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Posters and Election Propaganda

A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 6:20PM   |  Add a comment
McKinley Campaign Poster (1896/1900) (Library of Congress Reproduction No. LC-USZC2-201)

In its May auction, Heritage Auction Galleries sold a copy of what it called "Perhaps the Most Sought After of All Color Political Lithography from This 'Golden Era'." The period referred to went from the last decade of the nineteenth century through the first decade of the twentieth, and the poster was issued in 1896 and/or 1900 in support of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley.

Heritage stated: "Here graphic appeal combines with rarity, as there are surely fewer than ten examples of this poster known in the organized hobby, and several of those exhibit condition issues. This example is in superb condition and is assuredly unimprovable."  

The poster sold for almost $18,000.

McKinley, the governor of Ohio, was largely in favor of retaining the gold standard. In addition, he was the author of the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which was largely protectionist. His campaign manager, Mark Hanna, a wealthy businessperson who applied the principles of business of that period to political campaigns, raised millions of dollars, outspending the Democrats by anywhere from seven to thirty-two times.

Hanna packaged his candidate, creating the image of him as a leader who had a simple and clear message (encapsulated in the slogan on the poster, "Prosperity at Home, Prestige Abroad"). Overall, the Republican campaign theme in 1896 was that a McKinley administration could pull the country out of a depression and return it to prosperity, which did actually happen by 1900. This theme is illustrated in the poster, with the Republican presidential candidate holding a flag while literally standing on a platform of “sound money” (i.e., paper currency backed by gold), held up by businessmen and laborers. In the background are ships and factories, to symbolize "commerce" and "civilization," respectively. There are also rays of sunshine—used in the political posters of many countries to convey optimism.

Hanna’s tactics with which he associated his candidate and the Republican Party with the icon of the American flag, helped build support twenty years later to declare Flag Day an official national holiday.

To learn more about the McKinley campaigns and their posters, and much more, see the book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History

 


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