Abraham Lincoln
A bronze statue of a beardless Abraham Lincoln, who ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota men in the largest mass government execution in U.S. history. Photo: Don Sniegowski
In these day of masks, why worry about beards?
Wednesday, May 12, 2021

My friend was telling me the other day that there is a theory about why, if and when men grow beards.

We sipped our lattes and noticed that EVERY OTHER White man on the street was sporting a beard, some long, some short. Some white and shaggy. Some dark and trimmed. Many were looooong and unkempt.

There is no reliable explanation, of course, only theories?  

Maybe there is a cultural history here (not necessarily an anthropological pattern), but some “type” of western look, a public statement? Maybe, a movement? We’re tough! 

january6
Bearded participants on January 6, 2021, in Washington. D.C. Photo: Elvert Barnes Photography

Did you notice that every middle-aged guy arrested as a participant in the Senate takeover in Washington D..C., on  January 6 had A LOT of over grown (you might say unattended) facial hair, and was dressed in some kind of western garb. Carrying weapons.

A theory anybody?

My friend, who imagines himself to be an historian of the Black Hills, says that Presidents have often shaped what becomes a public “style”, and he couldn’t help mentioning Abraham on the Mountain.  And his fabulous beard! But not Teddy Roosevelt? Wasn’t he clean shaven? We mentioned others, but the historian wanted to stay on the Abe example.  

Early pictures of Abe, the most beloved visionary on the mountain, he says, did not have a huge beard when he was elected, He was portrayed as clean shaven “honest Abe” in the beginning and wanted people to see him as a hard working lawyer who came out of the woods, a simple man of learning as well as a shrewd politician.

As Abe faced slavery and the Civil War, though, he apparently began to see himself as one who bore the battle scars of modern democratic politics, and he had to be tough. He became a single issue president, says my local historian.  He was only about Slavery and the point was to rid America of its curse. Abe was a pluralist, not a purist, says my historian friend who can even spout some historical facts that few of us know.

For example, he rattled off a few words from a Lincoln speech about slavery which was given in Peoria and apparently became famous for historians to recite:  

“I hate slavery because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. 

I hate it because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty.”

What does his have to do with growing a beard?

I don’t know, except, as my historian suggests: these words are not the words of a racist.  

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