What Did Abraham Lincoln Sound Like and Is His 'Manhunt' Accent Accurate?

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Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln in 'Manhunt.'

Apple TV+’s limited series Manhunt dramatizes the twelve-day search for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Everyone knows the president was killed by the famous actor a few days after the end of the Civil War. But there’s a lot about the rest of the story that the average American doesn't know, and Manhunt goes to great pains to fill in a lot of historical details. One of those details is President Lincoln’s voice.

On Manhunt, Lincoln is played by Hamish Linklater (Midnight Mass). Linklater, who’s 6’4” and thin as a rail, looks like what we'd expect from depictions of Honest Abe. But he sounds totally different from what we might imagine the man who led us through the Civil War to sound like. He speaks in a squeaky, creaky, high-pitched voice that you would associate more with a cartoon mouse asking for cheese than one of America’s greatest presidents. It’s such a surprising acting choice that it might make you wonder if it's historically accurate. What did Abraham Lincoln sound like?

While there are no audio recordings of Lincoln, contemporary reports of his voice indicate that he probably sounded something like he does in Manhunt.

Related: 50 U.S. Presidential Trivia Questions & Answers

What Abraham Lincoln actually sounded like

Our expectation of Lincoln having an authoritative voice is shaped by popular depictions. Sam Waterston reading Lincoln’s writing in a dignified baritone in Ken Burns’ classic documentary The Civil War is one example. Daniel Day-Lewis’ commanding, Oscar-winning performance in Lincoln is another. Day-Lewis didn’t use a deep voice, but it’s certainly not “shrill,” either, which is a word that was used to describe Lincoln’s voice when he was alive.

Linklater’s take, while closer to Day-Lewis’ than Waterston’s, is the voice that most closely aligns with some descriptions of Lincoln’s speaking voice.

Related: 10 Facts You May Not Know About Lincoln

According to the Library of Congress, journalists writing about Lincoln in the 1800s said he had a high voice. Horace White claimed Lincoln had “a thin tenor, or rather falsetto, voice, almost as high-pitched as a boatswain’s whistle,” while the New York Herald reported that though his voice was “sharp and powerful at times,” it had “a frequent tendency to dwindle into a shrill and unpleasant sound.” Linklater seems to be basing his almost comedic take on Lincoln’s voice on these accounts.

<p>Apple TV+</p>

Apple TV+

How Hamish Linklater found Abraham Lincoln’s voice

In a roundtable interview (via Screen Rant), Linklater talked a little bit about how he created his take on Lincoln’s voice. He worked with Louis Colaianni, a voice and diction coach and colleague of Linklater’s mother, the late, highly respected vocal coach Kristin Linklater. Colaianni researched what a man from southern Indiana/northern Kentucky in Lincoln’s time would sound like.

“He found this wonderful tape of a guy from Kentucky that I would just listen to over and over again, and lean into,” Linklater said. “Because I think we figured—you know, it's a little bit of guesswork, you go off what the contemporaneous writing is about how he talked. But it does seem like, especially behind closed doors, he would lean into some of those Kentucky folksy roots. So, that's what we went for.”

Linklater and Manhunt creator Monica Beletsky wanted to depict a more domestic version of Lincoln than had previously been portrayed. In the show, Lincoln is mostly seen in private moments, often in conversation with his secretary of war and close friend Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies), who ends up leading the search for Booth. Linklater plays Lincoln as a warm, likable man.

“What we were doing was really trying to focus on the guy who was a husband, and he was a father, and he was a friend,” Linklater said. “That was really the focus of this aspect of Lincoln.”

The first two episodes of Manhunt are available on Apple TV+ now. New episodes will be released on Fridays through April 19.

Next, 115 Abe Lincoln Quotes