"Our Presidential Merryman"
"The Presidential party was engaged in a lively exchange of wit and humor. The President Elect was the merriest among the merry, and kept those around him in a continual roar."--Daily Paper.
This Harperís Weekly cartoon by John McLenan appeared a few weeks
before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States on March
20, 1861. It depicts a drunken President-elect Lincoln, inappropriately
wisecracking with his cronies, while the funeral procession for the Union and
the Constitution pass in the background. Between Lincolnís election in
November 1860 and his inauguration over four months later, seven Southern slave
states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America (and
were joined by four more states after the Civil War began in April 1861).
This cartoon is a reminder that many of Lincolnís contemporaries judged his
character harshly and had low expectations for his presidency. During the 1860
presidential campaign, the Harpers firm used its monthly and weekly publications
to lend tacit support to Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, nominee of the
Northern Democrats and Lincolnís old rival from the senatorial race of 1858.
Here, the artist builds on Democratic claims that Lincoln was unsuitable for the
presidency. At a time in the nationís history when the utmost seriousness and
integrity were required in its chief executive, Lincoln had a proclivity for
telling jokes and amusing anecdotes and a reputation with some as a
hard-drinking, mendacious country lawyer. In fact, Lincoln did not drink.
Once the Civil War began in April 1861, Harperís Weekly would take a
firm pro-Union stance. The newspaper, however, would not become strongly
pro-Lincoln until the editorship of George William Curtis began in December
1863. Although Lincoln gained stature during his years in office, his popularity
in the Union states fluctuated widely during the Civil War (and of course he was
hated in the Confederacy). It was not until after his assassination that Lincoln
became esteemed as a great president whose leadership abilities and honorable
character accounted for his remarkable achievements under very difficult
circumstances. Today, polls of both historians and the general public
consistently place Lincoln at the top of the list of Americaís best
Robert C. Kennedy