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.
The 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 Frémont’s (right) songbook (1856) included “Freedom’s Dawn,” an adaptation of “The Morning Light is Breaking.”
- Abraham Lincoln’s signature campaign song, “Lincoln and Liberty” (1860), was based on the “Old Rosin the Beau” (as noted here, among other places)
- Uylsses S. Grant relied on an adaptation of “Low Back Car” in 1872, but his first jam—“Grant, Grant, Grant” (1868)—used “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching!,” a Civil War song that trickled into the popular vernacular.
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.
Horace 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.”
The political cartoon I choose is called The Balls Are Rolling – Clear the Track and is an attack on the Buchanan campaign. The theme of the cartoon is to attack Buchanan where he is at his weakest. The cartoon attempts to exploit political issues that have been negative for the Democratic Party as a whole and Buchanan personally. Many of the attacks are ones that have been in the “media” for some time at this point. Some might say that this cartoon had little impact because many of the issues were already known to the public. Many of the arguments against Buchanan stem from his relationship with Franklin Pierce and the Democratic Party.
The way that the cartoon forms these attacks on Buchanan and the Democratic Party is by showing Buchanan being crushed by giant stone spheres. These stone spheres bear and etching of the states that are supposed to crush the Democratic campaign. The stone spheres are Maine, Vermont, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Wisconsin New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Rohde Island, New Hampshire and Indiana. Under all of these stone sphere states lies Buchanan, half sunk into a hole labeled “Cincinnati Platform.” Buchanan being crushed by the spheres exclaims “Oh Dear!_ Oh Dear! This Platform will be the death of me. I’m nearly crushed out already!” Footnotes in the cartoon explain that the balls may be intended to recall the giant ball of Locofocoism used to the derision of the Democrats in Whig cartoons of the 1840 presidential campaign.
In the back of the cartoon you can see into the distance which shows a burning town in Kansas, with families fleeing for their lives. Also in the distance are the Rocky Mountains, a railroad train going towards California, and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Also on the upper left hand side of the cartoon is an eagle holding a banderole with Republican candidates’ names “Fremont” and “Dayton.” The eagle clutches bundled cartridge with the words “Union,” “Liberty,” and “Constitution” on it. To the right of the eagle is a banner strewn through the sky as if it were a rainbow stating “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men & Fermont.” This was the Republican Party’s motto at the time of the 1856 election.
Lying in front of the half sunk Buchanan are a pieces of paper strewn out stating various claims against Buchanan and the Democratic Party. Each of the papers refers to a different negative political event such as Kane Lecompte, Ostend, Polygamy and Slavery, Kansas bogus Laws, Border Ruffianism. Many of these topic refer to the democratic party’s treatment of Kansas regarding slavery. Fillmore is standing by Buchanan saying “Oh James! Erastus! Lying wont scare me, I hear the coming take me off the tack.” He is also holds two documents, the “Fugitive Slave Bill” and an “Albany Speech.” The fugitive Slave bill was a law that made it legal to come bring slaves back from northern free states. Many times southerners would come grab any black man the met the description of their slaves and take them back against their will. This along with the vehement enforcement of the law by Fillmore and his cabinet created a huge amount of resentment from northern states towards both Fillmore and the Democratic Party as a whole.
It is worthy to note that this cartoon aired in a relatively “Democratic newspaper.” The cartoonist normally did not draw cartoons in favor of Fremont and often drew cartoons depicting him in negative manner. This cartoon may have had a greater effect if it were shown to Northern states in a Republican newspaper.
I choose to discuss this cartoon because it was one of the few pieces of presidential rhetoric that actually favored Fillmore in the presidential campaigning of 1856. Although he only received 1/5 of the overall vote Fillmore played an important role in the election stealing votes from both candidates thus making it a much closer race. At the time of the 1856 election the Whig party had fallen apart and Fillmore had no formal party to run for since he refused to join the Republican Party. With little options he chooses to run for the “Know Nothing Party” with Andrew Jackson Donelson as his vice president, who was the nephew of former president Andrew Jackson. Even though I stated earlier that Fillmore only accomplished receiving 20% of the vote, it was one of the most impressive showings from a third party candidate in history. It should also be noted that Fillmore was attempting to be nominated for a second, nonconsecutive term. This feat has only been accomplished by one president in history sir, Grover Cleveland., and is by no means an easy task.
In the cartoon I choose we see Fillmore with a much more optimistic view on the presidential race than the 205 he actually received in the end. In the cartoon Fillmore is in the leading carriage uttering the words “Founded by Washington the only sure Line to Washington is the American Express,” while his driver concurs, “We’ve got a sure thing on this race.” This is ironic considering the final outcome of the election, but the real comedy in the cartoon lies in its depiction of the other candidates.
The cartoon depicts Fillmore’s opponent James Buchanan and his incumbent predecessor Franklin as tag teaming the horse race. As a metaphor to Franklin’s endorsement of Buchannan’s running for president, he is seen carrying piggyback style during the race. Buchanon voices his worries to Pierce saying “Frank, I am afraid we aint got legs enough to beat Fillmore, but its some comfort to see old Greelys team stuck in the mud.” This is Buchanan voicing his concerns about the fact the Fraklin Peircee couldn’t even win his own re-nomination for the party.
Buchanan also refers to “Greelys team”, which is John C. Fermont’s campaign who is stuck in pool of mud labeled “Abolition Cess Pool.” Leading his carriage is New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley who is trying to pull the “nag” out of the mud with the carriage. The “nag” is a symbol for abolitionist all over the country and represents Fremont being lead blindly by abolitionist promoters. Abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher tries to force the back wheel using a rifle as a lever. As he attempts to pry the carriage free he yells to Horace Greenly “Brother Horace jerk his [i.e., the nag’s] head up once more and Shriek for Kansas, and I’ll give the wheel a pry with my rifle.” The reference is to Republican attempts to exploit the Kansas violence as an election issue, and also to Beecher’s arming of antislavery settlers in Kansas. Horace greenly replies to Beecher “It’s no use crying Kansas any more it don’t Prick his Ears a bit–I guess we’re about used up.” Fremont hears the two of them bickering and exclaims “Oh that I had kept the road & not tried to wade through this dirty ditch, but these fellows persuaded me, it was a shorter Way–and so I’ve gone it blind.” This shows his disappointment about choosing to support anti-slavery measures and making it a part of his campaign.
Bcuhanan himself in the cartoon expresses his concern regarding his ability to carry the party with which Franklin Pierce replies with his own concerns about not being re-nominated for the party, exclaiming “I don’t see how my party expect me to carry this old platform in, a winner, when they thought I had’nt legs enough to run for myself.” A by stander in the crowd mocks Pierce carrying Buchanan saying “I say Pierce aint that platform heavy?” The other members of the crowd are yelling as well. It is also worthy to note that this cartoon was aired in the newspaper Nathaniel Currier, in a few months prior to the 1856 election.