Rediscovering Thomas Nast’s Early Sketches of Abraham Lincoln

The cartoonist's first drawings recently turned up in an old scrapbook.

Abraham Lincoln
Portrait of American President Abraham Lincoln. (Katherine Young/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln passed through New York seven times, but three of those trips were memorable. The first was in 1860 when he delivered the address at Cooper Union that made him a plausible presidential candidate. The third was in April 1865 when his body was brought through on the funeral train taking him home, writes The New Yorker. The middle visit, in February 1861, was seemingly less momentous. But during that trip the cartoonist Thomas Nast saw him for the first time and made a series of drawings that are “startling in their intimacy and alert observational power,” according to The New Yorker. The sketches were known about only through scholarly rumor, but now they have been uncovered, found tucked among the sketches in a Civil War notebook. Nast drew two small portraits of Lincoln’s face. The discovery was made by historian Ted Widmer, who came upon them in the archives of Brown University. All the sketches in the Civil War notebook are attributed to Nast, and while turning the pages, Widmer found a series showing Lincoln arriving at 30th Street train station, the precursor to New York’s Penn Station. Nast was only 20, but he was already drawing regularly for Harper’s Weekly and other papers. The drawings are exceptionally free and vivid and are done in shorthand.

“He looks so strong in these drawings—like a real force of nature, coming at the darkest moment to save the country, and even global democracy. With all its imperfections, the United States was still the largest democracy. If we didn’t make it, democracy didn’t. That was his point. And you see its outer surface here,” said Widmer, according to The New Yorker.

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