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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.”

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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.

1840–Campaign Song–Jonathan Lim

With the down economy following the Panic of 1837 and Americans unsure of who would lead the nation, the stage for 1840’s presidential election was ripe with drama. The majority of campaigning during the 1840 presidential campaign revolved around images and slogans created for the candidates by their respective parties. With incumbent Martin Van Buren at the helm, the Democratic Party was firmly grounded in running a disciplined, organized campaign that did not think much of the Whig challengers. However, the Whig Party, who held a national convention to select a presidential candidate for the first time in their history, was finally starting to get it together when they selected William Henry Harrison. A former U.S. general who was supported by New York political boss, Thurlow Weed, Harrison would shape out to be a formidable opponent. What followed in the 1840 election trail was a study of opposite ends of political philosophy.

The rhetoric that became a prime focus in the campaign was a slogan turned song called, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” The slogan refers to a battle that occurred in November of 1811 between U.S. forces led by then General William Henry Harrison and American Indian confederation forces. The so-called battle was actually a surprise attack by confederation forces led by Native American leader Tecumseh that ended when the aggressors ran low on ammunition. The battle was a catalyst for Harrison leading the U.S. army in crippling Tecumseh’s forces and eventually the rest of the tribal resistance. Though not a particularly well-remembered battle, it was all the Whigs needed to build an image around.

The song emphasized Harrison’s military feats and promoted him as a war hero, even though he had been criticized for his actions at the time and high casualty rate among his soldiers. At the same time, it attacked, “little Van”, belittling Van Buren and saying that he was a, “used up man”, referring to his inability to handle the nation’s economic problems. It is a shamelessly patriotic song, with reference to multiple states, asking the public if they had, “heard the news, from – Maine to Georgia” and uses repetition of the phrase, “For Tippacanoe.” The,” Tyler” in the title of the song refers to Harrison’s running mate John Tyler. A southerner to balance the northern pull of Harrison, Tyler was a former Virginia senator who had supported Henry Clay, the Whigs philosophical leader. This balance between a Northern military hero and a southern Clay supporter was exactly what the Whigs needed for their campaign.

With all the support that, “Tippacanoe and Tyler Too” was getting, the Democrats needed a way to combat the aggressive imaging by the Whigs. To do so, they attacked Harrison’s silence on current issues such as state debts and banking policies. They also called Harrison an old man who would be content to drink “hard cider” and sit in his “log cabin”. Little did they know that this was a move they would soon regret. The Whigs immediately embraced this rhetoric and promoted Harrison as the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate from humble beginnings. One of the first presidential candidates to go out in the field to campaign for votes; Harrison claimed to be a man of the common people and harped on Van Buren’s apparent life of excess. In a country that had recently fallen on hard times, the choice between luxury and practicality was an easy one.

The Whigs show how badly the Democrats misfired in their attacks in a not so subtle way. In the song’s verse it says, “Let them talk about hard cider … and Log Cabins too, Twill only help to speed the ball for Tippecanoe.” So not only were the Whigs recognizing the Democrats attempts to detract from their candidate, they were implying that this slogan had helped publicize him.

As mentioned earlier, the Democrats had attacked Harrison for being silent on 1840’s pressing issues, referring to him as, “General Mum.” However, with the log cabin and hard cider rhetoric so conveniently given to them by the Democrats, the Whigs didn’t need for Harrison to ride any other issues. Rather, the Whigs featured Harrison as a man who had built himself up from the working class and depicted Van Buren as the snob who was not willing to be in touch with the people. It didn’t help that Van Buren was relying on grassroots campaigns while Harrison was making campaign stops in the public. The situation was ironic given that Harrison was actually the candidate who had come from a prominent family with money, while Van Buren had been born into a working class family. 

Works Cited 

Greeley, Horace. “The “Tippecanoe And Tyler Too” Campaign.” American History and World History at Historycentral.com the Largest and Most Complete History Site on the Web. Web. 9 Apr. 2011. <http://www.historycentral.com/documents/Tippacanoe.html&gt;. 

McNamara, Robert. “Election of 1840 – Campaign Used Songs and Slogans Such as Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” About.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <http://history1800s.about.com/od/leaders/a/1840campaign.htm&gt;. 

“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too! A Comic Glee.” About.com. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <http://history1800s.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&gt;.

1840–Economic Cartoon–Jonathan Lim

In the late 1830s and early 1840s, cartoons and political images were becoming more and more prevalent as ways of communicating campaign rhetoric. Campaign organizers sought to cast their candidate in an appealing light or create a popular image constituents could attach to their candidate. The benefits of imaging were two-fold: one, they made the candidate more recognizable and two, they made the candidate a real person as opposed to some far off figure in Washington. This particular comic is commenting on the economic state of the U.S. in 1837. The reason this is important in terms of the 1840 presidential election is because so much of the campaign debate revolved around economic issues.

This cartoon, entitled, “The Times” shows the depressing state the economy was in before the 1840 presidential election. The foreground of the picture, featuring: a mother with her baby laying on a straw mat, a drunken man, a militiaman, a landlord with a begging mother and child, a barefoot soldier and some other motley characters are contrasted to the background where: “Peter Pillage”, who is obviously supposed to represent a prosperous attorney, is being picked up in a luxurious looking carriage. Also in the background we see the Bridewell debtors prison and the Custom House and Mechanics bank. The sign on the Custom House says, “All bonds must be paid in Specie”, while the Mechanics Bank next door has a sign saying, “No species payments made here.” The cartoonist is obviously highlighting the Panic of 1837, in which every bank in New York City began to accept payment only in specie (gold or silver coinage), which caused a tremendous backlash in deflation. This is exemplified by the large group of frantic citizens trying to get into the Mechanics Bank due to this policy. Though these are the obvious implications of the cartoon, there are still others the author includes in the cartoon.

A hat, spectacles and what appears to be a pipe appear in the sky with the word, “GLORY” in between, while a deflated balloon labeled, “Safety Fund” falls to the right. This is a stab at former President Andrew Jackson’s treasury policies, which were largely unpopular and blamed for a great deal of the economic crisis. This is important because Martin Van Buren aligned himself with Jackson’s policies and urged his supporters to keep true to the history of Democratic ideals. In the long term though, he was making his campaign devoid of contemporary issues and severely limited the scope of his policies. Because Van Buren was committed to the defense of Democratic ideals and was unchanging in his electioneering strategy, it cost him a great deal of electoral votes. Even after it was clear citizens were more interested in hearing about how they were going to get out of the economic rut, Van Buren continued to circulate stale Democratic propaganda in newspapers and documents.

This cartoon must have been one of many pro-Whig pictorials that were in support of a finally unified Whig party. With the Panic of 1837 and the depression that followed, it was the first chance the Whig’s had seen of a true opening in a shot at the presidency. The truth is, the Whig efforts toward the 1840 election started in 1836 after Harrison’s election loss. The Whig’s pushed Harrison as the candidate for citizens who were disenfranchised with the incumbent party and the poor state of the economy. To support Harrison, they nominated John Tyler, a former U.S. senator from Virginia. The Whigs hoped this nomination of a “southern boy” would help drum up support from southern states that were disenfranchised with Jacksonian Democracy, the kind Van Buren supported. During this time period southern states were very much in favor of state rights, and the Whigs wanted to exploit that nationalism in their favor.

It was helpful to the Whigs that the Democrats were pretty much self-imploding at the time of the 1840 election. As the comic illustrates, Jackson’s policies had put the Democrats in disarray and Van Buren, instead of stepping out from the views that put the U.S. in such bad shape, continued to adhere to them. For example, even with the passage of the Sub-Treasury bill that demonstrated Van Buren’s loosening grip on political control, he failed to change strategies towards a more modern, current-day oriented campaign.  On top of these problems, Democrats could not even agree on a Vice-Presidential candidate. At the Democratic convention, the party refused to re-nominate sitting Vice-President Richard Johnson, instead splitting votes between him, Littleton Tazewell and James Polk.  All of these distractions were too much for Van Buren to carry the Democratic ticket single-handedly.

 Works Cited

“Election of 1840.” United States History. Web. 1 Apr. 2011. <http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h300.html&gt;.

“The Panic Of 1837.” The History Box. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. <http://www.thehistorybox.com/ny_city/panics/panics_article5a.htm&gt;.