In A Nutshell
Abraham Lincoln is widely accepted as one of the United States’ best presidents. But while in office, many of the American people not only thought he was doing a horrible job but also considered him to be a complete fool. It wasn’t until his tragic assassination that he rose to the ubiquitous popularity he has today.
The Whole Bushel
When Lincoln took office in March 1861, he was entering a presidency he had won with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. Reactions from the public were so negative that on the eve of his inauguration he had to be smuggled into the capital during the dead of night in a disguise. He was looked down upon for everything from his humble beginnings and lack of education to his awkward appearance and high voice. Even the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan, called him the “original gorilla.” (Gives a whole new meaning to to term “OG.”)
In 1861, Lincoln inherited a nation in crisis. With the United States on the brink of civil war, the American public was on edge and blamed Lincoln for everything going wrong in the country. Of course, Southerners hated him for trying to change the way of life they’d known for years. They resented him for trying to abolish slavery and declared their secession from the Union on February 4, 1861. But Northerners weren’t fond of him either, unimpressed with his slow start at the presidency. They expected him to being doing more and to be doing it sooner.
People even hated his speeches. The Gettysburg Address—now revered as one of the greatest speeches of all time and memorized by school children across the nation—was panned by many. One Chicago Times writer said: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” Ouch.
Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, said the constant deluge of insults wore on the president’s feelings, and Lincoln himself reportedly said, “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” But he refused to take his criticisms too much to heart. Lincoln went on to win the reelection in 1864, and he led the North to victory when General Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War on April 9, 1865. Lincoln was, of course, tragically shot by John Wilkes Booth just six days later.
Of course, Lincoln also had his supporters during his presidency, and his death was mourned by millions. But it wasn’t until his assassination that he had a true surge in popularity, sending him to the beloved status he has today. It was only then, as Edwin Stanton said, that he was relinquished to the ages.
Show Me The Proof
The Atlantic: ‘Idiot,’ ‘Yahoo,’ ‘Original Gorilla’: How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day
Civil War Trust: Evidence for The Unpopular Lincoln
Smithsonian: My Great-Great-Grandfather Hated the Gettysburg Address. 150 Years Later, He’s Famous For It.