Archive for the ‘1856-1892 Campaigns’ Category

By Justin Hammond–Reelecting Lincoln, 1864

The 1864 presidential election was distinctive because it took place during the American Civil War (the first presidential election to take place during a war since 1812), and involved one of the most famous figures of American history- the sitting president Abraham Lincoln. An incumbent candidate had not been elected for a second term since 1832. Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, a U.S. Army officer. McClellan ran on a peace platform of the Democratic party; while the Republicans formed the National Union Party. The National Union Party consisted of Republicans and War Democrats (Democrats who rejected the Peace Democrats’ policies). McClellan, representing the Peace Democrats, advocated putting the Civil War to a quick end, even if he did not necessarily agree with his party’s full platform.

One Democratic broadside (right) sums up the major differences between the two parties. The Democrats (or ‘Peace’ party) wanted a speedy end to the Civil War, and to end the notion of emancipation. The National Union Party (Republicans) wanted to pursue the war until the Confederacy completely surrendered. This election proved to ultimately determine the outcome of the Civil War, and the fate of the union.

This is a popular political cartoon (left) from the 1864 campaign; it is by Currier & Ives and is titled: “The True Issue or ‘That’s What’s the Matter.’” This cartoon portrays George McClellan as the mediator between Abraham Lincoln and the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Lincoln while grasping one side of the map is proclaiming “No peace without Abolition!” and Davis wielding the other side of the map as it tears is proclaiming “No peace without Separation!!” McClellan is portrayed as a go-between over the map of the United States. He holds the two men back and proclaims, “The Union must be preserved at all hazards!” This cartoon represents the Peace Democrats campaign, specifically illustrating the National Union Party’s mindset of wanting the war to continue. This cartoon is implying that if the war continues, it will “tear” the United States apart; McClellan acts as a “peace-maker” in the scenario, stopping the two sides from ripping the country apart.

This is another political cartoon (right) that circulated during the 1864 presidential campaign. This is from Harper’s Weekly, and portrays Abraham Lincoln with a miniature George McClellan with a tiny shovel in the palm of his hand, Lincoln is stating “this reminds me of a little joke.” In November of 1862, Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command after he showed reluctance in pursuing and defeating the Confederates. When the 1864 election rolled around, McClellan was slow to start campaigning following his nomination at the Democratic National Convention; Lincoln joked about this, comparing McClellan’s delays as like his delays in battle; this joke is the meaning behind this political cartoon.

The summer of 1864 was rough for the Union army, as they kept taking overwhelming defeats. The Union armies had a very hard time staggering the Southern forces, with two defeats in Virginia, and one in Georgia and Louisiana. Lincoln wrote a dour memorandum on August 23, 1864, asking his cabinet to accept the grim prospects for his re-election: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.” However, everything turned around for Lincoln and the Union when General William T. Sherman took Atlanta in September 1864. This remarkable military development, along with internal conflict within the Democratic Party, helped strengthen Lincoln’s chance at victory.

Although during the summer of 1864 the chances of Lincoln being re-elected looked very slim, he ended up defeating McClellan by a pretty significant margin. Lincoln won all but three states (Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey); more significantly, Lincoln won 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21.

In all, this was an election (and campaign) fully influenced by the American Civil War. This was the first presidential election that took place during a time with this severity of military tension within our country. Just five months after the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, though, the defeat of the Confederacy was accomplished.



By Hannah Richardson–“Know Nothing” Rhetoric, 1856

A third-party candidate has yet to become President but many third-party campaigns have had a major impact on Presidential elections. Perhaps one of the most influential third-party campaigns was that of former United States President, Millard Fillmore, from the American Party, in the election of 1856. The American Party, also known as the “Know Nothing” Party rallied behind the idea of nativism. They strongly opposed immigrants and Catholics and embraced working class values. The Know Nothing campaign was able to influence the election by embracing nativism and opposing Catholicism in their rhetoric.

The election of 1856 began on an interesting note with the Democrats not re-nominating the incumbent President, Franklin Pierce. Instead, the Democratic Party nominated former Secretary of State, James Buchanan. The fairly young Republican Party nominated former U.S. Senator John C. Frémont. The Republican Party was formed just a few years earlier in 1854 to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Slavery and its extension into new territories was a major issue during this time and was on the minds of all voters. The fractured nation was finding its way around several party divisions and creating new parties that represented the new interests in America. The popular Whig Party had split due to their varying stances on slavery and new parties such as the Free Soil Party, the North American Party, the North American Seceders Party and the Liberty Party were formed. Slavery played a very critical role in the rise of the Know Nothing Party and although the party failed in getting their candidate to the White House they were able to have an impact on this election. This election was one of the first years that a third-party candidate had a competitive role in the presidential election. The Know Nothings wanted to keep the rhetoric focused on nativism and found many ways to do so.  The party began a crusade claiming that the Republican candidate, John C. Frémont was Catholic. This accusation was an important aspect of the election.

After rumors broke out the Frémont was secretly Catholic, the Know Nothings perpetuated the idea to get the campaign rhetoric focused on nativism. They argued that he was married in a Catholic church and sent his daughter to Catholic school and therefore must have been hiding his Catholicism. Many Americans had strong anti-Catholicism ideals at this time. They feared Catholicism would take over and the Pope would one day rule America. Frémont expressed that he was Episcopalian but the rumors still tarnished his name to those Americans who held strongly to the idea of nativism. In the cartoon called “The Great Republican Reform Party, Calling on their Candidate,” John Frémont is being targeted for being Catholic as well as supporting other radical social reform movements such as feminism, abolition, religious tolerance, and open marriage. The cartoon has several citizens that represent the various progressive reforms people feared from Frémont. They are all looking to him and he is looking right back at them telling them that they will get what he wants if he becomes president. His progressivism was deeply disturbing to Americans who believed nativism was important. Though this was not enough to focus the campaign dialogue on nativism it did have an impact on the country. One of the reasons the issue of Catholicism and immigration was not as influential  as it may have been in other elections was because there was a much more pressing issue on the public’s mind which was slavery.

Political parties across the nation were divided over the issue of slavery in the 1850s. The passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act played a major role in fragmenting the political parties and remained a major part of the discourse in 1856. The Republican Party strongly opposed slavery expansion and opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act whereas the Democrats supported it. When the Republicans crusaded against slave power the Democrats warned that a Republican victory would bring on a civil war. One of the biggest downfalls to the Know Nothing Party was the fact they did not take a stance on slavery. Their platform focused on nativism and anti-immigration and said nothing of the issue of slavery in America. Since slavery was such an important issue at the time many people strayed away from voting for Fillmore and were forced to choose another party and many people did so solely on their views on slavery. The lack of rhetoric on slavery from the Know Nothing Party was damaging to the parties following.

The election of 1856 ended in a Democratic victory with James Buchanan becoming President and John Frémont in second place. Though Millard Fillmore only received 8 electoral votes he gained 21.6% of the popular vote- enough to sway the election. Though many Americans opposed the Catholic faith and immigration – slavery and its expansion was more important and the Know Nothing party refused to take a stand on slavery. In the election of 1856, the Know Nothing Party served as an instigator that took votes from the other parties and swayed votes away from the Republicans. In the political cartoon called “The Right Man for the Right Place” Fillmore is ironically standing between the two other candidates demanding peace as we see Buchanan (right) associated with violence against antislavery settlers and Frémont (left) associated with anti-slavery sentiments but violently pointing a gun. The faces of Frémont and Buchanan look uneasy while Fillmore is standing strong in the middle with a determined face. Frémont and Buchanan are also angled toward each other while Fillmore is front and center facing out with open arms. Frémont has a gun while Buchanan has a knife suggesting that Buchanan would lose in the current situation. Both Buchanan and Frémont have speech bubbles that relate to slavery while Fillmore is just talking about having peace. This is a great representation of the Know Nothing Party not taking a stand on slavery and therefore loosing votes. The Know Nothing campaign was able to influence the election by embracing nativism and opposing Catholicism in their rhetoric but were unable to rally enough people behind them.


By Hannah Richardson–Waving the Bloody Shirt, 1876

The election of 1876 is one of the closest and most disputed elections in American history. The nation was nearing the end of the Reconstruction era and coming out of an administration accused of corruption. The Grant presidency had brought on poor economic conditions and was full of scandal. The Republican Party nominated Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and the Democratic Party nominated Samuel J. Tilden. The Republican campaign used a tactic many call “waving the bloody shirt” to influence the election.

Like all elections prior to 1876, candidates were not going out and campaigning for themselves. Other prominent members of parties would go out and give speeches to try and influences voters. One famous example of this and of the tactic of “waving the bloody shirt” in the election of 1876 was done by Colonel Robert Ingersoll (below, right). Ingersoll was a Civil War veteran, famous orator and Radical Republican known as “The Great Agnostic.”  He had extremely radical views on religion, slavery, and woman’s suffrage. On September 21st, 1876, Ingersoll gave a speech in Indianapolis, Indiana, endorsing the Hayes campaign. The speech begins by assigning blame for all the horrors from war and slavery to the Democrats and then goes into talking about why the Republican Party is great. He uses several devices to get his message across and the large crowd of Union veterans cheers along with him. In his speech, he said the following:

Every man that tried to destroy this nation was a Democrat. Every enemy this great Republic has had for twenty years has been a Democrat. Every man that shot Union soldiers was a Democrat. Every man that denied to the Union prisoners even the worm-eaten crust of famine, and when some poor, emaciated Union patriot, driven to insanity by famine, saw in an insane dream the face of his mother, and she beckoned him and he followed, hoping to press her lips once again against his fevered face, and when he stepped one step beyond the dead line the wretch that put the bullet through his loving, throbbing heart was and is a Democrat.

This is an example of the Republicans “waving the bloody shirt.” He is continuing to bring up the Civil War, slavery, and secession and assigns blames to the Democrats for all the horrors of the war. His word choice is extremely important in this speech. When he is trying to show the horrors of the Democrats he uses words and phrases like “destroy this nation,” and “enemy.” To inspire his followers he continuously talks of the Union and uses the word “patriot.” At the end of this excerpt he gives an anecdote that involves a solider dreaming of his mother to evoke a feeling of strong familial bonds being broken. Throughout the speech there are other phrases like, “Every man that loved slavery better than liberty was a Democrat.” When contrasting the words slavery and liberty side-by-side he is making a starker divide between the two parties. He says that the man that assassinated Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat which brings up sad memories of a beloved leader being killed by someone from the opponent’s side. One of the most interesting phrases that is an example of “waving the bloody shirt” is when he says, “Soldiers, every scar you have on your heroic bodies was given to you by a Democrat.” Ingersoll is trying to cast blame on the Democrats for every bad thing that has happened to a Republican and trying to glorify the Republican Party at the same time. To promote and inspire the Republicans he says things like, “In the Republican Party there are no followers. We are all Leaders.” This type of rhetoric was a major setback for the Democratic Party.

While the Republicans were trying to run a campaign that strayed away from the scandal of the Grant years, the Democrats were trying to remind people of them. The Democrats nominated Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden was a New York native and opposed the Radical Republican approach to Reconstruction. A major issue surrounding the Democratic campaign was voter intimidation. White Democrats actively suppressed black and white Republican voter turnouts by disrupting meetings and rallies and using violence and intimidation. The  cartoon titled, “Of Course He Wants to Vote the Democratic Ticket” shows what the southern intimidation tactics looked like. The two white men are holding on to a black man and pointing guns at his head. The black man looks frightened. There is a crowd behind them smiling and watching on and it is clear that the man is about to vote. The text at the bottom says “Democratic ‘Reformer.’ ‘You’re as free as air, ain’t you? Say you are, or I’ll blow yer black head off!’” This quote shows that African Americans were not actually free at the time, especially in southern states. The quote “free as air” is making fun of a quote made by the parliamentary Waterson, who actually said that the “negroes of the South are free- free as air.” The voter intimidation that happened in the election of 1876 had a major impact on the results of the election and on the culture in the south.

On Election Day, Samuel J. Tilden had the majority of the popular vote and had 184 of the 185 necessary for a majority of the Electoral College. Rutherford B. Hayes had about 166 electoral votes and the nineteen votes from the Republican controlled southern states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were in dispute. At the time, Congress was split with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. Congress created a Federal Electoral Commission that had fifteen members of Congress and Supreme Court justices. In closed door meetings, the Democrats agreed to accept Hayes as president in return for Federal troops withdrawing from South Carolina and Louisiana. Had the Republicans not used rhetoric looking back on slavery and the Civil War, then perhaps Samuel J. Tilden could have received that one additional electoral vote to become the 19th President of the United States. And if southern Democrats would not have intimidated hundreds of black voters then perhaps the results would have been drastically different.

By Jaclyn Bruner–The Horse Race of Presidential Politics

It wouldn’t be too difficult to edit together a fancy video segment juxtaposing news anchors and pundits, one after the other, exhibiting the “horse race” metaphor as it applies to presidential Bruner Camptown Raceselection cycles. It is an easily digestible metaphor centered wholly on the winner take all, one shot, race to the finish. A race, of course, where spectators sit back and watch the animals strain to be the best, the first, the champion. Although the average American voter may fail to comprehend the origins of “derby day,” or the high stake betting associated with horse racing, the thrill of victory and agony of a close defeat is very palpable in American political culture. In presidential politics, the horse race provides a metaphor for the everyman to understand, simultaneously heightening the sense of urgency experienced overall.

Is this a symptom of our twenty-first century, twenty-four cable news cycle? Does the image of the horse race circulate because of the contentious climate in today’s national and divisive elections? A campaign song pamphlet from 1858 entitled “The White House Race” suggests differently. Set to the tune of “Camptown Races,” the lyrics compare candidates to horses in a mad dash, enticing the voter to bet on the “mustang colt,” over the “old gray” horse. From the parody of the tune to the imagery advanced in the lyrics, the horse race is alive and well on the way to the White House, long before television – let along cable news outlets – heralded horse race mentality of presidential politics.

The tune, “Camptown Races” may be a familiar one even to modern audience and its original lyrics also detail a horse race. As the historical marker in Bradford County, Pennsylvania explains, Stephen Foster’s song was written in 1850 about thirty years after the sport had been banned in the state. Pennsylvania Historian Chris Miner suggests that although once considered a spectacle in cities, the sport was outlawed for its “riotous” nature which consisted of running the races down public streets in Philadelphia and elsewhere. But, as Steven A. Reiss details in his book The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime, the sport persisted, perhaps in part to its urgent and high stakes nature of gambling on races, eventually reemerging under legal protections using the race track venues modern audiences recognize today.

Although the horse race metaphor circulates well among publics of voters, one might ask why such a rhetoric may be so pervasive. Why does the electorate respond to the horse race comparison in more recent presidential campaigns? One explanation may be the theory advanced by Allan J. Lichtman in his book, Predicting the Next President, in which he states, “like the [presidential election] polls themselves, the horse-race commentators can never be wrong” (8). Commentators in a horse-race are, quite literally, calling it as they see it – unable to predict what could happen in the next moment. Lichtman continues, suggesting that the metaphor offers an insight into campaigns, but very little insight to elections.

This could not be more accurate and offers one explanation for the pervasive nature of this turn of phrase. The comparisons to the race are clear as the public digests a candidate’s “run” for the presidency as a “run” towards the White House. Political Scientist Anthony C. Broh describes the horse race metaphor as a framework journalists can access that privileges polling data and enhances the entertainment value of presidential campaigns. He writes, “A horse is judged not by its absolute speed or skill but in comparison to the speed of other horses” (515).

There is a strategy for managing curves, there are other competitors who may kick dirt up along the way and incredible breakaways down the home stretch. However, as any spectator of the race is well aware, the horse you bet on at 25-to-1 odds could cost you, while the horse that is a long shot might pay out more in the end. Because of the unpredictable nature of the horse racing scene, it is enthralling and exciting. But most of all, it is anybody’s guess. This best translates to the story campaigns and the media like to tell of an electorate, on the edge of their seats, waiting to see who will come out of the gate strong and who will eke across at the finish line.

Broh goes on to assert that the metaphor serves to bolster the democratic process, even while demonstrating some clear problems. Whereas no such claim is made here, the rhetorical force of the metaphor is certainly worth examining. The accessible image of a horse race, the long tradition of the sport in American culture, and the entertainment value of the chase all collude to bring the metaphor to a memorable photo finish.

  • Allan J. Lichtman, Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2012).
  • Anthony C. Broh, “Horse-Race Journalism: Reporting the Polls in the 1976 Presidential Election,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 44(1980): 514-529.
  • Steven A. Reiss, The Sport of Kings and Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
  • “Camptown Races Historical Marker,”, Accessed April 30, 2014,
Categories: 1856-1892 Campaigns

By Rebecca Alt–Scandal and Character in the 1884 Election of S. Grover Cleveland

In modern elections in the United States there are often scandalous incidents involving one or more presidential candidates or the people closest to them. Most recently, New Jersey Governor and potential 2016 Republican candidate was involved in a bridge scandal, which has severely influenced perceptions of his character and subsequent conversations regarding his potential candidacy. Although Christie claims that “Bridgegate” has not and will not affect his 2016 plans, the scandal still remains a black mark on his record and one of the many examples the role personal character plays in presidential campaign rhetoric.

Alt Cleveland PicThis is only one type of scandal voters are exposed to during the modern never-ending campaign season. Apart from incidents that involve an action (or inaction) taken while in public office that could affect the welfare of people, skeletons often come out of closets that prompt audiences to question or reconsider a politician’s character. Juicy secrets are revealed about politicians and presidential candidates to audiences willing to indulge them. Often when the skeletons come out, the mudslinging begins—supporters of the other, better candidates not only share the damning information but exploit it in a variety of ways for a particular end—damaging the candidate’s character enough to cost him/her the election to public office. This topic is ripe with content for analysis, but for this blog post I will focus on one 19th century election and a “major scandal” that resulted in rhetorical acts of mudslinging and character attacks, analyzing one particular artifact (while also showing other related images) that acted symbolically to shape perceptions of S. Grover Cleveland in the 1884 election versus James Blaine.

Character attacks, or the latin ad hominem, are not uncommon to political discourse generally. In the historical discourses we have examined as a part of #COMM 760, it is clear that “mudslinging” is not unique to the most current era of politics. Everything about a candidate’s character—appearance, intelligence, and experience, for example—directly impacted that candidate’s trustworthiness as leader of the nation, more so than “issues” in a campaign. As Trevor Parry-Giles explains, “American elections, particularly at the presidential level, are dominated by images and personality-based arguments.”[1] Political images, then, or “verbal and/or visual rhetorical markers of public character and individual persona,” take the abstract idea of “character” and concretize it.[2] With this basic framework in mind, I turn to the primary political image artifact that appeared during the 1884 Cleveland v. Blaine election: a cartoon entitled “Another Voice for Cleveland.”[3] 

Alt Cleveland Pic 2In this political cartoon appearing in The Judge, magazine Grover Cleveland’s scandalous secret is not only exposed to the audience, but it is exploited in a way that casts Grover Cleveland as cowardly.[4] Ernest Ferguson explains that after the Democratic convention and nomination was secured for Cleveland “came the bombshell. Several days after the Democratic convention, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph published an exposé, headlined ‘A Terrible Tale: A Dark Chapter in a Public Man’s History,’ which revealed a secret episode in Cleveland’s life. The article alleged that Cleveland was the father of an illegitimate 9-year-old child, and that he’d been paying the mother for years to keep her quiet. Republican newspapers gleefully picked up the story, and Blaine supporters started reciting a jeer of their own: ‘Ma, ma, where’s my pa?’”[5] In the cartoon, the child is visibly upset, but the words read, “I want my Pa!” instead of “Where’s my Pa?” This, as the title of the cartoon does, suggests that the child is “another one for Cleveland.” Cleveland is shown looking discombobulated –almost drunken—as he tries to cover his ears and ignore the cries from his child. Cleveland is depicted as shaken and visibly trying to tune the child out, thus he is cowardly in the face of his secret. The child’s mother—the woman, Maria Halpin, whom Cleveland’s affair was with, is shown hiding her face in shame. Perhaps she is portrayed as such because of the allegations that Cleveland paid for her silence over the years.

There is a significant juxtaposition in this cartoon. The tag hanging from Cleveland’s coat reads “Grover the Good.” Before the exposé of his sex scandal was published, Cleveland had a reputation for public integrity.[6] In fact, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, said, “When a blathering ward politician objects
to Cleveland because he is ‘more of a Reformer than a Democrat,’ he furnishes the
best argument in favor of Cleveland’s nomination and election.”[7] Ferguson continues, “At the Democratic convention in Chicago, one of Cleveland’s prominent boosters said that his friends ‘love him and respect him, not only for himself, for his character, for his integrity and judgment and iron will, but they love him most for the enemies he has made.’” The Judge cartoon depicts a common rhetorical attack on character: if you think you know “Grover the Good,” think again.

Alt Cleveland Pic 3While the cartoon itself serves as an argument against Cleveland’s personal character, Cleveland responds in a way that just might have been the reason he was able to win the election. When offered an envelope containing James Blaine’s scandalous activities, Cleveland paid for it, shredded it, and burned it.[8] Not only did Cleveland own up and accept responsibility for the illegitimate child, he chose to take “the moral high road” when given the opportunity to stoop to his opposition’s level.[9] Ferguson concludes his historical analysis of Cleveland’s sex scandal by saying “Cleveland wasn’t always honest. He had long held a grudge against the press, and during his second term he and aides covered up the news of a tumor in his jaw and surgeries to repair it. However, that did not dent his reputation for personal integrity and putting the public before politics. He died in Princeton, N.J., in 1908, and on his tombstone at the Nassau Presbyterian Church are carved the words: ‘I have tried so hard to do right.’”[10]

Cleveland’s character issue reflects the larger trend in American politics. Michael Calvin McGee reminds us of the ideal principle “not men, but measures” as the basis for electing leaders, but history has proven that it is oft not the case.[11] Character matters for audiences, and one could study any president/presidential candidate in terms of his or her character and that relation to election success. In Cleveland’s case, perhaps the voters appreciated his honesty when the scandal was exposed, and saw Blaine as posessing low-morals:

A delegate from Chicago summed up the situation. “I gather that Mr. Cleveland has shown high character and great capacity in public life but that in private life his conduct is open to question, while on the other hand, Mr. Blaine in public life has been weak and dishonest, while he seems to have been an admirable husband and father. The conclusion I draw from these facts is that we should elect Mr. Cleveland to the public office for which he is admirably qualified to fill and remand Mr. Blaine to the private life which he is so eminently fitted to adorn.”[12]

Alt Cleveland Pic 4Grover Cleveland won the election of 1884 and married a woman named Frances Folsom in the White House. Mudslinging, character-attacking discourses are compelling arguments against character that could affect the outcome of an election. But Cleveland countered those arguments by enacting the character he had been previously known to have, ultimately overcoming the attack through his virtuous actions. Perhaps today’s politicians could learn from the strategies of Grover Cleveland in the face of political scandal.


[1] Trevor Parry-Giles, “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety’: Issues, Images, and Public Policy Deliberation in Presidential Campaigns,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 13, no. 1 (2010): 37-38.

[2] Ibid, 39-40.

[3]; also Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 65.

[4] Judge was a popular Republican-leaning publication (Ferguson 65).

[5] Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 65


[7] Ernest B. Ferguson, “Moment of Truth,” American History (2013): 66.

[8] Ibid, 67.

[9] Ibid, 68.

[10] Ibid.

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

[12] Ibid, 67.

[13] Photo, right: Library of Congress. Cleveland’s opposition event went as far as to question his trustworthiness because he went by his middle name!

Categories: 1884 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 Devin Scott–Political Cartoons in the 1860 Presidential Campaign: Visual Depictions of Presidential Candidates as Performers

April 17, 2014 1 comment

The Presidential race of 1860 was a hard fought contest that was engaged in on all fronts available to the campaigners and their Parties. One such front was political cartoons; cartoons were widely printed and distributed. As such, political cartoonists’ representations of the presidential candidates are a rich area for study. In this post, I compare and contrast two cartoons that depict the four presidential hopefuls in a contest for the presidency. The first cartoon, “The Great Political Juggle,” which was printed in the (Cincinnati) Rail Splitter, depicts the four candidates as performers who juggle Electoral College electors, to varying degrees of success. The second cartoon I analyze is Louis Maurer’s “The Political Gymnasium,” which depicts the presidential hopefuls demonstrating their athletic prowess for the public.

1860 Cartoon

In “The Great Political Juggle,” the audience views (from left to right) John C. Breckenridge, Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and John Bell engaged in a Juggling contest for the Presidency. The artist depicted Lincoln as the winner of the most states, followed by Bell and Breckenridge, with Douglas in last place. This rendering is accompanied with an explanatory caption that dictates Lincoln’s overwhelming victory in the Free States and Bell and Breckenridge’s splitting of the southern States. Douglas is humorously depicted as having fallen down under the weight of “squatter sovereignty,” a “Black Pill” he was unsuccessful in convincing the country to swallow. Besides predicting Lincoln as the winner of the election, the cartoonist also predicts that it will be a battle not for popular vote, but rather for electoral votes. This distinction makes the campaign primarily about state to state popularity rather than national popularity. The other political cartoon, “The Political Gymnasium” also favors Lincoln, but stops short of predicting the outcome of the election.

In “The Political Gymnasium” the audience again watches the various candidates performing, only this time they showcase their athletic prowess, rather than their skillful juggling of the Electoral College. The cartoon portrays Constitutional Union Party Presidential candidate, John Bell as a barbell being held up by his running mate Edward Everett, demonstrating his lack of athletic prowess in relation to the other candidates, all of whom are depicted in much more active poses. Abraham Lincoln is shown upon a balance beam apparently supported by his Republican Party nomination, while Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge, the Democratic nominees for President, box each other for control of their Party. Douglas asserts that he will make Breckenridge cry before taking “a round with the rest of them,” while Breckenridge’s character implies that he will garner enough Democratic support to prevent Douglas from seriously challenging Lincoln for the Presidency.

Political Performance

More interesting than the two political ca1860 Cartoon 2rtoons’ individual depictions of the contest for the presidency is the dominant commonality the two share; both cartoons depict the candidates as performers.  “The Political Gymnasium” shows the candidates as gymnasts who are seeking to showcase their athleticism to the American public. This is not a direct contest where the candidates battle each other with a clear winner, despite the depiction of a boxing match between Douglas and Breckenridge. Instead, it is a performance for the public. Are Everett and Bell’s demonstration of Strength more entertaining than Lincoln’s mounting of the balance beam, or is one of the boxers’, Breckenridge and Douglas, performance most enticing? Despite the inevitability of a victor, the candidates and their Parties are shown as independent performers in the quest for the presidency, not direct competitors.

“The Great Political Juggle” provides a more obvious representation of the candidates as performers rather than direct competitors. Instead of depicting the candidates in a race or contest for votes, the Cincinnati Rail Splitter depicts the candidates as individual jugglers performing their act for the American public, with the winner being the candidate who successfully juggles the most Electoral College votes. Again, the candidates are not shown competing directly; instead, each candidate attempt to individually win the most States through their juggling performance. Once the theme of Presidential candidates as performers rather than competitors is recognized, its prevalence in the two cartoons is abundantly apparent.

What are the wider implications of these political cartoons and their decision to highlight candidates and their performances over candidates and their issues?

One possible explanation is that these political cartoons are overtly about the presidential race itself, but are actually critiques of the characters and Party politics that defined the 1860 presidential campaign. The cartoons may speak to a view of the presidential campaigns as primarily performative, rather than direct contests where the best candidate wins; the campaigners are shown as mere performers that compete on the grounds of character and Party, rather than on issues. These cartoons may be subtle critiques of the lack of issue based campaigning and the reliance of the candidates upon personality and Party to elect them. If this explanation holds true, these cartoons provide a powerful, yet subtle, critique of character and Party based campaigns, at the expense of issue based campaigns.

In other words, we might wonder, if these political cartoons are clever, prescient, critiques of “Man over Measure” politics?

Cartoon Sources:

“The Great Political Juggle”:

“The Political Gymnasium”: