Archive for the ‘1932-1964 Campaigns’ Category

By Taylor Eitelberg–Ike Re-elected, 1956

The 1956 presidential race was a re-match from 1952, as Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully defeated Adlai Stevenson for the second time.

Eisenhower utilized simple tactics and produced a campaign that was very straightforward. In some ways it seemed that Eisenhower already knew or assumed he would be victorious. The Republican’s television ads played on the fact that Stevenson didn’t have extensive experience in the army, which was a fact that Americans were already informed about. One commercial delivers a passive remark to the public stating “are you willing to bet everything you love and hold dear on Stevenson, are you sure of it? four years ago you did something about it, you registered and you voted Eisenhower into office… so make the right choice again.”

Eisenhower decided to promote his success with the Korean War and ensure the Americans understood he was the reason we remained out of conflict. The majority of Eisenhower’s public support was caused by the way he maneuvered the two foreign-policy crises that occurred in the Soviet Union and his forceful removal of western forces from Egypt. Overall, Eisenhower’s first four years within the White House were a major success, so his second win was almost inevitable. Even Stevenson agreed with this sentiment, as demonstrated by his 1964 interview with the New Yorker.

Both times I ran it was obviously hopeless. To run as a Democrat in 1952 was hopeless, let alone run against the No.1 War Hero.

BUT there was a catch. The popular and well-liked President Eisenhower was in another battle, a battle of life and death. Adlai Stevenson campaigned vigorously and utilized his opponent’s sickness to promote his own campaign. Stevenson rarely criticized against substantive issues and tended to be vague and ambiguous. So, his criticism of Eisenhower’s sickness came as a bit of a shock… and definitely did nothing to aid his campaign. Stevenson was attempting to dominate the election by convincing the public to believe that Eisenhower wouldn’t live through his next term as president. Then, if Eisenhower died the person who would take over would be his controversial running mate, Vice-President Richard Nixon.

I must say bluntly that every piece of scientific evidence we have, every lesson of history and experience, indicates that a Republican victory tomorrow would mean that Richard M. Nixon would probably be President of this country within the next four years.

However, Stevenson’s decisive ploys failed, which could also be credited to his public disapproval of the recent changes within segregation. In 1954, during Eisenhower’s first-term, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Brown vs. Board of Education against state-mandated segregation in public education. This was a major turning point in history; while the Eisenhower administration supported the 1954 ruling, Stevenson voiced his inherent disapproval. According to Stevenson, Americans “don’t need reforms or grouping experiments” and believed the U.S. was wrong to “upset the habits and traditions that are older than the Republic” (Klarman.) Stevenson didn’t prepare for his comments to create a public controversy, but his demeanor proved an aid to his political demise.


Epstein, J., Gordon, J. S., Soloveichik, M. Y., Rothman, N., Meisel, E. C., Ferguson, A., . . .Teachout, T. (2017, April 27). Adlai Stevenson in Retrospect. Retrieved May 09, 2017, from

Klarman, Michael J., Brown V. Board Of Education And The Civil Rights Movement. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Mickey, R. (2015). PROLOGUE TO PART THREE: “No Solution Offers Except  Coercion” Brown, Massive resistance, and Campus Crises, 1950–63. In Paths Out of Dixie: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep  South, 1944-1972: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep South, 1944-1972 (pp. 173-189). Princeton University Press. Retrieved from


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 Will Howell–Comedy and Campaigning, 1931 & 2008

On May 7, 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his thirteenth appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. McCain had previously run for president (in 2000), but his appearances were unrelated to his previous candidacy: rather, McCain’s affinity for The Daily Show (and vice versa) grew from McCain’s advocacy for campaign finance reform. As a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Jon Stewart was more than willing to provide Senator McCain a venue to inform the public about his work.

McCain’s many appearances–and particularly this appearance amidst the escalating presidential election—call to mind a historical parallel from October, 1931. President Herbert Hoover, up for reelection one year later, presided over a deepening economic depression. The conservative president turned to the private sector to revive the economy (and, consequently, his chances for reelection) by creating POUR: the President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief.

Perhaps Hoover didn’t recognize the tragic irony of calling this organization POUR, but he knew how to boost its success. He asked popular comedian Will Rogers to appear on the radio with him to promote the program.

Roger’s brief remarks—dubbed “Bacon and Beans and Limousines”—are found below. John McCain’s interview on The Daily Show is available here.

I don’t want to belabor the content of either broadcast, but rather to raise some points of comparison.

In both situations, the comedians (to use Peter M. Robinson’s excellent phrasing) “dominated the middle ground between the people and the president” (or presidential candidate, in the case of McCain). In his book, Robinson traces how this domination solidified over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it’s always been there. From Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley columns to Will Roger’s Letters of a Self-Made Diplomat to His President, from Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford impression to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, comedians have helped us evaluate our presidents—and given us standards by which we might judge presidential candidates.

In 1931, the politician asked the comedian to help him advocate for a policy; in 2008, the comedian invited the politician. While acknowledging the constant “mediator” role comedians play, it’s also important to acknowledge that the tables have turned somewhat. Fey’s impression has been cited by several scholars and many cultural critics as a contributing factor to Sarah Palin’s public unraveling, and appearing on The Daily Show was a rite of passage for nearly all of the Republican and Democratic candidates who sought to succeed George W. Bush in the 2008 presidential campaign. Right or wrong, American citizens seem to have ceded a great deal of vetting power to comedians.

In 1931, all radio stations carried the politician and comedian’s address; in 2008, the comedian and the politician addressed only a segment of the population who paid to see them. There are three points I wish to make here. First, changing technologies now allow us to see the comedian sitting next to the president. I’d argue that this is a stronger validation of the comedian’s political contribution than hearing his/her voice in tandem with the president/presidential candidate. That being said, it doesn’t carry as much weight if fewer people see it. Perhaps McCain said something insightful, or important for citizens to know as they evaluated his candidacy, when he appeared on The Daily Show…but unless citizens seek it out, its civic contribution is diminished. I am one of those who ’don’t have cable, meaning I’d need to go online to watch the interview; I’d need to make an affirmative decision, and then take steps, to watch it. This leads to a final point: comedians increasingly play to specific audiences. Will Rogers played to everybody, as did Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and the other radio comedy greats. This obviously relates to the broadcast technology they used, but the outcome is what’s important. They did political material alongside jokes about their pets, and their stupid neighbors. Because cable enables narrowcast audiences, comedians in that medium can rule out certain types of material. Coupled with broadcast networks’ concerns about political comedy emerging from the Vietnam War era, this has contributed to a walling-off of political comedy.

Some food for thought while you listen/watch and compare these two broadcasts. There are obviously other points of comparison, and I invite you to both engage my points and note what comparisons you see in your comments.

1932–FDR Nomination Speech–Leanne Spedding

The election of 1932 was a landslide victory for Democrats, who seated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the as the 32nd President of the United States. Roosevelt won the popular and electoral votes, holding 57.41% and 88.9% of the votes respectively. However, there was not much time, or money, for celebration, given the nation was in the worst of the Great Depression. Unemployment was peaking at 25%, war was expanding in Asia and Europe, and Roosevelt’s New Deal Program was being put to the test. To revive the faith of the American people he needed to stay in their good graces.

Unlike his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt did not outline specifically, or in detail, what his plans for the country were and instead chose to keep the public at a relative distance, all while keeping them close.  Though this seems contradictory, it was made possible by the President’s friendly relations with the media and his style of speaking; an often ambiguous, yet optimistic and authoritative, yet humorous tone. Roosevelt also utilized the radio, an up-and-coming mass media technology, which allowed him to access citizens immediately, while in the comfort of their own homes. In fact, after his first inaugural address in November 1933, he utilized the radio to have “Fireside Chats” with the American people. This gave citizens the feeling that they were getting to know Roosevelt and his policies personally. He spoke simply; in order to explain what he was going to do and to prove that what he was doing was right. Such stylistic components, as well as his fearlessness in adapting to new times and technologies gave Roosevelt an edge not only in the 1932 election, but also in his presidential and international career.

In his nomination address, Roosevelt outlines this attitude on challenging the status quo. He states, “Let it also be symbolic that I broke traditions. Let it be from now on the tradition of our Party to break foolish traditions.” Such a call to action is ‘unprecedented and unusual,’ however it was clear that the traditional approaches to presidency were not working to alleviate the burdens of the Great Depression. Throughout the speech Roosevelt speaks in a very forward tone. It is simple, yet matter-of-fact, showing he stands firmly and is conscious of the goals and progress he wants to make.

Roosevelt speaks with intelligence and competence, but also keeps the common man in mind, thus ensuring his clarity: “Let us look a little at the recent history and simple economics, the kind of economics that you and I and the average man and woman talk.” He puts himself on par with other normal citizens, again making himself seemingly available for others to access. Roosevelt also constantly, and continuously, references the audience as “My friends;” doing so give insight on his appeals to the public and reminds them that they are a priority.

The interdependence of people on each other and of people working together paints a hopeful view for the future, and in conclusion Roosevelt pledges for a new deal. Furthermore, he insinuates that “This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore American to its own people.” Using a religious metaphor, such as a crusade, insinuates that the problem and solution to the country’s problems are far bigger than any one person, in fact they are divine and that the fight to regain American is a fight to regain the Promised Land.

Roosevelt’s nomination address set the tone for the Democrat’s campaign, looking back, it almost seems reminiscent of a pep talk in that it breathes life into the party, refocusing on specific goals, in addition to setting a firm, progressive tone, not only for the campaign, but the presidency.

Once elected into office Roosevelt moved quickly to put the New Deal into action and reminds American’s that it is his “firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” With this famous speech, he revitalizes people’s spirits and there is a brief moment of prosperity, before another recession, and the ensuing Second World War.

President Roosevelt’s victory in the election of 1932 was a landslide, in part because of the failures of the Republican leaders, but also because of Roosevelt’s ability to evoke an optimism from the American people, always speaking in a spirited, firm tone to his listeners, comforting them and guiding them, even through his last days. 

Works Cited

1932 Presidential General Election Results.” Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Web. 15 June 2011.

 “Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” MHRIC Home Page. Web. 15 June 2011.

 “The Presidents.” The White House. Web. 15 June 2011.

 “Roosevelt’s Nomination Address, 7/2/32.” New Deal Network. Web. 15 June 2011.

1936–Forward with Roosevelt–Lindsay Staniszewski

In the election of 1936, incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt ran against Republican candidate, Alf Landon, Governor of Kansas, in what came to be known as one of the nation’s most “lopsided” elections.  Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate, won all states except for the states of Maine and Vermont.  By winning 523 electoral votes, Roosevelt received 98.49% of the electoral vote, the highest percentage since 1820.  One of the largest victories in popular votes of the time, FDR’s 1936 re-election was and is, to this day, one of the largest popular vote majorities. 

The United States was nearing the eighth year of the Great Depression, and FDR was “working to push the provisions of his New Deal economic policy through Congress and through the courts.” Predictions were made that the 1936 election could be a close call because the United States was still on its long and challenging journey of turning the economy around in times of turmoil and hardship.  The hope and forward-thinking of Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, inspired the American people enough to keep their faith in him as President.  In the midst of signing and moving forward with the New Deal, FDR seemed to be a promising light of optimism for those seeking work, for those hungering to survive and for those hanging on by one last thread. 

Throughout his campaign for re-election, Roosevelt stuck to the phrase, “Forward with Roosevelt.”  Its simplistic message seemed to have power, deep meaning and promises for a hopeful future.  The New Deal that had started taking effect in FDR’s first term as President, seemed to cover the basic needs and concerns of the American People, and Roosevelt’s campaign for re-election certainly used this legislation and its promised effects at the focal point of the campaign.  As many historians seem to state, the New Deal offered the “3 R’s: Relief, Recovery and Reform”—relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy to normal levels and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.  The New Deal created social and governmental agencies, worked to re-establish the people’s trust in currency and created large governmental projects, in turn creating jobs for thousands of people.  The New Deal had begun to put into place such entities as the Works Projects Administration (WPA), the National Youth Administration (NYA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and so many more.  “It was the first time that Americans thought of their government as a solution to the problems that individuals and society at large were experiencing,” says Jean Edward Smith, a political science professor at Marshall University. 

It was said that people either loved or hated Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The press, from an early standpoint, did not seem to favor Roosevelt, and instead, gave equal footing to the candidates.  Over the course of the campaign, however, Roosevelt did tend to draw more media attention, stories and coverage.  The 1936 Election was the first time presidential candidates appeared on television, even though most Americans at the time did not own a television set. Progress had begun during FDR’s first term as President, and so, the people felt a kind of connection to FDR, who had been by their side since the beginning.  FDR’s fireside chats on the radio (the first of its kind by any President) kept the American people informed about the decisions being made and the direction in which the federal government intended to go.  This use of technology to reach out to the people made an impact, far beyond any kind of impact that FDR’s opponent could ever try to promise in his campaign.  It was also the first year that the majority of African American voters voted for the Democratic candidate.  In the past, African American voters tended to vote for the party of Lincoln, the Republicans, because it was under the Republicans that they received their very right to vote.  In the end, however, the charisma and hopeful outlook of FDR must have won over the American people at a time when faith was falling apart in the country and in the government.  There must have been enough positive work done by FDR in his first campaign election to convince the people that they would continue “Forward with Roosevelt.”

1948–Berryman Cartoon–James Marconi

What’s the true value of conventional wisdom?  In the case of the 1948 presidential campaign, it was worth very little.  President Truman, ascending to the office only after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was not particularly popular.  Deciding to run for a White House term in his own right, Truman’s campaign seemed destined for failure right until the bitter end.  This cartoon, by longtime political cartoonist Clifford Berryman, neatly illustrates the point.

In it, we can see a visibly dispirited Truman gazing at a bulletin board filled with poll after poll after poll.  Each one predicts a Truman defeat, claiming “Dewey to get 30 states,” or “Dewey given 27 states.”  One statistic displays a very precise electoral count, foretelling a blowout with Dewey awarded 333 electoral votes and Truman given a mere 82.  Interestingly, the same count mentions Iowan Henry Wallace, a Democrat on the extreme left wing of the party running against Truman.  Berryman must not have seen him as a viable candidate, because he receives absolutely no electoral votes.  While Truman looks on, the cartoon shows a fairly smug-looking Dewey taunting Truman.  Hands tugging on his lapels and wearing a satisfied grin, Dewey asks condescendingly “What’s the use of going through with the election?”

As history records, Dewey’s attitude, as portrayed by Berryman, turned out to be unjustified.  The polls were wrong and the prevailing sentiment was incorrect.  Even a political observer as experienced as Berryman was swept away.  That in itself is worth noting, because Berryman had spent literally a lifetime, since 1891, capturing political commentary in cartoons.  His 1902 portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear cub is the first time the teddy bear appears on public record.

Berryman’s cartoon poking fun at Truman would perhaps have been more memorable had it come after the election, giving it a sardonic twist.  That might have put it on par with the iconic photograph of Truman the day after the election, holding a newspaper boldly proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.”  Berryman’s work, though, perceptively captured conventional wisdom just weeks away from election day, on October 19, 1948. Conventional wisdom indeed – Truman won handily with 303 electoral votes to Dewey’s 189 votes.

The 1948 election demonstrates that there is no such thing as a sure victory in the political realm.  Or, more precisely, the anticipation of that victory can avert the actual victory itself.  Truman certainly campaigned harder, launching the famous whistle-stop tour around the country to bring his message directly to the public.  Dewey, perhaps complacent in the certainty of a win, did comparatively little to increase his own visibility.  Whatever the cause, Berryman’s cartoon can serve in the present day as a warning, a cautionary tale about taking votes for granted.  Although, in today’s money-saturated political climate, it would probably be preaching to the choir. 


Clifford Berryman, “What’s the Use of Going Through with the Election?” U.S. Senate Collection Center for Legislative Archives,

Robert Schlesinger. White House Ghosts: Presidents and their Speechwriters. (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2008).

1948–Truman Acceptance Speech–James Marconi

Every good presidential campaign needs a clear central theme, a single message that will resonate with voters and drive all of the campaign materials that follow.  For Harry S. Truman, that message is captured in his acceptance speech July 15 at the 1948 Democratic nominating convention.

Living in the shadow of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman did not command the same reputation for eloquence as his predecessor, whose policies and rhetoric had dominated the White House for more than12 years.  Roosevelthad an expressive, mellifluous voice and an elegant, soaring style of rhetoric heard in speeches like his first inaugural address with the enduring line that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Truman, by contrast, appeared almost wooden in some of his earlier speeches as president – his language and delivery style a bit stilted even in the notable “Truman Doctrine” speech. This changed in 1948, according to Robert Schlesinger in his meticulous account of presidential speechwriters.

The nominating convention presented an opportunity for Truman to alter his reputation, and energize the following campaign.  As Schlesinger details, the conditions were not particularly stacked in Truman’s favor.  The heat inPhiladelphiawas stifling, and Truman himself did not begin speaking until the wee hours of the morning, long after the convention began.   But when Truman did speak, the difference in style is noticeable.  Listening to the “Truman Doctrine” speech and the nominating convention speech are two very different experiences.  In the former, Truman makes a major policy statement in a straightforward, matter of fact manner.  It’s correct, but somewhat dull.  In the more informal setting of thePhiladelphiaconvention hall, Truman sounds more at ease, comfortable enough to crack a small joke at the start of the speech.  He certainly sounds more enthused, more energetic, more alive.

Part of this, no doubt, is due to his topic, justifying and setting the stage for his campaign.  In the speech, Truman acts the part of the true believer, a partisan proud of his party’s accomplishments.  “Victory has become a habit of our Party,” Truman states.  “The record of the Democratic Party is written in the accomplishments of the last 16 years. I don’t need to repeat them.”  While he is not Franklin Roosevelt, Truman very ably taps intoRoosevelt’s memory and his legacy as a means of building credibility. 

Truman also targets two key constituencies that become important in his later “whistle-stop” tour around the country; farmers and labor unions.  Farmers across the country, Truman asserts, are the most prosperous in the world.  The drastic increase of material wealth between 1933 and 1947 means that farmers owe their allegiance to the Democrats, “and if they don’t do their duty by the Democratic Party, they’re the most ungrateful people in the world.”  It’s a logically fallacious argument, but one designed to appeal on an emotional level. 

After Truman made a similar point about labor, he moved on to the majority of the speech, which meticulously constructed the enemy for the duration of the campaign – Congress.  Rather than run against his Republican opponent,New Yorkgovernor Thomas Dewey, Truman chose to blacken the record of the Republican-controlled Congress.  It’s an intelligent choice of adversaries, given the way that Truman constructed his argument.  Point by point, he claims responsibility for having the vision to see the problems and trials of the American people, every issue from prices to health care.  In each case, Truman claimed that he tried to take action by proposing solutions to Congress.  In each case, Truman claimed, the Republican Congress ignored the problem and did nothing. 

 The arguments gained force through Truman’s construction of a legislative body that had the capacity to act and supposedly agreed with many of Truman’s proposals but deliberately chose not to enact them.  And so Truman seized the opportunity to lay a trap.  Congress had not acted in the past, Truman claimed, but surely with their legislative power and unity of purpose, they would take the opportunity to address the issues that the president had documented? 

“Now the Republicans came here a few weeks ago, and they wrote up a platform,” Truman said.  “They promised to do in that platform a lot of things I’ve been asking them to do… I am therefore calling this Congress back into session on the 26th of July!  On the 26th day of July…I’m going to call that Congress back and I’m going to ask them to pass laws halting rising prices, and to meet the housing crisis — which they say they’re for in their platform.”

Congress did not rise to Truman’s challenge, and he castigated them for it later in the campaign when he toured the country by train.  Through a problem-(lack of) solution framework, he simultaneously transferred responsibility for action to Congress while painting himself a tireless champion of the common American. 


Robert Schlesinger. White House Ghosts: Presidents and their Speechwriters. (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2008). 

Harry S. Truman, “Democratic National Convention Nomination Acceptance Address.” American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank,

Harry S. Truman, “The Truman Doctrine,”