In the mid-19th century the mass production of prints and images allowed average citizens to own scenes and portraits that might serve as sources of inspiration. One such example is the Alexander H. Ritchie print of Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s painting of First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet. The print was wildly popular. Although sales figures are lacking for this period, the number of prints that can be found today online and at flea markets shows that it was widely disseminated.
One individual who purchased a copy was Herbert Hoover’s grandfather Eli. The following narrative was written by the 31st President (who served from 1929 to 1933) and attached to the back of the framed print that now hangs in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The reader should note that duringHoover’s term as president, the print hung above the very fireplace depicted within the print.
“This print is from the Carpenter painting which hangs in the House of Representatives in Washington. The painting was made from life. The scene is Lincoln’s study in the White House. The fireplace in the background is the same today and is easily identified. The figures in the painting were sketched in by Carpenter in the study but he did the detailed portrait work in the East Room. The prints were a part of every Midwest household for years after the Civil War.
“This copy was given to my father Jessie Hoover by his father Eli Hoover soon after my father was married and set up housekeeping in the little cottage at West Branch in about 1871. Thereafter this picture was probably there when I was born. After my mother’s death in 1879, the print was kept by an uncle Allan Hoover until his death in about 1922 when it went to his brother Davis Hoover. Uncle Davis gave it to me with the above history in 1927. It hung in my study at 2300 S Street, Washington, D.C., until 1929, when Mrs. Hoover removed it to the White House where it hung over the same mantel which appears in the picture. It remained there for four years until 1933. It was then removed to Palo Alto, and was brought back to my apartment in Waldorf Towers [on Park Avenue in New York] in 1945. Thus its history seems clear for about 75 years!”
Long before Jackie Kennedy refurbished the White House in the early 1960s, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover extensively documented the White House rooms and furnishings in photographs. She and President Hoover also converted the Lincoln Bedroom back into the original study and cabinet room as depicted in Ritchie’s print. Hoover used this as his private study and spent numerous hours in it conducting the affairs of state. In a search for the original furnishings, a number of items turned up, only to be eliminated after careful research. Four side chairs were the only items that could be reasonably ascertained as coming from the Lincoln presidency. Undoubtedly, Abraham Lincoln remained Hoover’s inspiration for presidential leadership.