‘Beware of rashness…’

The great Museum of Hoaxes, which has a new piece on the Daily Mail’s reporting of the ‘first ever Photoshopped image’, a composite photo of Abraham Lincoln’s head onto John Calhoun’s body. Firstly, regards the headline/claim of the first manipulated image, it’s a case of ‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that‘.

Secondly, as the Museum curator points out, this isn’t news. It’s been pointed out many, many times over the years, prominently by the New York Times in 2009. I may be able to add something to the story however, and in the process show just how behind the times the Mail actually is.

The earliest reference that I could find to the faking of the Lincoln/Calhoun mashup is the 1913 book ‘Lincoln’ by the Reverend Alonzo Mansfield Bullock. Not only does Bullock refer to the image in question, he also claims to have debunked it personally (see page 7).

So our beloved Daily Mail is less than a century late; but only just. They’re also telling porkies by omission, since a few minutes research would have shown that there are far earlier fake photographic images. As Lincoln himself said:

‘…he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion, does not justify or excuse him.

  • Letter to Allen N. Ford (11 August 1846), reported in Roy Prentice Basler, ed., Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings (1990 [1946]).

Finally, I’m quite surprised there was no mention of ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘.

2 thoughts on “‘Beware of rashness…’

  1. Do you think that this was actually intended to deceive? It is so obviously a mating of painting and photography. Assuming that the portrait of Calhoun (seccessionist, apologist for slavery, etc.) was reasonably well-known, the whole jape might be seen as a rather good satire, intended for a sophisticated public who were already aware of the creative possibilities of photography.

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