The immediate response to Lincoln's election, however, was not violent. South Carolina took down the American flag over their capitol in Columbia, hoisted their state flag, and voted to secede from the Union.

It has been 158 years since Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. The nation was divided and had been for years. We were on the brink of war. 

The immediate response to Lincoln’s election, however, was not violent. South Carolina took down the American flag over their capitol in Columbia, hoisted their state flag, and voted to secede from the Union. They never tried to take over the government in DC; they just picked up their toys and went home. Other states followed.

In Missouri, one “dyed-in-the-wool Democrat” quietly protested Lincoln’s election for 50 years.  

Valentine Tapley was born in Pike County, Missouri, in 1830. He was a mild-mannered and agreeable farmer who spent his time adding to the land his wife inherited and trading in slaves. During the 1860 presidential campaign, Tapley swore he would never shave again if Lincoln was elected. Lincoln was and Tapley didn’t. 

Tapley used special oils and a special wooden comb to dress his growing beard and keep it soft and silky. He didn't wear his beard out; instead, he kept it rolled up in a silk bag and tucked inside his shirt. The beard only came out a few times a year to show the neighbors or on trips to big cities like St. Louis and Chicago. He got many offers to join traveling shows. It was rumored he was asked to be the main attraction at a museum which was willing to pay him more money than the governor of Missouri made. Another offer came from England where he was offered $5,000 to display his beard. But Tapley would never accept money for showing his beard.  

His beard did come to national attention in 1907 when S. G. Brinkley from North Carolina claimed to have the world’s longest beard. It was seven feet long and Brinkley was charging people 25 cents a piece to see it. When Missouri congressman Champ Clark heard about it, he wrote to The Washington Post and did an interview with the New York Times to set the record straight. Congressman Clark knew Tapley personally and said a seven-foot beard was no beard at all. Pike County, Missouri, beards were the best on earth.

Although Lincoln got the blame, or credit, depending on your point of view, for Tapley’s 12-1/2-foot beard, it’s entirely possible Lincoln had nothing to do with it at all. It seems Tapley’s first facial hair appeared when he was 13 and he had never shaved. It was so long by the time he was 20, it is reported he had to braid it and tuck it inside his shirt in order to farm. 

Valentine Tapley died on April 3, 1910, at the age of 80. He had begun to worry in his later years that grave robbers would dig him up and steal his beard. He left special instructions in his will for his burial. He was to be buried in an extra strong tomb at Spencersburg Cemetery. . 

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.