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By Christine Strangie–1828 & The Coffin Handbill

Mudslinging—the use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent (Google). In 2017, mudslinging can be seen in campaign attack ads where the concept of image intersects with ideology and/or issues. In 1828 however, there was no cable television to help visualize the horrible qualities about the opposing characters. Instead, there was use of language, text and drawings to directly insult the candidate on issues, ideology, character, etc. Specifically, in the 1828 presidential election, Andrew Jackson, a Democrat was campaigning against John Quincy Adams, the incumbent of the National Republican party. Both candidates’ campaigns initially began with the concept of mudslinging and brought to life a whole new method of campaign rhetoric. Jackson accused Adams of misusing public funds for personal use, such as gambling devices for his residency. Adams accused Jackson more personally by attacking his wife Rachel and accusing her of not being officially divorced, and being an adulteress. However, one piece of rhetoric from this campaign that stuck out was the Coffin Handbill.

The Coffin Handbill was a series of pamphlets written by a Philadelphia editor, John Binns. The pamphlets aimed to directly attack General Jackson by humanizing the people he killed in battle, as well as describing him as a bloodthirsty murderer.  The pamphlet is titled “Some Account of some of the Bloody Deeds of Andrew Jackson.” Visually, there are 23 coffins depicted to represent all that were murdered. The word ‘some’ holds a lot of weight in relation to the number of coffins because it makes Jackson look as if he is a serial killer. Although it is assumed that Jackson killed hundreds in the battle against Great Britain, the visual of the coffins as well as the names and stories beneath the coffins give life, as well as a face/story, to all that were killed. Binns aimed to simulate dialogue regarding the quantity of innocent individuals being murdered, as well as question the stability and civility of Andrew Jackson. The rhetorical theme of Jackson being a murderer or criminal made him seem unjust for a role such as the President of the United States.

When reading through the pamphlet, there were two stories and a quotation that stood out as important pieces of rhetoric. The first deals with the murder of a Native American woman and her three children. The story helps display the innocence of the victims and paints Jackson to look like a monster. As seen in history, and continuing now, women and children are supposed to be innocent, dainty and in need of protection. For Jackson to murder these four individuals who are supposed to be weak and presumably innocent, he looks careless and unstoppable. The story goes on to explain how Jackson invaded the tribe’s territory and completely destroyed their wellbeing as a community. Although invasions seemed common at this time, the lack of humanity and remorse in killing a mother and her children challenges Jackson’s ethics and morality. The indifference depicted throughout this specific story invites the reader to assume he would be aggressive in war tactics and be willing to attack anyone/anything. This type of rhetoric could easily evoke fear in potential voters, as well as disrupt their image of him as a war hero. Instead, they may have considered him a “cold-blooded murderer” and unfit to serve as president.

The second story that poses as an important piece of rhetoric is the visual of Jackson stabbing a man that is bent over. Although controversial and there being variations, Binns shared the story of a quarrel between Samuel and Andrew Jackson turning violent. After a heated argument turned violent, as you can see with both men’s top hats off of their heads, Samuel bent down to get a rock to defend himself. This is the moment Jackson stabbed him with his “sword cane,” when he least expected it. The story vividly describes the sword entering his “back and coming out his breast.” The gruesome details once again dehumanize Jackson, and make it appear that he was violent toward someone innocent and unknowing. Jackson was later charged with assault and battery based on this account, and once again it paints him to be a criminal and unfit to be president. The actual drawing depicting Jackson stabbing Samuel also poses some important rhetoric. Jackson almost appears to be wearing a Halloween mask based on the harsh wrinkles and anger drawn on his face. His vicious expression in comparison to Samuel being bent over disheveled and searching for a rock makes Jackson seem merciless and villainous. Although not related, Jackson did personally know Samuel and it shows how his anger could lead him to act violently and without care. Jackson appears to be relentless toward all individuals including ones he knew and had relationships with, which creates yet another concern for the American voter.

Finally, the quotation that follows the story of Samuel and Andrew Jackson poses as an important piece of rhetoric. Binns states, “gentle reader, it is for you to say, whether this man, who carries a sword cane and is willing to run it through the body of anyone who may presume to stand in his way, is fit to be president.” This statement almost reads like a rhetorical question—after posing all of these stories about Jackson being a murderer, being relentless and having no remorse, is he truly fit for presidency? Although the answer to Binns’ statement may seem obvious, he gives the power back to the reader and allows them to be the jury. The use of the word “gentle” weighs heavy in this sentence because it also makes the reader seem innocent and weak, and with the theme of this handbill assuming that Jackson would attack anyone, they would not be safe with him as president either. Additionally, Binns continues on the theme of attacking the weak and innocent by adding that he would “run it through the body of anyone who may presume to stand in his way”.  The lack of civility described here are just examples of how Jackson could not possibly be the candidate for such a prestigious and noble position.

Although not the most successful piece of campaign rhetoric, the Coffin Handbill has served as an example for mudslinging for over a century. The irony of this piece of rhetoric and its lack of success came full circle with a political cartoon of Binns, Adams and the third party candidate, Henry Clay. The political cartoon shows John Binns holding the coffins of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, as they are both trying to claw their way out. Adams desperately is trying to hold onto the presidential reign, depicted as a fancy chair, and although his efforts were grand, he lost the presidential election that year. In the Coffin Handbill, John Binns allowed the people to decide whether or not they found Andrew Jackson guilty and unfit to serve as president. The jury is out, and they found General Andrew Jackson not guilty, and capable of being the 7th president of the United States.

Sources:

Onion, Rebecca. “The “Coffin Handbill” Andrew Jackson’s Enemies Used to Circulate Word of His “Bloody Deeds”. Slate Magazine. The Vault, 05 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 May 2017.

“Presidential Campaigns: A Cartoon History 1789-1976.” Indiana University. Indiana University, 2008. Web. 09 May 2017.

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By Melissa Lucas–Marital Scandal and Presidential Elections

Monica Lewinsky recently published an article in Vanity Fair about her affair with Bill Clinton during his presidency. The article entitled “Shame and Survival” details how she negotiated the press spotlight and what she describes as “global humiliation” after her affair with Clinton became public. [1] Lewinsky wrote she hoped sharing her story would help those who are currently cyber bullied: “Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?” [2] Many media outlets reported on Lewinsky’s essay in terms of how it will affect Hillary Clinton’s presumed 2016 presidential campaign. One editorial claimed Lewinsky’s story serves a reminder why “Hillary Clinton doesn’t deserve female voter support” and Bill Clinton should not be back in the White House. [3]

The policy stances and private lives of candidates are often blurred within presidential elections. Political commentators often argue that with the advent of the Internet, the private lives of presidential candidates are now under even closer scrutiny. Yet, it would be incorrect to assume the emphasis on candidates’ private lives is a recent occurrence. An examination of the 1828 presidential election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams demonstrates that the “private” lives of political candidates have always been a matter of public attention.

Lucas Jackson 2nd Ceremony (3)The details of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to Rachel Donelson caused controversy during the 1828 presidential election. Rachel Donelson married her first husband, Captain Lewis Robards, at 18 years old in 1785. By 1790, the two separated and Robards told Donelson he was filing for divorce. Andrew Jackson and Donelson married in 1791, believing the divorce was final. Two years later, the Jacksons learned Robards never filed for divorce and Rachel was married to two men. In 1794, Robards was granted a divorce on the grounds of adultery. The Jackson’s quietly remarried the same year after the divorce was finalized (left).

This scandal was in the foreground of the 1828 election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. The press widely covered the story and Jackson’s opponents argued the scandal was evidence of “his unfitness for station to which he aspires.” [4] Charles Hammond, a critic of Andrew Jackson, wrote a campaign pamphlet entitled, “View of Jackson’s Domestic Relations: In Reference to His Fitness for the Presidency.” He argued that Mrs. Jackson’s past as a “bigamist and adulterer” made her unfit to be First Lady of the United States:

Whatever may be thought or said of other offices, every candid man must agree that the office of the President necessarily brings the immediate family of the officer, into direct connection with the public. . . If the President is a married man, his wife at least, must share the distinction of the station he occupies. [5]

The First Lady, according to Hammond, is a reflection of the nation’s character and if she is morally impure, then it reflects poorly on the entire nation. He wrote: “If her character be stained with suspicion it affects all around her, the community of which she is head” [6]. Jackson was also portrayed as a “seducer” of a married woman with little regard for moral standards. His lack of moral compass in his personal life, according to Adams supporters, demonstrated he was incapable of moral political leadership. Hammond asked the American public: “ought a convicted adulteress, and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?” [7]

Lucas Rachel DonelsonThe American people answered yes. Andrew Jackson won the election with 178 electoral votes and almost 56% of the popular vote. Rachel Jackson (right) passed away before ever serving as First Lady. She died December 24, 1828, three months before Jackson’s inauguration. Part of her epitaph read, “A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor.” [8] The election of 1828 is just one of many in the history American presidential elections that spotlighted the “private life” scandals of nominees and spouses. This may lead us to ponder: Why do the “private” lives of our politicians and their significant others receive so much attention during presidential elections?

Notes:

[1] “Monica Lewinsky Writes About Her Affair with President Clinton,” Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/05/monica-lewinsky-speaks
[2] Ibid.
[3] Linda Stasi. “Monica Lewinsky’s Story Reminds Us Bill Clinton is to blame, Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve Female Voter Support,” New York Daily News, May 11, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/stasi-monica-lewinsky-story-rings-true-article-1.1787850
[4] Charles Hammond. “View of General Jackson’s Domestic Relations in Reference to his Fitness for the Presidency,” Truth’s Advocate (1828): 1.
[5] Ibid., 2.
[6] Ibid., 12.
[7] Ibid., 3.
[8] “White House History First Ladies: Rachel Jackson,” The White House Historical Association, http://www.whitehousehistory.org/history/white-house-first-ladies/first-lady-rachel-jackson-emily-donelson.html

Categories: 1828 Campaign

By Will Howell–Campaign Songs, Past & Present

Irving BerlinThe first time I heard this song, it ran through my head for days. Days. If I’d been able to vote in 1952, this song would certainly have run through my brain while I stood in the voting booth. The song was written for the Man from Abilene by the great Irving Berlin (left), who gave us such earworms as “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and (of course) “God Bless America.”

While praise is due to Mr. Berlin for Eisenhower’s catchy campaign song, I’d contrast the success of Ike’s original campaign song with the decision to pair original lyrics with familiar melodies. For a modern comparison of this latter composition, I’d point you to Lyndon Johnson’s campaign song, which paired the melody from the title song of Hello, Dolly! with pro-Johnson lyrics. (Hello Dolly! premiered in 1964, the same year Johnson faced reelection.)

Although there are no doubt earlier examples, I first noticed this propensity when we read The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Melodies (1840) for class. This book, along with several others, provided many, many options for singing supporters of Old Tippecanoe (and Tyler, too).While some were set to folk melodies I knew, many were not. (And if you’ve heard of “Turn out, Giovanni, turn out”…well, I’d like to play on your trivia team some time.)

John FremontThe years following Harrison’s election include many similar examples:

In “’We Want Yer, McKinley’: Epideictic Rhetoric in Songs from the 1896 Presidential Campaign,” William Harpine also noted that, ““Marching Through Georgia” seems to have had extensive appeal as a melody for campaign songs,” particularly in the 1896 election (79).

Although Harpine doesn’t note regional differences, I wonder whether the anti-Southern song was the most effective melody for a national campaign. In 1972, James Irvin and Walter Kirkpatrick argued that music’s rhetorical power came from both melodies and lyrics. They theorized that when familiar—and well-liked—melodies accompanied unfamiliar lyrics, the listener was primed to develop positive feelings toward the lyrics. In using the melody of a song that, in its original form, celebrated Sherman’s March to the Sea, campaigns in the Gilded Age may have—intentionally or unintentionally—alienated a whole region of voters.

Campaign Song GreeleyHorace Greeley (song cover sheet, left) puts my point more succinctly in The Log-Cabin Songbook: “People like the swing of the music. After a song or two, they are more ready to listen to the orators” (quoted from Robert Gunderson, “Presidential Canvass, Log-Cabin Style,” Today’s Speech 5 (1957): 19). Or if they don’t “like the swing of music,” maybe they’re not “more ready to listen to the orators.”

By Michael Steudeman–Explicit Character, Implicit Pledges: Zachary Taylor’s Platform-Less Campaign

Governments, Michael Calvin McGee asserted, are made up of men, not measures.[1] Defenders of this proposition avoid the cynical disparagement of “image politics,” recognizing the fundamental role that character serves in defining qualities of leadership. In campaigns, issue and image implicate one another: certain character traits correspond with particular policy positions.[2] A wartime leader cannot be a wimp. An economic leader should be a no-nonsense businessman. The current president—who transcended differences in partisanship and race to secure his election—credibly articulated this appeal as a man with a family lineage born of two continents. Whether or not politics should be this way is inconsequential. The point here is simply that politics are this way, and that the positions candidates take cannot be severed entirely from the types of leadership they expound.

What I hope to highlight here, however, is the other side of the coin. Image politics work precisely because they provide a proxy for the types of decisions candidates might make once elected to the presidency. For this reason, image—by itself—cannot provide a full account for electoral politics, either. When images are asserted by candidates without attention to their corresponding policy implications, the results can be surprising, erratic, and altogether problematic.

Taylor from 1848Zachary Taylor’s 1848 presidential campaign provides a revealing case study of the implicit issues that belie even the vaguest candidate images. Controversially, Taylor did not adopt any party platform for his campaign. As a war hero without clear political positions, he could well have been chosen as a candidate by either the Whigs or Democrats.

The movement to draft Taylor as a presidential candidate began during his leadership as a general in the Mexican-American War. Famous for his resilient victory in the Battle of Buena Vista over the forces of Santa Anna, talk began immediately of his potential presidential bid. As Abraham Lincoln noted in his eulogy for Taylor, even “Rough and Ready” himself may have been surprised by the attention:

So soon as the news of the battles of the eighth and ninth of May, 1846, had fairly reached the United States, General Taylor began to be named for the next Presidency, by letter writers, newspapers, public meetings and conventions in various parts of the country. These nominations were generally put forth as being of a no-party character. Up to this time I think it highly probable—nay, almost certain—that General Taylor had never thought of the Presidency in connection with himself. And there is reason for believing that the first intelligence of these nominations rather amused than seriously interested him.[3]

Taylor’s prospective presidential bid began to generate talk during a moment of intense controversy in the United States Congress. Battles over the admittance of newly-acquired lands in the West became a source of bitter sectional dispute. As historian David M. Potter writes, the nominations of Taylor, Democrat Lewis Cass, and Free Soiler Martin Van Buren as presidential candidates emerged during a year when pro- and anti-slavery forces wrangled in a deadlocked House and Senate.[4]

Taylor became a compelling candidate because he lacked a clear stake in the debate over slavery in the territories. The Whigs, in nominating him over their leader Henry Clay, implied this rationale throughout their campaign literature. Due to the virtues of leadership Taylor exuded as a war hero, Whigs felt assured that he would uphold their party values. And, due to his background as a Louisiana slaveholder, Southerners of both Whig and Democratic stripes confidently assumed that he would support slavery in the newly-acquired Western territories. To this end, the Whigs strategically nominated the candidate without requiring him to state his positions. As the American Whig Review wrote in July of 1848 following the General’s nomination:

We seek no further proof and shall not agitate the question; we hold it certain that the affections and prejudices of the nominee incline him to the side which we advocate. We do not ask of him an immediate declaration on every point of Whig policy. As he is honest and prudent, he cannot speak without deliberation: his mind has been occupied with military affairs; in these he is well versed; but as the genius of the great commander differs but little, perhaps not at all in its kind, from that of the civil chief, we may be sure his government will be devoid neither of energy, wisdom, nor economy.[5]

Because Taylor emerged as a candidate on the heels of a military campaign, the argument went, he should not be held accountable to clearly articulate his stance on the issues. Character alone—“Prudence, firmness, justice; invincible resolution, contempt of opinion, of danger and of accident, [and] an elevated spirit”—would lead Taylor to wisely lead the nation through its controversies.[6] Similarly, the Whig Party Platform in 1848 justified the position-less candidate by pointing to his character. Though Taylor had never voted, he assured Whigs that he would have voted Whig in the 1844 election. Citing a “soldier’s word of honor” as reason enough to trust Taylor’s political sentiments, the party felt that no more than “assurance… is needed from a consistent and truth-speaking man.”[7]

One anonymous conservative Whig made the case for supporting the General—a “Whig in principle”—by discounting the import of party pledges in campaigns. “These partisan pledges, these promises of the office-seekers, what are they worth? In nine cases out of ten they are made only to be broken. Pledges! Who that made has ever kept them? Will the lessons of experience never impart wisdom?” Running through the unfulfilled campaign promises of Jackson, van Buren, Tyler, and Polk, he concluded by asserting that the Whigs need not demand any pledges of policy from Taylor to accept his nomination:

What, then, are pledges, what their necessity? when any Administration, rightly conducted, must be guided after all by the progress of human affairs and the exigencies of the moment. Pledges! There can be no pledges but a clear head, an honest heart, and an upright will.[8]

Taylor would thus be run as an entirely character-based candidate. There was no need for him to articulate his positions, the reasoning went, because ultimately his conduct as president would derive from decisions rooted in his virtuous soul and expression of strong character on the battlefield.

In the absence of a clear statement of position, however, Northerners and Southerners alike examined other details of Taylor’s personal narrative to draw assumptions about his policy stances. A critical pamphlet distributed by John Calvin Adams, an anti-slavery Whig from the North, captures the assumptions of both sides of the North-South divide. The lack of a platform, the author asserted, would not fool him or his Northern brethren into believing that Taylor represented a cause other than slave power:

This man is held up by the slave holders of the South as a master for the North during the next presidential term… We are slightingly informed that Gen. Taylor has no opinions on any subject; or does not choose to express them, On the great questions of slavery and the Wilmot Proviso—which more than any others excite the public mind—Gen. Taylor, when respectably solicited to give an opinion, is dumb. He is a Slave owner—a Slave breeder—and the candidate and warrior of the promoters of the Extension of Slavery.[9]

As this sentiment illustrates, the interplay of image and issue—one grafting atop the other—is hard to avoid, even amid a candidate’s silence on the issues. As a slaveholder and a General in a war many Northerners regarded as an effort to expand slavery, Taylor was ascribed an assumed set of policy positions on slavery in the campaign whether he sought them or not. Ultimately, in both the Whig Party Convention and the general election, this assumption of his support for slaveholders took hold. Taylor won the election largely on the basis of his support in the South.

Steudeman Blog Post PicIronically, Taylor instead deeply offended pro-slavery Southerners. Within a year after his election, Potter writes, the newly elected president committed several fairly bold antislavery maneuvers in the territories. He encouraged California to skip territory status to immediately become a state, thus increasingly the likelihood that its government would ban slavery. Then, in an act that offended Southerners, he explicitly declared he would not veto a Congressional passage of the anti-slavery Wilmot Proviso.[10] By May of 1850, he further agitated the Southern faction of the Whig and Democratic Parties when he encouraged the incorporation of a disputed Texas territory into the state of New Mexico. If not for his death in July 1850, Potter muses, he “might well have started a war” with divisive implications for the North and South.[11]

“I ask no favors, and shun no responsibilities.” Taylor’s campaign slogan epitomized the supreme elevation of image over issue in the 1848 campaign. The slogan sought to sever him from party connections or associations, stressing only his moral compass as a virtuous general willing to take on necessary challenges as they emerge. In execution, however, the ambiguity about his positions ultimately proved a source of supreme confusion for his supporters. In the absence of a clear statement of pledges, the public invented one; and, as it turned out, invented it incorrectly, failing to anticipate the antislavery policies Taylor would pursue as president. Taylor’s case illustrates the ways in which the identity propositions of a campaign about the virtues or background of a candidate almost inevitably provoke corresponding assumptions about policy positions. Whether candidates try to make an election entirely about issues or, in Taylor’s case, about image, the two concepts imply one another. Despite their infinite violability, then, campaign “pledges” provide an important role for candidates by allowing them to assert—and thus better control—the relationship between their identities and the policies they may pursue.

Notes

[1] Michael Calvin McGee, “‘Not Men, but Measures’: The Origins and Import of an Ideological Principle,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 64 (1978): 141-154.

[2] Trevor Parry-Giles, “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety’: Issues, Images, and Public Policy Deliberation in Presidential Campaigns,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 13 (2010): 37-64.

[3] Abraham Lincoln, The Life and Public Services of General Zachary Taylor: An Address (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922). Ebook.

[4] David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, ed. Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: HarperCollins, 1976), 63-89.

[5] “The Nomination.—General Taylor,” The American Review: Devoted to Politics and Literature 2 (1848): 4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Whig Party Platform of 1848,” June 7, 1848, The American Presidency Project, online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=25855.

[8] A conservative Whig, “Considerations in Favor of the Nomination of Zachary Taylor by the Whig National Convention,” Washington, April 4, 1848, online by The Library of Congress, 8.

[9] John Calvin Adams, “A Northern No! Addressed to the Delegates from the Free States to the Whig National Convention,”Philadelphia, 1848, online by The Library of Congress, 8.

[10] Potter, The Impending Crisis, 87.

[11] Ibid, 107.

1848–The Whig-ish Candidate–Becky Bitar

1848 was an eventful year in American history; the Mexican-American War was ending, the Gold Rush was introduced, the issue of slavery was being widely disputed, women began discussing their rights for the first time, and the Whig party was taking a political lead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1848).  The presidential election of Zachary Taylor, over Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren, was allegedly based on his “national appeal as a war hero.” Taylor was known for his involvement in the Mexican-American War and caught the hearts of American people as being a “nationalist” man of his country (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3). 

Taylor’s military involvement of the Mexican-American war the primary foundation of his political campaign; it was essentially his only form of (non-Aristotelian) ethos. Taylor’s ethos was established mainly though his social character; people knew him as a war hero. Americans were not concerned with Taylor’s Aristotelian ethos, or establishing credibility throughout his speeches, because they already knew who he was and respected him. This was made clear in the fact that Taylor did not fully identify with any political party. He only promised to “serve” his country. He said’ “”I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish—nothing to serve but my country” (http://www.scmidnightflyer.com/zac.html). Taylor was attempting to win the hearts of his audience by using Kenneth Burke’s Theory of identification; he was identifying himself with the audience by identifying his ways with theirs. He was communicating to be like his audience (http://blog.umd.edu/tpg/comm-401-spring-2011/powerpoint-presentations-comm-401/). This idea is also made clear with his presidential campaign poster. 

The poster depicts a, military dressed, Taylor on top of a white horse, in between two columns topped with lady justice and lady peace. The columns are wrapped with cloths that say the words “Palo Alto”, “Monterey”, and “Buena Vista”, all terms of Taylor’s successes in the Mexican-American War. There is a dove with an olive branch flying atop Taylor’s head, marking a symbol of peace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_symbols). And finally, there is a huge log at his feet that have the letters “UNION” on it. This poster was made to appeal to any American of the time. It incites an overwhelming feeling of peace, justice, and liberty. Although it could be interpreted as a Whig poster because of the “UNION” log, (and Whigs were pro-union) Taylor was probably attempting to reach out to all Americans. The fact that he was not fully affiliated with any political party, made it easier for him to attract all types of people for his audience. Because of his military involvement, Taylor refused to claim any political party, and rarely voted. He essentially ran with “no platform” and was publicly criticized for doing so (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).  

This political cartoon plays on this issue of Taylor’s lack of platform with the topic of slavery; one of the biggest issues of the time. Because America had just recently acquired the Western states, the “Wilmot Proviso, a controversial bill prohibiting slavery in the western lands,” was recently enacted and created lots of debate over the issue (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).  The South wanted to get rid of it while the North wanted to keep it in place. Taylor, wanting to appeal to all audiences, did not directly promise anything except “he hinted that if elected President, he might not veto” the bill (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).

The cartoon depicts the hot issue of slavery as a pull between the three parties. Taylor, pulling the cow’s tail on the left, is saying “I don’t stand on the Whig Platform, I ask no favor and shrink from responsibility.” Van Buren, milking the cow, says “I go in for the free soil, Hold on Cass, don’t let go Taylor. (That’s the cream of the Joke).”  And Cass, holding the cow by the horns, says “Matty is at his old tricks again and going in for the Spoils old Zach, and myself will get nothing but skim milk”  (http://hdl.handle.net/10088/2413). The cow most likely represents slavery. This was most likely a political cartoon offered by the free-soil party. It makes fun of Taylor and Cass. Van Buren was the free-soil party candidate and was pro-slavery. Cass was the Democratic candidate and was in favor of popular sovereignity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Cass). And as we all know, Taylor did not make anything clear, but was considered the “Whig candidate.” The cartoon is playing on Taylor’s inconsistency. It is making fun of the fact that he claims himself as a Whig but has his own beliefs otherwise. This cartoon was most likely an attempt to attract the South. The South was most interested in slavery, which both Van Buren and Cass supported. But the cartoon depicts Van Buren as the one with the upper hand, as he is milking the cow and ordering Taylor and Cass to get out of his way. Cass, while technically in support of slavery, by being in favor of popular sovereignty, is depicted as weak and complaining about Van Buren. This cartoon was definitely an attack against Taylor and Cass.

But, in the end, it proved useless as the underdog party won. Because James K. Polk was the president before Taylor, the country assumed the Democrats would win again. Polk brought the country out of war and the Democrats seemingly had the upper hand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_K._Polk). But, Taylor and the Whigs’ use of coalescent argumentation brought the country together and appealed to the majority of American citizens. Taylor made the country feel like he was just like them. He used Burke’s theory of identification and successfully convinced voters that he was one of them. He further maintained this character by saying, “The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.” (http://www.scmidnightflyer.com/zac.html). Taylor was an All American Man who successfully used his military persona to become president.

1844–Campaign Rhetoric–Zachary Lowe

In the days following the election, the outcome was unknown. Votes for a Third Party candidate had benefited the nominee of one major party at the expense of another, and the White House doors were hinged upon the votes of a large state where the results were remarkably close. 

Even if the modern American lacks a long term political memory (voters and candidates alike), the circumstances surrounding the 1844 election of President James K. Polk (Democrat) are likely to trigger images of a surprisingly popular Green Party candidate, a former President’s son, and the then current Vice President on the morning the country awoke from its electoral hangover on November 5th, 2000. In 1844, the Third Party candidate, James G. Birney of the Liberty Party, received 15,000 votes that historians believe would have gone to Whig nominee Henry Clay had Birney not been on the ticket (Zarefsky). The result led to one of the first elections in which a candidate, who had won the Presidency by a marginal number of votes, proceeded to run the country as if the election were a mandate for dramatic national changes. 

The election took place at a time in our nation’s history when the country was relatively half the size it is today. In fact, the election largely rested on issues of how large the country was, and whether or not it should expand towards the south and westward. Looming heavily upon the country’s collective shoulders were heated debates surrounding the annexation of Texas, the mantra of manifest destiny, and further expansion towards the westward territories as proposed in the Jacksonian era. Soon after Polk was elected, a political slogan appeared: “Fifty-four Forty or Fight,” a reference to the Northwest Territory; the land between the latitude of 42° south and 54°40’ north—modern day Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and a large portion of British Columbia (Miles, “The Campaign”). 

Growing concerns over expansion were sparked by fears that the annexation of Texas might lead to war with Mexico and mark the country as an imperialist nation (Rathbun). Opponents like Whig Senator Daniel Webster warned that a true Republic should be self sustaining and that the United States should be set upon strengthening its institutions and cultivating its internal resources rather than building an empire (Rathbun). Many of Webster’s opinion felt that expansion would inevitably corrupt the “civic foundations of the republic” (Rathbun). Not surprisingly, the grim reality of the nation’s economic life force—slavery—fueled fires on both sides of the annexation and expansion debates (“The Campaign”). Oppositionists expressed concerns that increasing the slave territories would give rise to the already strained relationship between North and South (“The Campaign”). 

When examining the rhetoric of the time period, it is crucial to note that this was one of the first elections to take place along strict party lines. The Whigs aligned with the abolitionist movement (in name only—nominee Henry Clay was a slave owner) and set out to define themselves against the increasingly volatile rhetoric of the expansionist touting leaders of the Democratic Party. Finding itself caught between the growing powers of the two ruling parties in a two party system, the new anti-slavery Liberty Party formed around the anti-expansion and pro-abolitionist movements—and boasted a nominee without slaves to prove it. 

Increasing the divide between parties was the determined stance each candidate took on the annexation of Texas. Whig nominee Henry Clay was as adamantly against annexation as Democrat James K. Polk was for it. The decisive clash signaled a clear, albeit ominous, dividing line to the average American voter—a decision in policy, defined by platform, that would drastically change the course of country depending on who was elected. 

Despite the inaccurate, though historically frequent, attribution of “Fifty-four Forty or Fight” to Polk’s campaign slogan, the actual mudslinging banter was far more personal and less policy driven (Edwin). Henry Clay was portrayed by the Democrats as a man “notorious for his fiendish and vindictive spirit, for his disregard of the most important moral obligations, for his blasphemy, for his gambling propensities, and for his frequent blood thirsty attempts upon the lives of his fellow men” (“The Campaign”). The Polk political machine claimed Henry Clay had violated each of the Ten Commandments. Yet claimed he did so with gusto: with the same enthused dallying presently achieved by a twelve step program zealot (minus two). And lowering him to the ravenous masses discontented by the small size of their country, the Democrats accused Clay of being—beyond a mere force against expansion—an abolitionist against annexation for the fear of expanding the slave economy. Fire from the third party candidate James G. Birney even suggested that Clay was secretly in favor of annexation (“The Campaign”). 

Perhaps anticipating the days of a candidate “outside of our comprehension,” the Clay team sought to dismantle the all American image of the Democratic nominee James K. Polk. Despite his previous work as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the governor of Tennessee, and as a confidant to President Andrew Jackson, the Whigs were determined to paint him as a relative unknown in the American political landscape, asking “Who is James K. Polk?” (“The Campaign”). Polk was characterized as a radical supporter of the annexation, who would sacrifice the whole country for the sake of expansion, a puppet of the “slaveocracy” and a product of racist southern self interest (“The Campaign”). 

Not surprisingly, a survey of the campaign rhetoric from the election of 1844 reveals a country trying to define itself in the face of one of its most dominant institutions—slavery. The rhetoric of annexation marks an appeal to voters’ increasingly complex feelings towards slavery and the slave driven economy, with annexation itself an example of coded language for the expansion of the slave state into Texas and the expansive western territories. Whigs and abolitionists pointed to the “fraying bonds between north and south,” identifying the rise in divisive and dividing sentiments within the republic as the country continued to expand (Rathbun). However, the narrow election went to Polk and with his nomination came a promise to “reannex Texas and reoccupy Oregon” (Rathbun). With this goal, one of many set forth and achieved by “Young Hickory”, there came a renewed faith in manifest destiny as a central statement of national character and a pillar of American identity (Rathbun). Rhetorically, it proved to be a profound source of solidarity across antebellum America. A source and statement of faith in the days before the tethers stretching north to south had finally stretched too thin.

Work Cited 

Miles, Edwin A. “”Fifty-four Forty or Fight”–An American Political Legend.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Sep., 1957), pp. 291-309. 

“The Campaign and Election of 1844.” Campaigns and Elections.  http://millercenter.org/president/polk

Rathbun, Lyon. “The Debate over Annexing Texas and the Emergence of Manifest Destiny.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 4 No. 3, Fall 2001, pp. 459 -493. 

Turner, George A. “Election James K. Polk: A Bloomberg Inauguration Celebration.” The Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society. http://www.colcohist- gensoc.org 

Zarefsky, David. “Henry Clay and the Election of 1844: The Limits of a Rhetoric of Compromise.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2003 pp. 79-96.

1840–Platform Plank–Jonathan Lim

Seeing as the 1840 campaign was one based mostly on superficial content and party sponsored images (and was a long time ago), content regarding actual speeches or audio clips were hard to come by. Instead we know that the main images that viewers saw in the days leading up to the 1840 election were of Martin Van Buren as a well-dressed elitist dandy who had been unenthusiastically re-nominated and William Henry Harrison as a log cabin living, hard-cider drinking everyman. With the “Hard Cider” campaign full steam ahead, Harrison did not have to discuss any of the pressing issues of the time and ended up taking 234 electoral college votes to Van Buren’s 60. He also received 52.9% of the popular vote to Van Buren’s 46.8%. However, as we have learned in this class, elections are not determined on the basis of one piece of rhetoric.

What I have found is a Democratic Party Platform from 1840 that sheds some light on another key issue of the time: slavery. Before discussing it there should be some background explanation. As Andrew Jackson was leaving office in 1836, he made it clear that he was favor of annexing Texas. This was a polarizing position because most southern states were in favor of this position while most northern states were not, as it would almost certainly add another slave state to the union. Van Buren came into office without a clear decision on the issue, but trying to prevent a sectional split on slavery/expansion lines he went against Jackson and announced in 1837 that he did not support the annexation of Texas.  It also makes sense that Van Buren opposed annexation fearing a potential war with Mexico.

The Democratic Party Platform of 1840 is for the most part, a typical liberal platform that follows in the Jeffersonian tradition. However, there is one clause that seems to be radically out of place. That clause states: 

7. Resolved, That congress has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several states, and that such states are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the constitution; that all efforts by abolitionists or others, made to induce congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions. 

The seventh clause is without a doubt offering a terrifying and awful defense of slavery. It claims that the government has no power to affect or make change to any of the policies regarding slavery in the states that allow it, as told by the constitution. This clause is in stark contrast to the rest of the liberal document that also discusses the issue of the national bank and, “the separation of the moneys of the government from banking institutions” among others.

trangely (or not so strangely) enough this clause did not really affect the general course of the election, as bother parties were trying to pick up votes from southern states. With Van Buren opposing annexation, the southerners looked to Harrison, who was a slave-owner himself as well as a supporter of state rights. The same constituents who were in favor of states having the right to choose slavery policies then, were aligned with Harrison’s ideals. To his credit, Van Buren’s hand was slightly forced in terms of annexation, as he was trying to keep a country from becoming fiercely divided on the sectional issue.  Also, his campaign made sure to disparage Harrison’s credibility on the issues of slavery and state rights, which they said was covered up by the “Hard Cider” message.

In the south, the images being portrayed came across in a similar fashion to in the north. The southerners were captivated by the image of a soldier turned presidential candidate who had been fighting for his country while Van Buren had been counting bills in the comfort of the political sphere. Harrison essentially represented a, “truer republicanism” that voters in the south could relate to. It also was essential that Harrison’s running mate was a Virginian native. John Tyler was a staunch supporter of state rights who was firmly against Jacksonian politics. With the two running a strong anti-abolition front along with an image centered campaign, the Whigs were able to take one of their first big victories.

Works Cited 

“1840 Presidential Election.” The American Presidency Project. Web. 14 Apr. 2011. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1840

“American President: William Henry Harrison: Domestic Affairs.” Miller Center of Public Affairs. Web. 14 Apr. 2011. http://millercenter.org/president/harrison/essays/biography/4

John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29572 

“Presidential Election Campaign.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Home. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/640.