overview Abraham Lincoln

"The President quite unwell," reported John Hay on November 26, 1863. On his return from the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery, where he delivered "a few appropriate remarks" that would stand to define the war and the meaning of America, Abraham Lincoln had taken ill with varioloid fever, a mild but highly contagious form of smallpox. Even the New York World, a virulent anti-administration newspaper, hoped that "the President will soon be restored to health and strength."

Lincoln handled the illness with humor. He joked that since becoming president, crowds of people had asked him to give them something and now he had something he could give everyone. He also commented, in typical self-deprecating fashion, that being ill offered the consolation that the disease, which could leave scars, "cannot in the least disfigure me."