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.”
By Devin Scott–Political Cartoons in the 1860 Presidential Campaign: Visual Depictions of Presidential Candidates as Performers
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.
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.
More interesting than the two political cartoons’ 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?
“The Great Political Juggle”: http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoons/RSCN0801600003d5w.jpg
“The Political Gymnasium”: http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoons/PolGym12w.jpg
During the election of 1860, in a very divisive election, one thing was clear; the issue of slavery was tearing the country apart. This one issue divided the Democratic Party into Northern and Southern factions and caused the leading Republican candidate, Senator Henry Seward not to receive the nomination at the Republican Convention.
This cartoon recognizes a pop culture icon of the time, Charles Blondin. Blondin, a French acrobat, earned his claim to fame when he became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tight rope in 1959. After seeing the falls for the first time, Blondin knew he had to cross one of the world’s wonders on a tight rope. He refused to give up despite the many setbacks he faced including being denied permission multiple times to string the tight rope across the falls. Finally, on June 30, 1959, Blondin accomplished his goal… but he was not done yet. He continued to perform the stunt with added variations and larger crowds. Some of these stunts included, crossing with a blindfold, crossing on stilts and performing tricks mid-way through his walks! The walk the cartoon refers to happened on August 17, 1859 when Blondin crossed the falls with his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back (“Charles Blondin Biography”).
In the cartoon, Lincoln is pictured as Charles Blondin performing the walk with a slave on his shoulders, referencing the August 1859 walk (“The Coming Man’s Presidential Career, a La Blondin”). Lincoln is also shown holding a balancing rod labeled as The Constitution. This cartoon helps shed light on how the issue of slavery played out in the election of 1860. By placing the slave on Lincoln’s shoulders the cartoon symbolizes the burden and pressure slavery had on the Republican Party during the election. With a weakened Democratic Party, the issue of slavery was really all that stood in Lincoln’s way.
The Constitution serves as Lincoln’s balancing rod in the cartoon and explains the Republican’s stance on slavery at this time and the strategy they were using to win the election.
Headed into the Republican Convention in May 1860, Senator William Henry Seward from New York was thought to have the Republican nomination wrapped up. With the issue of slavery on the table, the Republicans knew they had to be strategic in choosing their candidate in order to win the election. The Republicans were made up of mostly ex-Whigs and moderates (“The Election of 1860”). Seward was known for his avid abolitionist mindset and goals. To ensure they did not isolate any members of the Party, the Republicans strategically went with the more moderate candidate on this issue, Abraham Lincoln (“The Election of 1860”).
The balancing rod in the cartoon references Lincoln’s moderate stance on the issue of slavery and the Party’s use of the Constitution to not swing too far towards abolition. The Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories. Lincoln’s thought was that if slavery was prohibited in new territories it would eventually end in the states where it previously existed. The Republican Party even supported a Constitutional amendment disallowing further Congressional interference in slavery in the South. Lincoln also recognized the legitimacy of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution and agreed with continued enforcement of this clause (“The Election of 1860”). The Fugitive Slave Clause guaranteed that any slave that escaped to another state must be returned to the original owner. The Constitution served as Lincoln’s balancing rod demonstrating his moderate stance on slavery keeping him from tipping towards abolitionism, which would have most likely cost him the election. This piece of rhetoric is unique in its use of a pop culture reference to explain the Republican’s stance of slavery.
“Charles Blondin Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-A-Bu-and-Obituaries/Blondin-Charles.html>.
“The Coming Man’s Presidential Career, a La Blondin.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-large.asp?UniqueID=12>.
“The Election of 1860.” Tulane University. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Background/BackgroundElection.html>.
With the election of 1860 looming, the weakened Democratic Party had divided into Northern and Southern factions. The leading Democrat in the North was Stephen A. Douglas while the leading Democrat in the South was John C. Breckenridge. The Republicans chose a more moderate candidate, Abraham Lincoln, to run on their ticket. Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell, rounded out the list of presidential hopefuls during the election of 1860 (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).
With the nation divided over the issue of slavery, the Republicans did not even run a slate in most Southern states. The race in the South was between Democrat John C. Breckenridge and Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. The real race in the North was between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen Douglas (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). The two candidates had very different tactics and campaigning styles. Douglas was the first candidate to go on a nationwide speaking tour prior to the election. With his dark hair and piercing eyes, Douglas was known for his compelling speaking style that always commanded the attention of his audience with his intelligence and deep voice (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”). In contrast, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches of his own. The Republicans and their supporters, such as the Wide Awakes, ran pamphlets, leaflets and editorials throughout the North (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).
Lincoln and Douglas, both with political roots in Illinois, had met in the political arena before. In 1858, Lincoln and Douglas battled for control of the Illinois legislature in a series of seven debates taking place in seven of the nine districts in Illinois (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”). Slavery was the main issue discussed during these debates. Both candidates’ stances on slavery were the same in 1858 as they ran on in 1860. Lincoln opposed the abolition of slavery into new territories while Douglas supported popular sovereignty. At the end of the debates, Douglas was re-elected to the Senate but Lincoln had established a political foothold that would carry him through to the election of 1860 (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”).
Experience proved to be a key aspect of the senate election and the Democrats used experience again to their advantage. The second piece of rhetoric I chose to focus on captures just that. This piece of rhetorical history was actually a two-part cartoon that appeared in “The Campaign Plain Dealer and Popular Sovereignty Advocate,” which was a popular Democratic campaign publication of the time. The first piece of the cartoon titled “The Five Eras in Douglas’s Life Illustrated” pictured different periods of Douglas’s life and appeared on July 21, 1860. The cartoon depicts Douglas’s earlier professional life as a cabinetmaker and a teacher. The bottom corners depict Douglas as a U.S. Senator and meeting Tsar Nicholas I during a political tour of Europe in 1853. Finally, the middle shows Douglas as President of the United States (“Five Eras in Old Abe’s Life Illustrated”). As your eyes travel down the page, the more grand and political the experience gets for Douglas all leading up to the middle of the cartoon, him becoming President of the United States.
One week later, on July 28, 1860, “The Campaign Plain Dealer and Popular Sovereignty Advocate” came out with part two of “The Five Eras.” This cartoon depicted different periods of Republican candidate “Old Abe’s” life but in a condescending tone. The left corner depicts Lincoln as a rail-splitter, an image that is a recurrent theme used by both parties during the Campaign. The Republicans’ use it to their advantage to illustrate and draw upon Lincoln’s humble background. One famous cartoon pictures Lincoln splitting his “last rail,” which is labeled as the Democratic Party, taking a shot at the divided party. The Democrats’ however, use it to mock Lincoln’s lack of political experience compared to Douglas. The top right corner depicts Lincoln as the “rear admiral” of a flat boat. The bottom of the cartoon depicts Lincoln being strangled by an Indian during the Black Hawk War and immediately next to it is Lincoln accepting the Republican nomination for President. The middle of the cartoon depicts Lincoln again as a rail-splitter implying that he lost the election and had to go back to his roots (“Five Eras of Old Abe’s Life Illustrated”). Part two is a direct attack on Lincoln’s lack of political experience in relation to his main challenger in the North, Stephen Douglas. In this cartoon, as your eyes travel down the cartoon Lincoln’s experience never grows in prestige like Douglas’ does.
Lincoln and Douglas were not new enemies on the political scene, dating back to their political roots in Illinois during the 1858 debates. Recurrent themes, especially that of experience, come back as dominant rhetorical strategies employed by the Democratic Party.
“Five Eras in Old Abe’s Life Illustrated.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-Medium.asp?UniqueID=11>.
“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union.” The University of Chicago Library. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl/excat/douglas1.html>.
“United States Presidential Election of 1860.” Encyclopedia Virginia. 28 May 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://encyclopediavirginia.org/United_States_Presidential_Election_of_1860>.
The Election of 1860 has gone down in history as the election that ultimately caused the Civil War. At the outset of this election the country was divided and the results of the election just pinned the two sides against each other even more. For my first piece of rhetoric, I thought it was important to highlight the divisive nature of the election and the state of the country at this point in history.
My piece of rhetoric ran in “The Wide Awake Pictorial,” a Republican publication in the North. To understand the rhetoric you must understand the background and the history at play during this election.
At the beginning of the election, the formerly dominant Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions. John C. Breckenridge, a Democrat from Kentucky headed the South with running mate Joseph Lane. Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois headed the North with running mate Herschel V. Johnson (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).
While the Democratic Party was in turmoil, the Republicans were strategically planning their attack. At the convention, the leading Republican candidate was Senator Henry Seward of New York. With the weakened Democratic Party, the Republicans knew they could pull out the victory. Seward had an avid anti-slavery agenda and the Republicans did not think they would win with a candidate so extreme on the hot topic of the election. With this in mind, they chose a more moderate candidate in Abraham Lincoln from Illinois. Lincoln’s running mate was Hannibal Hamlin (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). The Republicans had to be strategic when it came to choosing their candidate in this divisive election and they chose the right one in Lincoln.
Although the election was mainly a contest between the Democrats and the Republicans there was a third party candidate in 1860, John Bell, who ran as a Constitutional Union candidate with Edward Everett on his ticket (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).
Slavery was the hot topic of the election and served as the major difference in the party platforms. The Republicans favored “free soil” in Western territories, discontinuing the expansion of slavery. The issue of slavery proved so strong that it ultimately divided and weakened the Democratic Party. As common with the party at the time, the Democrats in general were in agreement with the expansion of slavery into new territories. However, Southern Democrats wanted a Federal Slave Code for all new territories and the Northern Democrats wanted the new territories to decide (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).
Now back to the piece of rhetoric at hand. In this pro-Republican cartoon, the state of the country is depicted by the rough and stormy sea. The nation was already on the brink of the Civil War with this election serving as the tipping point. There are three boats pictured in the cartoon, each with a different party label. The Democrats are featured in complete chaos, losing their oars and looking for help symbolizing the divided Democrats who had previously been so dominant. The Know-Nothing Party capsized in the storm symbolizing that they were essentially extinct at this point in history. Men are depicted in the water climbing into the Republican boat symbolizing the trend in which the Know-Nothings jumped ship to the Republicans’ boat because of their avid non-slavery stance (“The Boat that Rides in Safety”). The forefront of the cartoon features the Republicans, with Lincoln commanding the ship and taking the waves in stride.
The placement of this cartoon is also important in fully understanding its rhetorical power. The cartoon was featured in “The Wide Awake Pictorial” a Republican publication in the North. The cartoon was also interestingly featured on November 1, 1860, right before Election Day. When taking those two factors into account, the purpose of the cartoon was to rally the party faithful by reminding them about the weakened state of the Democratic Party, encouraging them to get out and vote for Lincoln. It is also important to know who the Wide Awakes were. The Wide Awakes were a group of Republicans who garnered support for Republican candidates during this time period by noisily marching, singing and dancing in parades. These men wore glazed helmets and capes during their demonstrations and served as police at polling locations to discourage voting fraud (“The Boat that Rides in Safety”). During this election, the Wide Awakes proved to be an influential factor in the North with Lincoln taking the majority of the North.
This cartoon creatively explains the political state of the country during this time period. The nation was divided by party and essentially by the sole issue of slavery. The election was so divisive that Lincoln did not even run on the ticket in most Southern states (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). After the votes had been counted, Lincoln took the presidency for the Republicans without carrying a single Southern state however. The Republicans victory was made possible with the two Democratic candidates splitting Democratic votes and essentially defeating each other. Many Southern states stayed true to their word following the election and South Carolina seceded less than a month after Lincoln took office. The election of 1860 will always be seen as a pivotal point in American history.
“The Boat That Rides in Safety.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-Medium.asp?UniqueID=18>.
“United States Presidential Election of 1860.” Encyclopedia Virginia. 28 May 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://encyclopediavirginia.org/United_States_Presidential_Election_of_1860>.