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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 8:50AM   |  Add a comment
Currier & Ives Print (1864). Lincoln College.

The 1864 U.S. presidential election campaign—which was held the year after Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg—was an important one. As was the case in 1860, the North was divided. Judging by the dominant themes in campaign broadsides, this time the conflict was about the emancipation of the slaves, the prosecution of the Civil War, and the way to deal with the Confederate states. Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection, but doubted that he could win again, due to high casualties and military defeats. His opponent was the man whom he had removed as the general-in-chief during the war, George McClellan.

Lincoln was the candidate of the National Union Party, formed by pro-Lincoln Republicans and War Democrats, with the very effective slogan, "Don't change horses in the middle of a stream." McClellan positioned himself as a moderate who could end the war, with Lincoln depicted as too "extreme," since the president was for emancipation of the slaves in the South. The Currier & Ives print on the right shows McClellan calling for the preservation of the Union, while grabbing both Lincoln (saying "No peace without Abolition!") and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, with frayed pants (saying "No peace without Separation!").

One huge problem for McClellan, however, was that he had to run against his party's platform, which called for a "cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States" to restore the Union. McClellan wanted to continue the war, but Lincoln's campaign focussed on the danger of the Confederate States of America becoming an independent country, if the Democrats won.

Many states allowed Union soldiers to vote, and it was estimated that Lincoln won almost 80% of that segment. Three new states (West Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas) voted for the first time, and Lincoln won all three. Although McClellan won 45% of the popular vote, he was crushed in the Electoral College, winning only Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He almost won New York though—losing by less than 7,000 votes—when many immigrants were naturalized before the election and with fraud occurring in New York City. More than 70,000 soldiers from the state cast absentee ballots, which put Lincoln over the top.

McClellan’s cause was somewhat damaged by his party’s platform and his battlefield record, but his defeat has been attributed mainly to the Union capture of Atlanta two months before the election. The importance of the election of 1864 was obvious to Lincoln—he believed that the Democratic Party platform would lead to a McClellan administration negotiating an armistice, followed by the permanent breakup of the United States of America. Instead, Lincoln won reelection on a platform demanding that an amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery be passed, and that the war would be pursued until the South was defeated and the Union preserved.

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 3:30PM   |  Add a comment
Labour Party Web Site Image (2010)

How important are good looks and smiles on political posters, billboards, direct-mail pieces, Web sites, and television to political consultants and designers?

Well, it depends. Does a candidate or party want to convey seriousness, which the times demand, or a confident, friendly image to which voters can better relate? And how much airbrushing and other image manipulation should be done, before the candidate is ridiculed (as British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been, especially on the mydavidcameron.com Web site)?

Some commentators, such as Michael Deacon, think that Cameron (especially after his portrait was airbrushed for a billboard recently) just doesn't look like a  "statesmen," and that the result is a lack of support of his party in the polls.

British Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was never shown smiling a decade ago, but now is shown with a very pleasant smile on his party's Web site, and with an idiotic grin on opposition Conservative posters. Since times are hard now, perhaps Labour should can the smiles though.

Cameron, of course, was not the first politician whose image was "improved" by designers. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, was transformed from "homely" to "attractive," according to Ernest Marshall, who wrote in 1929 that although “Baldwin has been described as the homeliest man in a conspicuous position in British politics, … [his] facial lineaments are now displayed on posters all over the country as an attractive appeal to the voters, … [with his] features … rounded out almost to John Bullish fullness” (Ernest Marshall, “The News of Europe in Week-End Cables,” New York Times, May 5, 1929, http://proquest.com).

Baldwin was not the first “homely” candidate to be idealized in campaign portraits, since this process had transformed, earlier, plain-looking or unattractive politicians, most notably Abraham Lincoln in the United States.

And after the memorable first debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during the 1960 U.S. election campaign, the importance of “image” was mentioned right away in newspaper articles. For example, two days after the event, a piece in the New York Times stated that viewers had made “frequent mention of how drawn and weary the Vice President had looked” and how his “grimness was shocking,” but many thought that Senator Kennedy had projected a “mature image” (New York Times, “Both Candidates Retain Backers,” September 28, 1960, http://proquest.com).

Until the 1952 election, candidates never really smiled in U.S. political propaganda; they were expected to present themselves as “serious.”  Smiling also has varied by party: in Japan, only 36% of candidates of the Clean Government Party smiled in campaign posters studied in 2000 and 2001, in contrast to the 80% of Communist candidates who did [See Jonathan Lewis and Brian J. Masshardt, “Election Posters in Japan,” Japan Forum 14 (2002)].
 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 10:50AM   |  1 comment
“Hon. Abraham Lincoln” (Currier & Ives, 1860) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZC62-2594)

This Friday is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln, who was born 201 years ago in Kentucky, was ranked recently as the greatest U.S. president (albeit in a poll conducted by the Times of London).

In 1860, with the nation divided, the Republican Party promoted its candidate, Lincoln, as a common man of integrity and worth—the rail-splitting frontiersman. A poster for the ticket of Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin that year, titled “The Union Must and Shall be Preserved,” included a rail fence and it took care to show laborers on either side of a shield that declared “Protection to American Industry,” as well as the customary eagle, cornucopias, and flags. The motto “Free Speech, Free Homes, Free Territory” referred to the party’s platform positions on the elimination of slavery in federal territories, support of the Homestead Act, and freedom to voice anti-slavery views. The overriding issue was slavery expansion, which had finally reached the crisis stage, after decades of agitation by abolitionists and pro-slavery expansionists.

The parades, rallies, campaign newspapers and songs, and free food and drink that had been used in the past continued to be employed by all parties, of which there were four: (1) the Republicans, headed by Lincoln; (2) the regular Democrats, whose presidential nominee was Stephen Douglas; (3) the National Democrats, headed by John Breckenridge, who supported the federal government’s protection of slavery in the territories; and (4) the Constitutional Union Party, which nominated Bell and, as its paper banner proclaimed, was in favor of “The Union, the Constitution and the Enforcement of the Laws.” Placards and posters, as well as refreshments (such as barbecued meats, crackers, and bread), were essential ingredients at the rallies—attended by as many as 30,000 people.

Lincoln’s supporters published two weekly newspapers, both called the Rail Splitter, which not only propagated his stands on issues, but also raised funds. Numerous portrait prints of the candidates were produced for rallies and parades, or simply distributed to potential voters—a practice that had occurred for some time. Many copies of Mathew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln were distributed, as were lithographic portrait posters of Lincoln, Bell, and Douglas. Lithographic portraits of Lincoln by Currier & Ives, idealized from Brady photographs, were sold for twenty cents each. Some of the lithographic prints were hand-colored: a portrait of Lincoln, for example, used during his first presidential campaign, had only red added to his lips and the background curtains.

In 1860, the Republicans’ presidential ticket was not even on the ballot in ten states in the South, but Lincoln won the election overwhelmingly in the North and West, with a popular vote north of the 41st parallel greater than 60 percent (for an easy electoral victory), and garnered about 40 percent overall. Despite Lincoln’s attempts to reassure the South, his election led to its secession and the bitter Civil War that ensued.

For more on the momentous 1860 campaign—as well as an account of the 1864 campaign to re-elect Lincoln—and the printed propaganda used, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 11:15AM   |  Add a comment
Ambrotype of "Wide Awake" Marcher (1860) [http://www.cowanauctions.com]

In late June, Cowan's Auctions, Inc. auctioned off an ambrotype of a "wide awake" marcher for Abraham Lincoln during his 1860 campaign for president of the United States. The ambrotype brought in a record $10,575.

The "wide awakes" were typically young men, who marched for the Republicans in huge torch-lit parades, sometimes singing political songs. Lincoln, himself, coined the term for these supporters, according to The New York Times, saying in Hartford, Connecticut: "The boys are wide awake. Suppose we call them the 'Wide-awakes'." These men wore oil-cloth covered caps and capes, and swung torches during campaign rallies and marches in support of the Republican ticket of Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin. The marcher pictured in the ambrotype also carried a campaign banner (see a similar one to the right) for Lincoln and Hamlin.

The Republicans organized parades and rallies, with free food and drink provided, and Lincoln’s supporters also published two weekly newspapers, both called The Rail Splitter, which not only propagated his stands on issues, but also raised funds. The overriding issue of the campaign was slavery expansion, which had finally reached the crisis stage, after decades of agitation by abolitionists and proslavery expansionists.

Much more on the epic 1860 campaign is included in my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.

 

 

 

 


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