1868–Campaign Card–Justin Snow
The election of 1868 saw Civil War hero and Republican nominee Ulysses S. Grant poised against Democratic Governor Horatio Seymour of New York. This was just three years after the end of the war and assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Being the first election since the war’s end, rhetoric surrounding the Confederacy ran high and Republicans used their martyred president to their advantage against Democrats, who were largely painted as compatriots of the Confederates.
The campaign card capitalizes on Grant’s military record as well as his humble roots. Before his service in the military, Grant was largely unsuccessful in everything he did. The son of a tanner, he worked in his father’s tanning shop in Illinois as a young man before the Civil War. Tanners were leather workers. They created such things as saddles, belts, gloves, and other leather goods. They also skinned the hides of cows and stretched and dyed them to create leather. In the campaign card, the Grant campaign uses this to make an analogy towards Grant’s opponents. The card reads that Grant and his vice presidential nominee, Schuyler Colfax, “respectfully inform the People of the United States that they will be engaged in Tanning old Democratic Hides” until after election day 1868. In this segment of the text, Grant, who was highly popular in the north after the end of the Civil War, is being projected to crush his Democratic opponents in the election. But instead of phrasing that in plain language, they allude to Grant’s roots as a tanner and the impressions many held of that work, which most voters would have been aware of at the time. The following line enforces the fact that Grant has experience in that field.
At the bottom of the card several references are listed as if this truly were a business card given to someone in need of a tanner. The references include General Buckner, who was Simon Bolivar Buckner, a Confederate general from Kentucky who surrendered Fort Donelson to Grant in 1862. The second reference is General Robert E. Lee, the commanding Confederate general of the Army of Northern Virginia who famously surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in April 1865, bringing a close to the Civil War in the eastern theatre. The third and final reference is General Pemberton, who surrendered the city of Vicksburg to Grant in the summer of 1863 after a several month long siege. (Interestingly enough, Pemberton is considered the founder of Coca-Cola. A surgeon from Atlanta, Pemberton created a coca wine to ease wounded soldiers’ addiction to morphine. His concoction would later become Coke.)
The Grant campaign’s rhetoric is quite clever. It works on various levels but particularly because it’s funny. These are names many voters would know after having fought in the war a few years before or followed it in the newspapers. As such, the Grant campaign is able to allude to his military record as a hero without ever once mentioning the war directly. Indeed, the only military reference is the prefix of general before the three reference names. Not even Grant is referred to as a general, merely a tanner.
The use of a campaign card does several things as well. Not only is it furthering the humor of the text by acting as a kind of business card, it is also something that could be distributed to numerous people at events like fairs or parades. As such, it is a very personalized and social piece of campaign material and rhetoric that foreshadows the mailers that many campaigns use today