Hundreds of other letters came from people he had never seen. One from New York state made him smile.
“I am a little girl only eleven years old,” the letter read, “but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you won’t think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are.... I have got four brothers and part of them will vote for you anyway and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try to get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President....”
The letter was signed “Grace Bedell.” In less than two weeks she received an answer. Abraham Lincoln, who loved children, took her advice. By election day on November 6, 1860, he had started to grow a beard.
He spent the evening of election day in the telegraph office. Report after report came in from different parts of the country. He was gaining. He was winning. After a while he knew—his friends knew—all Springfield knew—that Abraham Lincoln was to be the next President of the United States. Outside in the streets the crowds were celebrating. They were singing, shouting, shooting off cannons. Abe told his friends that he was “well-nigh upset with joy.”
“I guess I’d better go home now,” he added. “There is a little woman there who would like to hear the news.”
Mary was asleep when he entered their bedroom. Her husband touched her on the shoulder. “Mary, Mary,” he said with a low chuckle, “we are elected.”
By February the Lincolns were ready to move. Abe tied up the trunks and addressed them to “A. Lincoln, The White House, Washington, D.C.” Before he left Illinois there was a visit he wanted to make to a log farmhouse a hundred and twenty-five miles southeast of Springfield. His father had been dead for ten years, but his stepmother was still living there.
Travel was slow in those days, and he had to change trains several times. There was plenty of time to think. He knew that hard days lay ahead. There were many Southerners who said that they were afraid to live under a President who was against slavery. Several Southern states had left the Union and were starting a country of their own. For the United States to be broken up into two different nations seemed to him the saddest thing that could possibly happen. As President, Abraham Lincoln would have a chance—he must make the chance—to preserve the Union. He could not know then that he would also have a chance to free the slaves—a chance to serve his country as had no other President since George Washington.
His thoughts went back to his boyhood. Even then he had wanted to be President. What had once seemed an impossible dream was coming true. He thought of all the people who had encouraged and helped him. He thought of his mother who, more than any one person, had given him a chance to get ahead.