Fact Check: Lincoln Penny Is NOT Copper Because He Freed Slaves, Other Coins Do NOT Show Presidents Turning Their Backs On Him In Protest

Fact Check

  • by: Alexis Tereszcuk
Fact Check: Lincoln Penny Is NOT Copper Because He Freed Slaves, Other Coins Do NOT Show Presidents Turning Their Backs On Him In Protest Always Copper

Was American racism engraved in its coins, with Abraham Lincoln's penny being copper because he freed the slaves and the other coins showing presidents facing the opposite direction as Lincoln, as a protest against him? No, that's not true: Lincoln was the first American president to be put on a coin in the country's history. The penny had previously been made out of copper. As the U.S. Mint explains, Lincoln is facing left because the image is an exact replica of a famous photograph of him.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Instagram on January 15, 2024. It opened:

American racism was engraved into our coins. Abraham Lincoln's coin is copper because he freed the slaves. The others face left because they turned their backs to him in protest.

This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-01-17 at 12.30.35 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Jan 17 15:45:49 2024 UTC)

The caption on the post read:

Since FOLKS don't know HISTORY. Racism was placed on our coins so that we would always be reminded. I guess that was for Black folks, cus White folks appear to have forgotten what's in plan view. Why do you think they chose #copper? To represent the SLAVES. More facts they try to hide. Now that makes sense. 💯🙏🏾#knowledgeispower ❤️Tae'Woo #Taewoo#taeeoo #mlk #martinlutherking

Lincoln was the first president honored with a coin in his image, as the U.S. Mint states (archived here). His image preceded George Washington on the quarter, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel and Franklin D. Roosevelt on the dime:

In 1909 he became the first American President to be featured on a circulating coin when Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Treasury Department decided to celebrate his 100th birthday by redesigning the one-cent coin.

The reason Lincoln is facing left is that Victor David Brenner, the sculptor who designed the penny, based it on the photograph named "The Famous Profile," taken by Anthony Berger, manager of Brady's Gallery in Washington, on February 9, 1864:

Screen Shot 2024-01-17 at 4.08.06 PM.png

(Source: Library of Congress website screenshot taken on Wed Jan 17 15:56:12 2024 UTC)

The U.S. Mint wrote that Brenner's plaque (archived here) of the image was ultimately chosen for the penny:

His 1907 plaque of Abraham Lincoln caught the eye of President Roosevelt, who wished to see it used on American circulating coinage.

The penny, or one-cent piece, has been in circulation since 1793 and has always been copper, according to a 1792 law that "directed American money to be made of gold, silver and copper," according to the U.S. Mint section "Fun Facts related to the Penny" (archived here):

Gold was used in the $10, $5, and $2.50 pieces. The dollar, half dollar, quarter, dime, and half dime were composed of silver. The cent and half cent were made of copper.

Regarding other presidents on coins, the post claims, "The others face left because they turned their backs to him [Lincoln] in protest." This is false. The image in the post shows a quarter from 1993 and a dime, nickel and penny from 2005, with all but the penny showing presidents facing to the right.

2023 coins vary from those of 1993 and 2005. As of January 17, 2024, the quarter shows Washington facing left, Jefferson on the nickel facing forward and Roosevelt on the dime facing to the right, as this image from the U.S. Mint (archived here) of the 2023 coins shows:

Screen Shot 2024-01-17 at 3.16.49 PM.png

(Source: U.S. Mint website screenshot taken on Wed Jan 17 15:39:22 2024 UTC)

Here is a breakdown of the coins and the face positions:


George Washington's image was placed on the quarter in 1932 with him facing left, which remained the image until 2022. The U.S. Mint (archived here) explains when that profile image changed:

The American Women Quarters™ Program is the current U.S. 25-cent coin program, spanning 2022 to 2025. The obverse (heads) shows a right-facing portrait of George Washington. The reverse (tails) features five designs each year honoring American women and their contributions.


According to the U.S. Mint (archived here), Jefferson's face was first minted on the nickel in 1938 and he was facing left. In 2004 and 2005 there were four different designs to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition bicentennials. Two of the designs showed Jefferson facing right. Since 2006, the image shows Jefferson facing forward.


The image of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was released in 1946 and has faced right ever since. Of note, it too is a copper coin, as the U.S. Mint (archived here) noted:

In 1965, the Mint removed silver from the dime and the composition became copper-nickel clad.

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  Alexis Tereszcuk

Alexis Tereszcuk is a writer and fact checker at Lead Stories and an award-winning journalist who spent over a decade breaking hard news and celebrity scoop with RadarOnline and Us Weekly.

As the Entertainment Editor, she investigated Hollywood stories and conducted interviews with A-list celebrities and reality stars.  

Alexis’ crime reporting earned her spots as a contributor on the Nancy Grace show, CNN, Fox News and Entertainment Tonight, among others.

Read more about or contact Alexis Tereszcuk

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