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Photography in 1860 Election
05-27-2014, 10:26 AM
Post: #1
Photography in 1860 Election

Here's an article I wrote that appeared in the Moline Dispatch, among others.

This one looks at the use of mass-produced photography in the 1860 Presidential election.

Richard Hart is an executive director emeritus of the Abraham Lincoln Association.

1860 election first to use mass-produced photography

Posted Online: April 26, 2014, 9:38 pm
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By Tom Emery,

Today, presidential and congressional elections saturate mass media, as television, the Internet and junk mail pound candidates into the voters' psyche. It's no wonder that many people express relief when the campaigns are over.

Elections in the 19th century were far different. In that era, most voters had little idea what their candidates even looked like. Photography still was in its infancy, and few people -- even the famous -- sat for pictures. Newspapers offered no help, as they were years away from reproducing photographs on their pages.

The 1860 presidential election helped to change that, and a studio in Springfield, Ill., led the way. The photography partnership of Preston Butler and John G. Stewart cranked out up to 450,000 images of the hometown candidate, Abraham Lincoln, that were distributed nationwide.

"When I first saw that figure, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh!'" said Richard Hart, a Springfield attorney and historian who is creating a book on Butler's life. "That would have taken a great deal of work. But it was also one of the first examples of a Madison Avenue-approach to campaigning, with a mass use of images of a candidate."

Many of the images were used on cartes-de-viste, small cards that were easily held or stored in pockets. Others were likely used on photo pins and handbills. More than a thousand went to people who had asked for copies of Lincoln's autograph.

Thanks to Butler and Stewart, many Americans got their first look at the lanky Illinoisan who earned the Republican nod for president. Even though Lincoln had vaulted to national prominence in the 1858 Senate debates with Stephen A. Douglas, most had trouble putting a face to the name, mainly because they had never seen what Lincoln looked like.

"In America in 1860, there would have been an insignificant percentage of the population who would have ever seen Lincoln," said Hart. "Lincoln never left Springfield to campaign during the election. Even though he had traveled some in the past, few people would have had any contact with him, and would have known how he looked only through the mass-produced images."

Ads for Butler's studio offered prints of various photos at the rate of 10 for a dollar. Based on the large number of Lincoln images the studio produced, the venture could have been highly profitable.

Both Butler and Stewart were relatively new to Springfield. A former postmaster of Decatur, Butler arrived in the capital city in the spring of 1856. During the next four years, he photographed Lincoln at least eight times. He also produced a rare photo of Lincoln's wife, Mary, with two of their young sons.

Stewart, a native of England, came to Springfield from New York City in June 1856 at age 21. Though the pictures of Lincoln were actually taken by Butler, it appears Stewart claimed most of the credit, and exaggerated his relationship to Lincoln.

"It seems to me that Stewart was kind of a braggart," said Hart. "He was obviously involved in the studio, and helped Butler with his work. But it is clear that Butler was the one who took the photos. Like many participants in any event, Stewart seems to have grown his connection to Lincoln as the years passed."

Stewart first saw Lincoln in 1857 and remembered him as "big, tall, raw-boned, cadaverous (and) gangly" with "pantaloons that fit only in spots" and "a negligence of dress, or choice (that) caused him to leave a trouser leg caught on the top of one of his boots." He followed Lincoln to a speech at the courthouse and left "very much impressed."

But Stewart never let political preference interfere with business. As he and Butler mass produced the photos of Lincoln, he also made 50,000 pictures of Douglas. Stewart and the "Little Giant" did not meet under happy circumstances. The photographer later recalled that "he was one of a party of men who assisted in carrying the Senator to bed where he was left to work off the torpor of a large and depressing case of intoxication."

There is no record of Butler's whereabouts after 1865. "I find it interesting that there are no known photos that Butler took of Lincoln's funeral," Hart said. "That was a photographer's dream, and they flocked from around the country. But Butler apparently took no photos, which I find highly unusual."

In 1864, Stewart moved 45 miles south to Carlinville. By 1901, he was living in Bloomington, where he provided a long interview on his association with Lincoln for the local newspaper, the Pantagraph.

He finally ended up in Hamilton, a town in northwestern Washington, near the Canadian border, where in 1918, a Bellingham paper printed another long reminiscence of "Lincoln's Photographer." He died in Hamilton four years later.

"The mass production of Lincoln images has to be one of the first, if not the first, examples of that in American political campaigns," Hart said. "It would have been one of the first ways that many in America would have even seen Lincoln. It's certainly a remarkable story."

Tom Emery is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or
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05-29-2014, 04:36 PM
Post: #2
RE: Photography in 1860 Election
This is an interesting article. I believe that some newspapers would sometimes offer it's readers lithograph images sold separately from newspapers. They could be sold by the newsboys or bought at the newspaper office itself. In the 1830s the New York Sun sold thousands of images that supposedly depicted life on the Moon. It was later known as "The Great Moon Hoax."

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05-30-2014, 08:56 AM
Post: #3
RE: Photography in 1860 Election
Good article Tom.

An inexpensive book, (which is why I originally purchased it) that touches on the subject is "The Lincoln Image" by Harold Holzer. I haven't read much by Mr. Holzer, but I've enjoyed the few that I have. This book has LOTS of good pictures.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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05-30-2014, 10:52 AM
Post: #4
RE: Photography in 1860 Election
Speaking of Harold Holzer, I have been in touch with him over the past few days and just learned that he had a terrible fall in mid-April that damaged his shoulder so badly that it required a shoulder replacement. That operation has resulted in a serious infection that he has had difficulty fighting. Keep him in your thoughts. He is a remarkable Lincoln scholar - and can churn out books faster than anyone I know! I think he has Nora Roberts and James Patterson beat...
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05-30-2014, 04:56 PM (This post was last modified: 05-30-2014 05:01 PM by BettyO.)
Post: #5
RE: Photography in 1860 Election
Excellent article, Tom! Thanks so very much for posting it.

Laurie, I'm so sorry to here about Harold's injuries! My 91 year old mom fell over a month ago, broke her shoulder in four places and had surgery to repair it - a steel plate and nine pins. It's been a touch go, but she's doing wonderfully well.

I wish Harold all the best - hope he gets well soon! He's in my thoughts and prayers.

"The Past is a foreign country...they do things differently there" - L. P. Hartley
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