Cultural depictions of Abraham Lincoln

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The Apotheosis of Abraham Lincoln, greeted by George Washington in heaven, who is holding a laurel wreath (an 1860s work, post-assassination)

Since his death in 1865, Abraham Lincoln has been an iconic American figure depicted—usually favorably or heroically—in many forms. Lincoln has often been portrayed by Hollywood, almost always in a flattering light.[1][2]

Statues of Abraham Lincoln and other tributes[edit]

Statue of Lincoln at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Outside the United States[edit]

Statues of Abraham Lincoln can be found in other countries. In Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is a 13-foot (4 m) high bronze statue, a gift from the United States, dedicated in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The U.S. received a statue of Benito Juárez in exchange, which is in Washington, D.C. Juárez and Lincoln exchanged friendly letters during the American Civil War, Mexico remembers Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican-American War. (For his part, Juárez refused to aid the Confederacy and jailed those Confederates who sought his help.) There is also a statue in Tijuana, Mexico, showing Lincoln standing and destroying the chains of slavery. There are at least three statues of Lincoln in the United Kingdom—one in Parliament Square in London by Augustus St. Gaudens, one in Manchester by George Grey Barnard and another in Edinburgh by George Bissell. There is also a bust of the President at St Andrews Church in Hingham, Norfolk, where Lincoln's ancestors lived. In Havana, Cuba, there is a bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Museum of the Revolution, a small statue of him in front of the Abraham Lincoln School, and a bust of him near the Capitolio. In Quito, Ecuador, a statue of Lincoln can be found in the Plaza Abraham Lincoln. Avenida Abraham Lincoln, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is one of the capital city's most important and trafficked streets.


Walt Whitman was especially fascinated by Lincoln during the Civil War and wrote several famous poems about him. Lincoln was fond of Whitman's poetry even before the war.[3] by David S. Reynolds


Over 1000 pieces of music spanning every generation since his presidency have been written about Lincoln.[4]

Film, drama and fiction[edit]

Lincoln has been portrayed in many films and TV shows since 1908.[6][7]


Lincoln himself wrote poetry and at least one piece of fiction loosely based upon one of the murder cases he defended as a young lawyer. In April 1846, The Quincy Whig published Lincoln's short story under the title "A Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder". The story was republished in March 1952 by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and retitled "The Trailor Murder Mystery." Lincoln refers to his own unnamed character as "the defense" and "the writer of this".[8]

Late 1800s[edit]

  • In Jules Verne's 1870 novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a fictitious steam frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, is sent to hunt down the "monster" that has been attacking ships at sea, and is attacked itself. Captain Nemo also has a portrait of Lincoln hanging in his study on board the Nautilus. In the prequel The Mysterious Island, the five shipwrecked Union prisoners name the island which they discover, "Lincoln Island".
  • The German writer Karl May wrote two stories concerning Canada Bill Jones: Ein Self-man (1878) and Three carde monte (1879). The narrator meets several times with the young Abraham Lincoln and together they oppose "Kanada-Bill". Both stories have in common the first meeting of the heroes: The narrator finds Lincoln in a forest training to orate.[9]


The first motion picture based on Lincoln was 1908 film The Reprieve: An Episode in the Life of Abraham Lincoln. Directed by Van Dyke Brooke, the film shows Lincoln pardoning a sentry who fell asleep on duty, a theme that would be depicted repeatedly in other silent era shorts. This era is also when the first Abraham Lincoln impersonators originated, and the modern idea of what he sounded like is derived from these.[7]


As with the first picture on Lincoln, most of the films in this decade featured Lincoln pardoning soldiers charged with falling asleep on sentry duty. Films included Abraham Lincoln's Clemency (1910), When Lincoln Paid (1913), The Sleeping Sentinel (1914) and The Birth of a Nation (1915).

John Drinkwater's play, Abraham Lincoln (1918), was successful on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching Broadway and the West End. Drinkwater was an English poet and playwright. In the same year, he was also depicted in the song "Abraham Lincoln, what would you do?" as a means to promote U.S. involvement in World War I.









  • The Civil War (1990) Sam Waterston played Lincoln
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown", Lincoln (played by Jack Klaff) was featured as a Waxdroid in a theme park planet called Waxworld, where evil waxdroids and good waxdroids are fighting.
  • The Speeches of Abraham Lincoln (1995)
  • A&E Biography: "Abraham Lincoln - Preserving the Union" (1997)
  • An Abraham Lincoln robot acts as a defense attorney for African-American children Leon, Kahlil, LaShawn and Pee-Wee in Bebe's Kids (1992).
  • Lincoln (voiced by Peter Renaday) is assisted in writing the Gettysburg Address by the Warners in the Animaniacs episode "Four Score and Seven Migraines Ago" (1993).
  • Lincoln appeared as an occasional guest host on Histeria!, especially in two episodes centered on the Civil War. Pepper Mills mistakes him for Lurch from The Addams Family, and one sketch shows the Civil War politics like an episode of Seinfeld, with Lincoln as Jerry and George B. McClellan as George Costanza. In another sketch, Loud Kiddington demands he explain the parts of the Gettysburg Address that he doesn't understand (such as what "four score" means). On Histeria!, Abe acts like Johnny Carson and was voiced by Maurice LaMarche.
  • In the 1993 film Coneheads, Dan Aykroyd's character dresses as Lincoln for a costume ball, as the President's stovepipe hat effectively covers his cone-shaped head.
  • In an episode of the HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show, Abraham Lincoln is portrayed (in an openly historically inaccurate skit) as the man who designed the American flag. Tom Kenny portrayed Lincoln as speaking in a thick New York accent.
  • In Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel How Few Remain , part of the Southern Victory Series, Lincoln is a viewpoint character. He serves as President for one term from 1861 to 1865, where he saw the Confederate States win their independence during the War of Succession. He loses the 1864 election in a landslide. Feeling that the Republican Party was no longer true to its original roots, Lincoln leads a left-wing fraction of Republicans into the Socialist Party in 1882 during the Second Mexican War. The Socialists soon replace the Republicans as the primary opposition to the Democrats, which Benjamin Butler lead most of the right-wing Republicans to them. Despite this, the Republican Party survives, but as a central third party. Mr. Lincoln himself is referred to in later novels in the series as the father of American socialism, as his eloquence and political influence after leaving office.
  • Talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien started in 1993, with Dino Stamatopoulos as the original portrayer of Lincoln. In 1999, Mike Sweeney took over this role.
  • In an episode of Cartoon Network's Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter faces his rival, Mandark, using the statue of Lincoln (voiced by Frank Welker) from Mount Rushmore that he has brought to life, and fights Mandark who is using the giant animated statue of George Washington.
  • In The DC Comics Elseworld title Superman: A Nation Divided, a reimagining of Superman's origins as coming into his powers during the American Civil War, President Lincoln features heavily. He is first seen reading field reports by General Ulysses S. Grant that describe "Atticus" Kent's special abilities. Lincoln then assumes Grant has been drinking, until Kent himself shows up at the white House. After Kent helps win the war, he accompanies Lincoln to the Ford Theater, where he prevents John Wilkes Booth's assassination attempt. After this Lincoln is seen to be one of the most popular presidents in history, serving two full terms.
  • In 1998, Scott McCloud wrote and drew the graphic novel The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln, in which the president seemingly returns to life in the present day; however, it is in fact a disguised Benedict Arnold, working for aliens in a plot to conquer the world. He is unmasked by the true Lincoln, who also returns from the dead.
  • In 1998, TNT aired The Day Lincoln Was Shot, with Lance Henriksen as Abraham Lincoln and Rob Morrow as John Wilkes Booth. The film is a remake of Ford Star Jubilee: The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1956).
  • In 1999, a comic book story featuring The Phantom was made called Lincoln's Murder, and published in Europe and Australia.
  • In the MTV claymation television series Celebrity Deathmatch, He appears as a fighter in which he faced off against George Washington
  • In the 1991 "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson seeks advice from the statue at the Lincoln Memorial.



An Abraham Lincoln reenactor in 2015


  1. ^ Steven Spielberg, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Tony Kushner, "Mr. Lincoln Goes to Hollywood", Smithsonian (2012) 43#7 pp. 46–53.
  2. ^ Melvyn Stokes, "Abraham Lincoln and the Movies", American Nineteenth Century History 12 (June 2011), 203–31.
  3. ^ David S. Reynolds, Lincoln and Whitman History Now (2013) online
  4. ^ McCall, Matt (February 15, 2016). "In music, Abraham Lincoln's image evolves for each new generation". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Barry Schwartz, "Rereading the Gettysburg address: Social change and collective memory." Qualitative sociology 19#3 (1996): 395-422.
  6. ^ Mark S. Reinhart, Abraham Lincoln on Screen: Fictional and Documentary Portrayals on Film and Television (McFarland, 2009).
  7. ^ a b Sarah Miles Bolam; Thomas J. Bolam (2007). The Presidents on Film: A Comprehensive Filmography of Portrayals from George Washington to George W. Bush. McFarland. p. 108. 
  8. ^ Lundin, Leigh (14 February 2016). "Abe Lincoln's Mystery". SleuthSayers. 
  9. ^ Ekkehard Koch: Der »Kanada-Bill«. Variationen eines Motivs bei Karl May. In: Jahrbuch der Karl-May-Gesellschaft 1976, pp. 29–46. (German)
  10. ^ "Silent Era : Progressive Silent Film List". Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  11. ^ "Lee de Forest and Phonofilm: Virtual Broadway". Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  12. ^ Newsreel for event British Pathe, accessed 18 February 2013
  13. ^ Berhman, John (March 9, 1985). "Escondido teacher Rex Hamilton is dead at 60". The San Diego Union. p. II-1. 
  14. ^ Scott Sharkey, "EGM's Top Ten Videogame Politicians: Election time puts us in a voting mood", Electronic Gaming Monthly 234 (November 2008): 97.
  15. ^ Michael Cieply (May 9, 2011). "Aside From the Vampires, Lincoln Film Seeks Accuracy". New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

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