The recent release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter takes the well-known story of our Sixteenth President and places it in a fictional world of vampires. In this fantasy world, Nancy Hanks Lincoln is killed by a vampire, a death witnessed by a young Abraham. Seeking to avenge his mother’s death, Abraham Lincoln learns the secret art of killing vampires.
While the film has not yet realized the success of the Seth Grahame-Smith novel upon which it was based, many critics are dismissive about the connection between Lincoln and vampires. In fact, Lincoln and vampires were first paired during the Civil War. Rather than being the hunter of vampires, Lincoln was often shown as a demonic associate or a vampire himself.
Adalbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist, engraver, and strong supporter of the Confederate cause, created a series of engravings highly critical of Lincoln and his policies. In October 1862, Volck finished his engraving “Writing the Emancipation Proclamation.” Lincoln is shown in a satanic pose, holding the Constitution under foot and composing the Emancipation Proclamation from a devil’s inkwell on a table with a ram’s head at the top of each leg and an all-seeing eye as decoration. Outside the window at left are flying bats, but it is unclear if they are vampire in nature.
The famed British cartoonist Matt Morgan’s last Lincoln drawing for Fun, an illustrated magazine, showed a frightened Columbia in bed with Lincoln sitting on top of her stomach. The caption read “Columbia’s Nightmare.” Morgan joined the Comic News shortly after leaving Fun in October 1864. One of his early cartoons for his new employer showed Lincoln, with Satan’s tail, in a tug-of-war with George B. McClellan over a map of the northern states; it is entitled “Pull Devil — Pull Baker,” here an expression roughly meaning ‘both will take revenge.’
Morgan revisited Lincoln as the enemy of Columbia in a post-election cartoon, “The Vampire.” Lincoln is depicted as hovering over a kneeling Columbia, declaring ‘Columbia, thou are mine; with thy blood I will renew my lease on life — Ah! Ah!” That Lincoln’s critics saw his policies as undermining the Republic, represented by Columbia, is clear. And Morgan would like his audience to believe that Lincoln, as vampire president, drained the life blood from the Republic in a prolonged and needless Civil War.
Leaving nothing to the imagination, Southern Punch ran a cartoon on November 14, 1863, “Abduction of the Yankee Goddess of Liberty. The Prince of Darkness (Abraham Lincoln) Bears Her Away To His Infernal Regions.” The Yankee Goddess protests, “Monster of Perdition, let me go!” While Lincoln replies, “Never! You have been preaching about the Constitution too long already. I was the first to rebel against constituted authority. ‘Hell is murky!’ You go thither!”
Whether Satan or Vampire, Lincoln was seen as the embodiment of evil by many illustrators with Southern sympathies. It is no wonder that Mary Lincoln later used the term “vampyre press” to describe her own critics. Ironically, one of Lincoln’s great admirers was an Irish writer who is best known for taking the 1819 story of The Vampyre by Dr. John William Polidori and creating the novel that is the foundation for all other vampire plots. Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula remains the silver standard for vampire novels, just as Tod Browning’s 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi sets the bar for vampire films.