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1852–Campaign Anti-Pierce Cartoon–Lucas Mills

The 1852 presidential campaign between Franklin Pierce and Winfield Scott was one in which lacked substantial topics which led to little rhetoric between the two candidates. A quote from one newspaper called the 1852 campaign the most “ludicrous, ridiculous, and uninteresting presidential campaign ever.” Some may have believed this due to the fact that the two candidates were considered to be dark-horse candidates (Scott was nominated on the 53rd ballot, while Pierce was nominated on the 35th ballot), and each represented divided parties at a time when the country was largely divided as well. The two candidates differed on a little amount of issues, leading the rhetoric to focus on appearances and characteristics of the candidates.

 The Democrats needed to nominate a candidate that would please the different factions in their party. The Democratic Party was split between pro-slavery and antislavery factions in different regions. The party adopted a platform that supported the Compromise of 1850 and rejected further agitation over the slavery issue. Knowing this, the party nominated Franklin Pierce, a pro-slavery northerner, Brigadier General, from the Mexico-America War. Pierce was largely an unknown on the political scene, he was seen as a handsome, sociable man that the party could mold. Having little reputation coming into the campaign helped Pierce tremendously.

The Whigs nominated General Winfield Scott, the commanding General for the United States. Scott was considered to be a national hero after his performance in the Mexico-America War. Scott was known as “old fuss and feathers” due to his attention for detail, concern for his image and “penchant for gaudy uniforms.”  Scott was such an American hero at the time the Whig party decided not to nominate incumbent President Milliard Fillmore for a second term (it should be noted that Fillmore succeeded the presidency due to Zachary Taylor’s death).

During this era of American politics few candidates campaigned extensively- Pierce especially. His wife, Jane Pierce, limited his campaigning because she did not wish to return to Washington and did not approve of Pierce’s quest for the presidency.

The campaign rhetoric centered more so on the two personalities of the candidates  than actual issues. The Democratic campaign slogan was “We Polked you in 1844, we shall Pierce you in 1852,” playing on the name of previous Democratic President James Polk . Pierce attempted to associate himself and his values with Polk’s.

The Whig party attempted to label Pierce as a drunk and coward. Although Pierce had little reputation coming into the campaign, it was known that he was an alcoholic. Scott called Pierce a coward because it was rumored that he passed out on the battlefield during the Mexico-America War. Of course, Scott had a persona of being a masculine, brave general.

An example of rhetoric that attempted to label Pierce as an alcoholic is the cartoon titled “Social Qualities of our Candidate” Pierce is seen leaning against a tree with a bottle of liquor in hand.  A man on horse, presumably a Maine liquor enforcement officer, says “friend, that tree looks as if it was old enough to stand alone the need’nt hold it up any longer.” I assume this came from a Whig newspaper (could not find the source or author).

The Democrat’s countered, labeling Scott as a coward as well for refusing a dueling contest with Andrew Jackson. It was well-known that the Whig party routinely nominated military leaders for presidency, the Democrat’s claimed Scott was try to become a military dictator if elected, that he was in love with his military rank.

During the campaign, Pierce largely kept silent on the slavery issue until conforming with southern democrats while in office, supporting a pro-slavery agenda. This tactical move helped Pierce win the election. On the other hand, Scott made his views on slavery known. He was anti-slavery, which hurt his chances in winning southern whig votes. The pro-slavery whig platform hurt the northern whig vote which eventually led to the collapse of the Whig party.

The election was largely an electoral landslide. Scott was only able to capture electoral votes from Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Vermont. This election can be surmised by the fact that the nation was largely divided during this era even within their own parties) and each candidate did not have a strong political platform to begin with. I found it interesting comparing how different political campaigns are now run, although even 150+ years later candidates are still trying to score political points by labeling each other as cowards or draft dodgers (John Kerry, George Bush).

Citations:

American President. An Online Reference Resource

http://millercenter.org/president/pierce/essays/biography/3

http://www.indiana.edu/~libsalc/cartoons/1852.html

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