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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 1:40PM   |  Add a comment
Julius Kessler, The Lost Bet (1893). Parade with banner showing portraits of Grover Cleveland, Adlai Stevenson, and John Altgeld (Library of Congress)

Political banners have been used for a couple of centuries in the United States. At first, they were printed on cloth, and much later on vinyl for outdoor use. Many of these banners were (and still are) locally made, simple, and featured block lettering. Banners have been commonplace at rallies and parades.

The Whigs introduced two unique ideas to election campaigns: one was to use a potent symbol—the log cabin (often combined with soldiers and a jug of hard cider)—for their aristocratic candidate William Henry Harrison, the party's candidate for president in 1840, depicted as a rough-and-ready, common farmer; the other was the creation of silk flag banners, which added a portrait of Harrison and the phrases “Old Tip” and “The Hero of Tippecanoe” to the American flag. Some of the Whig rallies, with banners unfurled, drew an estimated one hundred thousand people, perhaps attracted by the seemingly endless supplies of hard cider. A variety of banners were produced, some with an eagle holding a scroll with the Whig candidates’ designations “Tip” and “Ty” (for Harrison's vice-presidential candidate, John Tyler) in its beak and the slogan “Our Country is safe, in such Hands.” One observer counted one thousand banners in a Baltimore parade for Harrison. Most cloth banners continued to be relatively simple in design: one for the Republican national ticket in 1884 imparted only the last names of the candidates on a cloth with three stripes (one red, one white, and one blue), and a row of stars.

Banners with candidate portraits soon were widely deployed. A print (shown on the right) of a parade in Chicago for the 1892 Democratic Party national ticket shows a large cloth banner overhead, portraying candidates Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson, as well as the Illinois governor, John Peter Algeld. About this time, flag banners were dying out, and flag desecration laws (passed at the beginning of the twentieth century) ended the practice of printing candidates’ names, symbols, and slogans on flag backgrounds.

By 1912, banners seemed to be omnipresent at election time. In that year, the New Jersey Republican League issued a report on its primary campaign to defeat President William Howard Taft for the party’s nomination, stating, “Banners are swung across the streets in every city and town of importance, extolling the candidates." Several companies printed campaign banners (for which only a few standard designs were available) on cloth, and some of the candidates’ portraits were painted by hand. At the end of the nineteenth century, one could order a thirty-by-forty-foot banner with portraits at a cost of between $112 and $140; without portraits, they could be purchased for $80. Taft generally stayed in the White House, with his banners proclaiming “Better be safe than sorry.” By 1928, banners were draped on automobiles for Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith.

Small cloth banners (typically colored in red, white, and blue) were popular campaign items in the 1930s and 1940s, displaying mottos and slogans, such as “God Bless America,” as well as drawn portraits of the candidates. One of these (shown on the right) exemplifies a patriotic banner from this period (from the 1932 campaign), depicting FDR, with flags and an eagle, "blessed by God." 

In later elections, plastic banners were evident. One, in 1968, for example, proclaimed “Nixon’s the One!” Another, seen at the Republican convention in 2004, included most of the defining words from George W. Bush's acceptance speech, “We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America.”

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 6:30AM   |  Add a comment
Birthplace of Democratic Party Rooster Marker (Photo: J. J. Prats)


Although the donkey is used as a symbol of the U.S. Democratic Party, it has never been officially adopted. The rooster, however, was. The story begins in 1840, when the famous "Log Cabin Campaign" occurred. More on that shortly. It must be said that the donkey did come first. In 1828, Democrat Andrew Jackson was ridiculed and called a "jackass" by the supporters of John Quincy Adams during the heated presidential campaign. In 1870, Thomas Nast used it as a symbol for the Democratic Party. And it has been widely recognized as the party's unofficial symbol since that time.

 

Now for the rooster. According to John Fowler Mitchell, Jr., the origin of the rooster as the emblem of the Democratic Party was in Greenfield, Indiana. Joseph Chapman, a native of Greenfield, a Jacksonian Democrat, and a state legislator, was an acclaimed orator and derided by the opposition Whigs for his "crowing." During his campaign for a seat in the lower house of the Indiana State Legislature, the Whigs' critical "Crow, Chapman, Crow!" was seized by the Democrats and used in support of their candidate and Chapman won, despite the Whigs' nationwide victory that year. Indiana Democrats, followed by the national party, soon chose the rooster as their symbol, and Chapman was hereafter known as "Crowing Joe Chapman."

 

A century or so later, the rooster was seen on a poster in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, and is still evident on posters in some states.

 

 

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 2:08PM   |  1 comment
Silk Campaign Flag Banner for Harrison (1840) (Heritage Auctions, Inc.)

The Whig Party's campaign in the United States in 1840 for William Henry Harrison can be called the first great political marketing campaign that mythologized a candidate. The campaign, called "The Log Cabin Campaign," targeted the so-called "common man"—previously a main source of support for Andrew Jackson (and his successor, Martin Van Buren) and the Democrats.

The Whigs in 1840 introduced three ideas to election campaigns: one was to use a potent symbol—the log cabin (often combined with soldiers and a jug of hard cider)—for candidate Harrison, typically depicted as a rough-and-ready farmer and military hero; another was the creation of silk flag banners, which frequently added a portrait of Harrison and the phrases “Old Tip” and “The Hero of Tippecanoe” (a battle during the War of 1812) to the American flag; the party also introduced effective slogans into politics, with "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," which referred to the Whig's ticket, headed by Harrison, with John Tyler as his running mate.

Some of the Whig rallies, with banners unfurled, drew an estimated 100,000 people, perhaps attracted by the seemingly endless supplies of hard cider. It mattered little to most partisans that the “common man” image concocted for Harrison was false. The log cabin was used to represent Harrison’s “poor” and “humble” background. His background was neither; rather, he was born in a mansion on a Virginia plantation and lived in a fancy house in Indiana when nominated for the presidency. Regardless of the truth, the imagery and the hard cider that was distributed at the gigantic rallies undoubtedly excited voters and boosted the Harrison campaign. This is evident in the voter turnout that increased from 54 percent in 1836 to 77 percent in 1840; the Harrison-Tyler ticket won by a 6 percent margin in the popular vote and claimed 80 percent of the electoral votes. The Democrats were thrown out of power—after holding it for a dozen years—and the Whigs gained their first president.

The log-cabin imagery, along with emphasis on Harrison’s military leadership, was accompanied by pageantry. The Whigs borrowed most of the Democratic Party’s past publicity ideas and took them to new heights. They published their own newspapers (one of which became the New York Herald Tribune); wrote campaign songs; organized rallies and parades; printed broadsides and banners; and produced goods such as hairbrushes adorned with portraits of Harrison, ceramic dishes with his “modest” farm on them, “Tippecanoe Shaving Soap or Log-Cabin Emollient,” and, above all, miniature log cabins. One observer counted one thousand banners in a Baltimore parade for Harrison.

At present, Heritage Auctions, Inc. has a rare silk campaign flag banner from the 1840 campaign up for auction. Most of these flags, as Heritage's Web site points out, "feature merely a campaign slogan or a central portrait of the candidate," but this banner shows the candidate in front of a log cabin, with a barrel of hard cider being tapped alongside it. Heritage estimates that this campaign banner will sell for between $20,000 and $25,000.

Sources: Paul F. Boller, Jr., Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Robert Gray Gunderson, The Log-Cabin Campaign (Lexington, Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 1957); Keith Melder, Hail to the Candidate: Presidential Campaigns from Banners to Broadcasts (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1992); Peter F. Nardulli, Jon K. Dalager, and Donald E. Greco, “Voter Turnout in U.S. Presidential Elections: An Historical View and Some Speculation,” PS: Political Science and Politics 29 (1996): 480-490.


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