In 1923 the university's supervising architect asked Lorado Taft's advice about putting a marble or bronze bust in the Lincoln Hall niche, observing it had been suggested that "Borglum's head of Lincoln, the original of which is in the Rotunda of the Capitol at Washington, would be the best thing we could copy and would probably be better than the original of one which we could have made." Taft did not equivocate: "I regret to say that Borglum's so-called 'Lincoln' is my pet aversion; I would prefer not to help in this matter." Five years later MacNeil's bust was bought with $450 from the Reserve and Contingent Fund.
Lincoln's expression is contemplative in this gentle, very appealing sculpture. An air of intimacy as well as tension is created by the tightly folded arms, which rest on a simple rectangular plinth, while the hand clutching a document suggests something of a troubled inner conflict.
MacNeil, who studied at the Academie Julian, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and at the American Academy in Rome, taught at Cornell University, Pratt Institute, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He established his reputation with Native American subjects such as the romantic Sun Vow group of 1898, which by 1900 was considered "America's most popular sculpture." But the major part of his work consisted of large-scale memorials, portraits, and murals, among them the Washington Square Arch reliefs in New York; the Pere Marquette memorial in Chicago; and the pediment sculpture on the nation's Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. He was a follower and friend of Taft's in the Central Art Association, a group dedicated to the promotion of American art. Taft observed that running through MacNeil's work "is a dependable sanity most gratifying to meet amid the eccentricities and vagaries of current endeavor."