Abraham Lincoln literally walked the corridors of the Treasury building and his life as President is very much a part of Treasury’s history.
Lincoln’s association with Treasury began with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase whose diaries record visits to his office by the President. Lincoln and Chase met to discuss the economy of the country, the financial strain of the Civil War and the available options for collecting duties and taxes to help fund the war effort. In addition to these sources of revenue, Chase and Lincoln agreed to establish a national currency in the form of the “green back”, the paper currency we use today.
When Lincoln was assassinated, incoming President Andrew Johnson moved the office of the Presidency from the White House to an office suite in the Treasury Building for a period of six weeks to allow Mrs. Lincoln time to grieve and move to another residence. The office suite contained a copy of a likeness of Abraham Lincoln in the form of a chromolithograph that matched a portrait of General Grant also hanging in the office; it was the only portrait of the martyred president in the Treasury building since 1864.
In 2008, Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia conducted an Americana sale which included an oil portrait of President Lincoln. The portrait was unframed and required conservation to the extent that it was not illustrated in their catalogue. With the financial support of the Treasury Historical Association, the portrait was purchased for the U.S. Treasury collection to be hung in the building.
Subsequent research and the work of conservator Alexandria Tice revealed further information about the Lincoln portrait. Freeman’s auction house provided details from the consignor about the painting. The portrait had documentation locating it in Philadelphia as early as 1896/7. However, the work of the conservator revealed that the portrait would not have been new at this time. According to conservator Tice, the portrait was at least 30 years older than when it was first dated to arriving in Philadelphia. Sometime in the late 19th-century, the original likeness was artistically enhanced around the hairline and the area of the beard in keeping with the more conventional image of the time: that of a war-torn, martyred president.
If you look carefully at the portrait, you will notice that behind the beard is the face of a younger Lincoln. The conservator restored the hairline to its original appearance, but the beard was left as found, since it was felt that the restoration would have damaged the original paint layer below. Indeed, evidence was found of an earlier beard, although not in its present configuration.
The 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the death of Lincoln was in April, 2015. The installed portrait of Lincoln, the restored office suites of Secretary Salmon P. Chase and President Andrew Johnson, as well as an exhibition in the building commemorate this significant era of American history. The Lincoln portrait is installed in the Secretary of the Treasury’s conference room and can be seen as part of the Treasury public tour program, available through a reservation only held on most Saturday mornings throughout the year.