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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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1896–Anti-Semitic Cartoon–Dennis O’Neill

The election of 1896 was heavily based around the currency situation in the United States.  For some people, mainly Democrats and Populists, free silver was the obvious choice.  For the republicans, the appropriate choice was abiding by the gold standard.  This issue alone is a primary staple of the election of 1896’s legacy. 

This political cartoon would be entirely too controversial and inappropriate to be printed in any newspaper today.  This is a fantastic example of how the times have changed and how the ideals of the American people have changed; a lot less propaganda and rhetoric is tolerated in today’s society.  This cartoon is titled “History Repeats Itself.”  The anti-Semitic undertones of this cartoon are unpleasant and offensive, but regardless of the offensive content it certainly gets the message across.  If something with this type of content was printed today it would gain an existentially larger amount of publicity because of the shock value alone, but it would not be as effective due to its offensiveness. 

Social prejudice was much more widely accepted in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  In the late nineteenth century, Anti-Semitism was actually a plausible variation of social prejudice, if there even is such a thing.  Anti-Semitism was especially prominent in the western societies, and had been for years.  The political party that exercised their distaste for the Jewish people the most was the Populists.  The Populists placed blame on the Jewish people for many of the hardships that their people have faced, such as farmers who are in a serious amount of debt.  These farmers helped induce the growth and stability of the Populist Party.  It is especially disgusting to consider the attitudes of these western Populists, because their exposure to people of the Israeli culture was limited.  This means that the majority of these harsh judgments made by the Populist Party were based on stereotypes alone. 

In the top left corner of the cartoon there is an image of a man hanging himself and a caption that says: “What Judas ought to do.”  Also, above the cross that Uncle Sam is being crucified upon there is a sign that reads: “This is U.S. in the hands of the Jews.”  Both of these anti-Semitic visuals on the cartoon are awful to consider, but during the late nineteenth century they spread the message of the Populist Party effectively.  The title alone sends a strong message about how the Jewish people ought to be seen.  “History repeats itself” this image and idea draws many parallels to Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech.  This cartoon is once again comparing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to what the Jewish people in America are doing to Uncle Sam and all that he represents.  But what initiated the prevalence of this anti-Semitism in American culture during the late nineteenth century? 

A book titled “A Tale of Two Nations” written by a man named “Coin” Harvey, told a story that drew much attention to the negative effects of Jewish men having any control over money in the United States.  The character development is basic, but some characters possess obvious personality traits to people involved in the election.  The story told is about a London Banker who comes up with a fine plan to prevent the U.S. from ever using Silver as currency.  He sends a man named Rogasner to the states to persuade the United States congress to abide by the gold standard.  Unfortunately, Rogasner gets sidetracked by falling in love with a woman who is in love with a Nebraska congressman who happens to be pro-silver.  Rogasner is supposed to represent a dark Jewish man who is out to destroy the Caucasian race.  As ludicrous as this sounds, it actually did have an impact on the minds of many Western Americans.  “Coin” Harvey saw the Jewish Banking Houses as the main reason for the working mans problems.  This led to a negative generalization of the Jewish people.  You see in this cartoon that there are republicans on one side and democrats on the other.  They are both essentially doing the same thing to Uncle Sam, but notice the bucket of debt on the side of the Republicans.  This is a clear representation of they debt that they do not seem to be clearing.  Nowhere on this cartoon is the word Populist, so I assume this was a pro-Populist cartoon.  Regardless of political position, this is an interesting yet offensive cartoon to publish in papers, but the message does get sent for all to interpret.

1896–Anti-Bryan Cartoon–Dennis O’Neill

One of the last elections that the Populist Party served any type of significance was the election of 1896.  William McKinley received the Republican nomination and accepted.  When November rolled around and election time was the center of most contributing citizens attention, William McKinley was listed under the Republican ballot as expected.  William Jennings Bryan, on the other hand, had somewhat of an identity crisis to deal with.  He was listed on the ballot under two different parties with two different vice president candidates.  William Jennings Bryan was listed as a candidate for the Democratic Party and he was also listed as a candidate for the Populist Party.  Under Bryan’s nomination for the Democratic Party, Arthur Sewall was listed as his vice presidential nominee.  Under Bryan’s nomination for the Populist Party, Thomas Watson was listed as his vice presidential nominee.  This would prove to cause some measure of conflict for William Jennings Bryan during his presidential campaign. 

The Populist Party was under the impression that they were solid enough to replace the Democrats as the Republican Parties primary opposition.  Unfortunately for the Populist’s members, the Democrats had elected William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate.  This was unfortunate for the Populist members because Bryan was their party’s best potential candidate.  William Jennings Bryan’s ideas and goals were in compliance with the ideas and goals of the Populist Party.  The Populist Party was distraught between choosing Bryan as their presidential nominee or choosing their own candidate.  The Populists feared that splitting the vote would just give too much power to the right wing conservative republicans.  At the national convention the Populist Party nominated William Jennings Bryan as their presidential candidate and Bryan gladly accepted.  The Populist Party members still wanted to be distinguished from the Democrats even though both political parties elected the same candidate as their presidential nominee.  Considering the Populists distaste for the Democrats, the Populist’s chose to nominate Thomas E. Watson as the vice presidential candidate instead of Arthur Sewall.  Bryan was pleased to accept the nomination, but was never specific or direct about whom he would choose as his Vice President if he was elected.  So who would be the vice president if William Jennings Bryan were elected?  Would it be Thomas E. Watson or Arthur Sewall?  In many states both Bryan-Watson Populist ticket and Bryan-Sewall ticket showed up on the voting ballot. 

In the cartoon you can see that William Jennings Bryan is trying to stay balance and stable while keeping a foot on both platforms.  On one side there is Bryan’s toe balanced on the Populist platform with Thomas E. Watson balanced on his leg.  On the other side there is Arthur Sewall balanced on Bryan’s left leg while his left foot is completely on the platform.  This cartoon symbolizes the divide of William Jennings Bryan between the Populist Party and the Democratic Party.  The ballerina outfits represent William Jennings Bryan’s efforts to balance both parties and stay competitive in the election.  The Populist Party did not win the popular vote in any states but there were 27 electors for William Jennings Bryan cast their vice-presidential vote for Thomas E. Watson instead of Arthur Sewall.  The majority of the votes came from states in the south and states in the mid-west.  There proves to be some significance of the footing of William Jennings Bryan in the cartoon.  Sewall won all of the popular votes over Watson and in the cartoon Bryan’s footing is much more stable on the Democratic platform.  Regardless of what happened between Bryan’s vice presidential candidates, he still lost the election to William Mckinley.  Eventually the Democratic party would overtake the populist party and this would be the last election where the populists were granted significant consideration.

1896–Bryan’s “Cross of Gold”–Dennis O’Neill

The election of 1896 between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan was a competitive election that played a large role in the revolution of presidential campaigning.  William Jennings Bryan was one of the first presidential candidates to travel the country and speak publicly.  Bryan gave many of his speeches off of the back of old boxcars to the people, which enabled him to create a favorable image.

During William Jennings Bryan’s pursuit of the Democratic nomination, he gave the “Cross of Gold” speech.  The “Cross of Gold” speech is one of the most historically famous speeches ever, to this day.  Many political analysts believe that the “Cross of Gold” speech is what won William Jennings Bryan the democratic nomination.  One major pressing issue during the time of this election was the dispute on American currency.  William Mckinley was in favor of the gold standard, which benefitted investors and those Americans with wealth.  The second option in regards to the currency situation was bimetallism.  William Jennings Bryan was in favor of bimetallism which suggested that American currency consist of both silver and gold coins.  This would create inflation and as a result would help western farmers, coal miners, and silver miners who were in debt.  Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech explained why bimetallism was a logical move for America, and that speech won Bryan the votes of most farmers and miners.  The end of the “Cross of Gold” speech contains imagery and analogies that were audacious and direct.  That is only one reason why this “Cross of Gold” quote is so historically famous. 

Preface: Before this quote, William Jennings Bryan is making a strong point as to why we do not need England to switch to bimetallism before America does.  He references America’s ancestors and how they declared independence when the population consisted of millions less.  His point is that America should be able to declare independence from England in regards to our monetary situation, if our ancestors were able to declare independence many years before. 

 “If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism because the United States has it.  If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost.  Having behind us the producing masses of this nation, and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for the gold standard by saying to them: you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”  – William Jennings Bryan

Immediately after the last sentence of this speech, Bryan holds his arms out as if he is being crucified like Jesus Christ.  Campaign rhetoric has changed quite a bit since then, and you can definitely tell the difference in how bold speeches were back in the late nineteenth century.  Mimicking Jesus Christ during this time period impacted how a lot of citizens viewed William Jennings Bryan, and a lot of people bought into the message of this cross of gold speech.  This speech was given during a time when religion was not wildly challenged by science like it is today. 

The most famous quote from this speech is obviously during his last statement.  When he mentions putting a cross of thorns upon the brown of labor and crucifying mankind upon a cross of gold, Bryan really captures the attention of the audience.  Maybe he is comparing the seriousness to the gold standard issue to the crucifying of Jesus Christ.  Also, he could have been comparing the Farmers, silver miners, and coal miners out west to Jesus Christ himself.  William Jennings Bryan was standing up for the Blue Collar workers of America.  He was implying that they are the life-force of this country that get minimal recognition, but without them we would be in worse position than we are already in with them.  The gold standard would be killing their careers and drastically altering their lives.  If anything this speech shows a classic difference between democrat and republican.  The Democrat wants to promote a system that benefits the blue collar working man, while the Republican is concerned with keeping the gold standard, which benefits rich investors and businessmen.