SPRINGFIELD – Nothing brings the image of Abraham Lincoln to mind better than his iconic stovepipe hat. And nothing sums up Lincoln’s beliefs better than a scrap of paper he may have stored in that battered hat. According to the paper, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”
Now, just in time for Lincoln’s birthday, both the hat and the note on democracy are going on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They were added to the museum’s Treasures Gallery on Jan. 23 and will remain on display about six months.
The two new items will join a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s order freeing slaves in rebel states during the Civil War. The proclamation turned 150 years old on Jan. 1.
The beaver-fur hat has two bare patches on its brim where Lincoln’s fingers wore it out as he continually doffed it to passersby.
As he traveled from courthouse to courthouse on the Illinois prairie, Lincoln needed to stay warm and protect his legal papers.
“Solving both problems, Lincoln kept his head warm and dry under this beaver-fur stovepipe hat, and he tucked his letters inside the hatband. It was his ‘office in his hat,’ according to a fellow attorney, and everyone on the circuit knew this amusing characteristic of Lincoln,” said ALPLM Lincoln Curator James Cornelius.
For the first time, the note bearing Lincoln’s definition of democracy will be displayed alongside the stovepipe hat. Museum visitors can judge for themselves whether its folds suggest the note was once tucked into Lincoln’s hatband.
The future president’s full comment in that note is: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”
Experts believe this scribbled note dates to 1858, a period when Lincoln was searching for effective ways to explain his views on slavery and democracy as he debated U.S. Senate rival Stephen Douglas.
Lincoln’s 204th birthday is Feb. 12.
For more information about programs and exhibits at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.presidentlincoln.org.