating the design was to copy the Mathew Brady studio’s 1864 “five-dollar bill” photograph of Lincoln, change the name etched onto the sarcophogaus, and superimpose the face of Lincoln where Washington’s had rested in the original, leaving other crucial but irrelevant details unaltered. The result was confusing, but sorting out its origins provided the surest sign yet that Lincoln was literally as well as symbolically beginning to replace Washington as a cultural icon.
Figure 14: Barralet, “Apotheosis of Washington.” (Courtesy of the author)
Of course, the unbridgeable generation gap dividing the first and sixteenth presidents dictated that Washington’s most appropriate place in postassassination Lincoln prints was as inspirational idol, the role assigned him in the old Mendel campaign print. Few printmakers were bound by such conventions. And in the postassassination competition to market Lincoln images, some took astonishing liberties. One such print originated as an Andrew Jackson portrait. When demand outpaced creative capacity, the head of Lincoln replaced the original, thus creating a novel if somewhat unconvincing “new” likeness in which not only was Jackson obliterated but a large statuette of George Washington, placed for inspirational emphasis at Lincoln’s side, actually blocked out the sight of the U.S. Capitol as if to emphasize the unprecedented dominance of the executive branch under Lincoln (Figure 15 – not available). The only feature that remained wholly unchanged, except for the pose, was the label on the document each president held in his hand. For both, appropriately, it read “The Union Must and Shall be Preserved.”
Such decorative images-within-images appeared with particular frequency in a genre that had been all but invented for Washington—scenes of the president with his family, which gave audiences the assurance, however ill-founded, that great public men enjoy consoling private lives even while grappling with crises of state. Edward Savage and David Edwin’s watershed engraving of the Washington family circle had proved irresistible. Ralph Waldo Emerson hung such a print in his dining room and confided in his diary: “I cannot keep my eyes off of it.” So far as we know, however, Lincoln’s White House dining room contained no such decoration. Nonetheless, when Lincoln family prints began flooding the market in 1865, many featured within them emblematic pictures of Washington looming reassuringly ( Figure 16), sometimes almost threateningly ( Figure 17), over Lincoln’s family circle. Occasionally, they even dominated the scene, as in D. T. Weist’s family lithograph, in the form of an absurdly large statue placed in such close proximity to Lincoln that in real life a slight movement of his elbow would have sent it toppling off its pedestal. 
[LEFT]: Figure 16: Herline & Hensel, “Abraham Lincoln & His Family.”
[RIGHT]: Lyon & Co., “President Lincoln and Family Circle.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
By comparison, William Sartain’s elegant mezzotint of Lincoln together with his wife and children suggestively placed a Washington bust near a portrait of the Lincolns’ dead son Willie, an additional suggestion that these families were somehow linked ( Figure 18 ). Sartain further reflected the strong affection for Lincoln-Washington connections by issuing the mezzotint simultaneously with a new print of the first family.
W. Sartain, “Lincoln and His Family.”
“Citizens will do well to secure these gems of art,” the Schenectady Gazette advised in a review praising both pictures as “the most tasteful, appropriate and pleasing ornaments which can embellish an American parlor.” Customers could not even purchase one without the other; the catalog offered them only as a pair, at prices ranging from $7.25 to $20. Again, patrons were paying for reassurance and comfort. When such Lincoln prints featured a Washington icon in the near background, viewers might even infer that Washington was practically a Lincoln ancestor—his hoary image gracing the family parlor like an old portait of a grandfather. 
Within a generation, Lincoln would also graduate into the symbolic category that Washington had held in the Lincoln family prints of the 1860s: that of a parlor icon. For when James A. Garfield, too, was assassinated, the only known group portrait of his family would show its members gathered beneath portraits of both Washington and Lincoln. Both had become what only Washington had been before: household gods.
However appealing, these family prints constituted the sole remaining genre that limited the full equalization of the Washington and Lincoln images. In domestic Lincoln settings that included spouse and offspring, Washington could never logically be more than a decoration. But in other designs, artists could find ways to bridge the gulf in time that separated the statesmen in order to present them, just as most Americans seemed prepared now to remember them, literally side by side.
Lincoln achieved parity with Washington in prints like “Champions of Freedom,” which gave full flower to the liberty theme by featuring evocative highlights from each leader’s career ( Figure 19 – unavailable). The message was emphasized in the words beneath each portrait. “Under this flag he led us to Independence,” the Washington caption declared. “Under this flag he led us to Freedom,” it said for Lincoln. In the same vein, E. J. Post’s print “The Father/The Preserver of Our Country” presented for each an aptly chosen quote from his final great address. “Avoid all sectional jealousies,” read the haunting admonition from Washington’s farewell speech; and “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” the ringing words from Lincoln’s second inaugural, offering pardon to those who had failed to heed Washington’s warning.
“They still live in our hearts,” proclaimed “The Martyr and the Father” (Figure 20), a print whose appeal could be confirmed in the copy painstakingly created by an anonymous sailor in scrimshaw, probably after taking the original print with him to sea. What the historian Marcus Cunliffe called the doubled images of Washington and Lincoln were quickly evolving into folk art and folklore alike, but of a uniquely reverential kind. For when New York printmakers Kimmel & Forster adapted their lithography of Generals Grant and Sherman as “The Preservers of Our Union,” they made few changes for their Washington-Lincoln version, entitled “Columbia’s Noblest Sons” ( Figure 21); they did, however, add a drape to the formerly bare-breasted Columbia.
[LEFT]: Figure 20: “The Martyr and the Father: They Still Live in Our Hearts” by an unknown printmaker. (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
[RIGHT]: Figure 21: Kimmel & Forster, “Columbia’s Noblest Sons.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
In several of the “twin” pictures, Lincoln and Washington were completely, if unrealistically, liberated from the confinement of adjoining cameo designs; they were placed side by side, looking almost like contemporaries save for the different styles of hair and costume. Placing them before a flame of liberty in one such print subtitled “The Father and the Saviour of Our Country,” Currier & Ives granted to Washington undeserved superiority of height as well as the expected dominance of gesture, but otherwise suggested parity by having the men actually shake hands in the most earthly of all gestures of greeting ( Figure 22 ). Rival printmaker J. C. McCurdy’s interpretation, under the same title, did make the figure of Lincoln taller ( Figure 23 ), a final concession that presented them once and for all as equals before the eyes of the graphic artists and their audiences. One scholar has suggested that such prints helped re-establish the continuum of the institution of the presidency, interrupted so violently by the Civil War. But in reality, the prints instead provided the strongest evidence yet that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had emerged from the crisis as peerless, unique symbols of a country made and remade in the crucible of war. Just as George Boutwell would later attest, no other presidents were worthy of being portrayed in their considerable shadow. 
[LEFT]: Figure 22: Currier & Ives, “Washington and Lincoln, The Father and the Saviour of Our Country.”
[RIGHT]: Figure 23: J. C. McCurdy, “The Father and The Saviour of Our Country.” (Courtesy of the author)
Several of the more bizarre pairings confirmed the trend even as they confused the issue. One prewar print of Henry Clay had already been transformed during the 1860 presidential campaign into an almost dainty full-length portrait of Lincoln by grafting the old Cooper Union photograph onto Clay’s body, later adding a beard, to transform it into a memorial portrait. Next, a clever printmaker simply copied and inserted a full-length Lansdowne-type Washington portrait to forge an awkward composite. Similarly, a prewar John C. Calhoun print was adpated into a postwar Lincoln by placing the Brady five-dollar-bill head where Calhoun’s had appeared in the original. The result was a Lincoln in majestic robes, which if decidedly unlike the original at least made the inevitable grafting with the Lansdowne Washington far more natural-looking. “The Father, and the Saviour of Our Country” may be the quintessential pairing: the defender and preserver of the republic as patriots and patriarchs ( Figure 24 – not available).
By the end of 1865, such prints had flooded the market. As a result, the creative impetus for new contributions quickly faded. Multiple copies of existing prints may have continued selling well for years, but only one known Lincoln-Washington print bears a copyright date later than 1865, and that one is an 1867 copy of an image originally produced two years earlier. The novelty faded as quickly as it began.
What replaced the vogue in the years that followed echoed—perhaps presaged—the slow but sure transposition in reputation that by the turn of the century placed Lincoln in the preeminent position among American presidents, leaving Washington a notch below. In graphics Lincoln came to dominate Washington, too.
Early signals could be found in the variants inspired by the lithograph “Our Fallen Heroes,” issued in 1865 to honor Lincoln and the Union military martyrs ( Figure 25). With the war over and Southern markets reopened, an all-Confederate version featuring Stonewall Jackson and fellow Southern war casualties appeared in 1867. And that same year, “The Father of Our Country and the Heroes of 1776” was copyrighted, with Washington now occupying the central place that Lincoln had held in the original conception (Figure 26). A Lincoln image had inspired a Washington image instead of the other way around. It would not be the last time.
[LEFT]: Figure 25: Haasis & Lubrecht, “Our Fallen Heroes.” (Courtesy of the Lincoln Museum)
[RIGHT]: Figure 26: Haasis & Lubrecht, “The Father of Our Country and the Heroes of 1776.” (Courtesy of the Old Print Gallery, Washington, D.C.)
During Washington’s undisputed dominance of American graphic arts, even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation could inspire a print that unfairly assigned more prominence to Washington than to the Emancipator himself. After 1865, tributes were routinely granting Lincoln his retrospective due, like the primitive but popular calligraphy prints, one of which used the five-dollar-bill Brady photograph to fashion a Lincoln portrait through the bold outline of the very words of the Proclamation ( Figure 27 ). Later, there was a near-identical design in which Washington’s face emerged from the text of the Declaration of Independence ( Figure 28 ). It was no coincidence; both prints were the work of the same man, W. H. Pratt. But significantly, the Lincoln print had preceded the Washington to the marketplace, even though the Declaration had preceded the Emancipation by four score and seven years. Similarly, two years after Gilman R. Russell, a self-described “professor of penmanship,” reproduced the words of the Emancipation as the background for a celebratory Lincoln portrait ( Figure 29 ), precisely the same design was used for a Washington Declaration of Independence print ( Figure 30 ).
[LEFT]: Figure 27: W. H. Pratt, “Proclamation of Emancipation.”
[RIGHT]: Figure 28: W. H. Pratt, “Declaration of Independence.” (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
[LEFT]: Figure 29: Gilman R. Russell, “Emancipation Proclamation.” (Courtesy of the author)
[RIGHT]: Figure 30: Gilman R. Russell, “Declaration of Independence.” (Courtesy of the Old Print Gallery, Washington, D.C.)
tradition, Lincoln was rewarded with a place alongside, and eventually above, the Founder in cultural history. Speaking at Valley Forge in 1904, Theodore Roosevelt surprised few listeners when he confessed that he could no longer “see how any American can think of either of them without thinking of the other, too, because they represent the same work.” 
Figure 31: Charles Shober, “Behold Oh America, Your Sons the Greatest among Men” (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
That is exactly what the vast array of Lincoln-Washington pairings had long suggested—not only illustrating that metamorphosis but perhaps inspiring it as well. Images such as Louis Shober’s primitive but irresistible lithograph made that shared status clear by depicting the presidents suggestively straddling the reunified American continent, symbolic stacked weaponry at their feet testifying to the return of peace ( Figure 31). The print could have no more accurately reflected national sentiment had it been created to illustrate Charles Sumner’s 1865 eulogy, in which he imagined “Washington and Lincoln associated in the grandeur of their obsequies … kindred in service, kindred in patriotism. One sleeps in the East, and the other sleeps in the West; and thus, in death, as in life, one is the complement of the other.” As the Shober subtitle confirmed, such graphics compellingly invited audiences to “Behold Oh America, Your Sons, The Greatest among Men.” Through deceptively simple but lovingly treasured pictures, Lincoln permanently became, in the Reverend Henry Bellows’s words, “the heir of Washington’s place at the hearths and altars of the land.” And the hearths themselves became transformed into domestic altars for the icons of the nation’s father and saviour. Joint portraits of “Columbia’s Noblest Sons,” as Shober’s representative print affirmed in its revealing caption, became nothing less than America’s “National Picture.” 
- Allen Thorndike Rice, ed., Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (New York: North American Review, 1888), 107, 616–17.
- Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol (New York: Free Press, 1987), 194; The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, with Marion D. Pratt and Lloyd A. Dunlap, asst. eds., 9 vols. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953–55), 1:115, 279, 333, 439; 3:18–19, 527 (hereafter cited as Collected Works).
- Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982), 73; Harold Holzer, “Lincoln and Washington: The Printmakers Blessed Their Union,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 5 (July 1977): 204–10.
- Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Supplement (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1974), 55; Harold Holzer, “The Imagemakers: Portraits of Lincoln in the 1860 Campaign,” Chicago History 7 (Winter 1978–79): 201–6.
- Tazewell Republican [Pekin, Ill.], July 13, 1860; Harold Holzer, Gabor S. Boritt, and Mark E. Neely, Jr., Changing the Lincoln Image (Fort Wayne: Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library and Museum, 1985), 34–40. Grace Bedell, the little girl who thought Lincoln’s face looked so “thin” that he should grow whiskers, was inspired to make the suggestion after seeing Lloyd’s National Republican Charton display at a local fair; see Collected Works, 4:130.
- Collected Works, 4:160, 190; Schwartz, George Washington, 17.
- Collected Works, 4:199, 236.
- Harold Holzer, Gabor S. Boritt, and Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print (New York: Scribner’s, 1984), 8–9; Milton Kaplan, “Heads of State,” Winterthur Portfolio 6 (1970): 140–41.
- Catalogue of Elegant National and Patriotic Steel Engravings Published by William Pate … (N.p., ca. 1861).
- Collected Works, 5:136; James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 3–22.
- New York Times, Nov. 27, 1863.
- Schwartz, George Washington, 197; Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 9, 1861.
- R. M. Whiting, ed., Our Martyred President: Lincoln Memorial Addresses (New York: Abingdon Press, 1915), 22; Schwartz, George Washington, 154. For the best discussion of ubiquitous Washington memorial prints, see Wendy Wick, George Washington: An American Icon—The Eighteenth Century Graphic Portraits (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).
- Schwartz, George Washington, 99.
- Charles Sumner, The Promises of the Declaration of Independence: Eulogy on Abraham Lincoln (Boston: J. E. Farwell, 1865), 6; Waldo W. Braden, Building the Myth: Selected Speeches Memorializing Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 1–2.
- Schwartz, George Washington, 196.
- Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, eds., Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 10 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909–14), 8:300.
- “Lincoln and His Family …” (advertising brochure) (Rochester, N.Y.: R. H. Curran, N.d.).
- Marcus Cunliffe, The Doubled Images of Lincoln and Washington (Gettysburg: Gettysburg College, 1988), 27.
- Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., Popular Images of the Presidency: From Washington to Lincoln (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 128.
- Gabor S. Boritt, Mark E. Neely, Jr., and Harold Holzer, “The European Image of Abraham Lincoln,” Winterthur Portfolio 21 (Summer–Autumn 1986): 167–68.
- Cunliffe, Doubled Images, 8.
- Sumner, Eulogy, 6; Whiting, Our Martyred President, 33, 136.
Originally published by the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 15:1 (Winter 1994, 23-69) under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.