lincoln portrait Young Lincoln portrait

by Edward J. Kempf, M.D. Wading River, N.Y.

Hereditary Determination

Lincoln's face gave evidence of unusual hereditary genetic predispositions in its embryonic development, and hence in the development of his brain and personality. The creases in the skin of the human face are produced principally by the activities of the muscles of the face with attachments to the skin. In most faces, the crease that runs on either side from the nose continues below the cheek and around the upper lip and corner of the mouth, and then passes more or less distinctly around and under the lower lip. In Lincoln's face, as shown by his life mask and photographs, these creases, one on each side, pass from the nose part way only around the upper lip and then turn sharply backward well above the corners of the mouth. Here they join unusually deep creases that run downward from in front of the cheek bones, between the buccinator muscle of the cheek and the masseter muscle of the jaw, and then curve forward well back of the mouth, to pass under the chin, where they meet. The expressive effect of this unusual, though not rare, type of facial creasing was enhanced by the length and narrowness of his face. This type of facial creasing is characteristic of the great apes, and when it exists in man it indicates a primitive type of hereditary nervous differentiation.{1}

Three genetic moles, one on the right side and two on the left side of the face, gave, in relation to these creases, a distinguishing quality to Lincoln's face, which, once seen, was not likely to be forgotten and was, therefore, socially and politically invaluable. The largest and most prominent mole was located on the right side of his face, just above the crease as it turned backward from the upper lip to join the crease lying between the muscles of mastication and the mouth. The mole actually divided the crease, producing a perpetually dimpled, smiling effect on that side of the face. On the left side of the face, one of the other two moles lay on the cheek above the crease where it turned backward from the upper lip, and the other lay lower down on the side of the face, back of the crease, after it joined the masticator-buccinator crease. The positions of these moles in relation to the mole on the right cheek indicate that early in embryonic development, when the head was very small and the face was beginning to form, the right and left moles appeared in symmetrically opposite positions. If this is true, the mole on the left cheek later became divided, and the two parts separated progressively as the muscles and bones of the face enlarged.*

Although the psychological effect of these unusual facial characteristics is now unknowable, they gave his face a ready-to-smile set and an unusually comical quality that surely must have reinforced the development of his great sense of humor and propensity to laughter. They probably also combined with other unusual inherited and acquired facial and bodily qualities in reinforcing the formation in his boyhood of the conviction that he was an unusual person, predestined to perform some great mission to be revealed to him, a conviction which developed later into his unique, fixed, lifelong humanitarian inspiration and compulsion.

As an adult, his hair was coarse and black, and his eyes were small, gray, and deeply set. His ears were large and thick-lobed and extended almost at right angles to his head. His usually long and generally disheveled hair hid this grotesque, comical, inferior feature. His nose was not actually oversized, but it looked large because of his long, thin face. The nostrils did not extend as far into the tip of the nose as in most people, so that the end looked heavy. Lincoln was thought, when young, to be somewhat sensitive about his nose, but not about his ears. He was sometimes ridiculed for being "horse-faced."

*Dr. Frechette's emphasis

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