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Posters and Election Propaganda

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

Tagged as “William McKinley”

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 8:13PM   |  2 comments
Campaign Poster for William McKinley, ca. 1896-1900. (Library of Congress)

Which are the two best posters from U.S. presidential election campaigns (excluding ones for the primaries)?

My criteria: artfulness, effective messaging, and overall design.

Here are my selections:

1. Unknown Artist, Poster of Republican William McKinley, holding a U.S. flag and standing on a gold coin (symbolizing "sound money"), held up by group of men, in front of ships (for "commerce") and factories (for "civilization"), ca. 1896-1900. This beautiful color lithograph targeted both businessmen and laborers, as well as associating the candidate with both symbols of patriotism and fiscal soundness. In the background, the Sun rises, with its rays enhancing the positiveness of the message.

2. Rafael López, "Estamos Unidos" ("We are United"), Poster for Artists for Obama, 2012. This gorgeous poster features a layered oil painting, with the candidate gazing thoughtfully into the distance and shown from below (a common pose, which makes him seem more imposing), and a simple slogan and colors to appeal to Latino voters.

Of course, there are many other worthy designs. See 56 others by clicking here. What are your favorites? And which posters should be added?



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


Posted by Steven Seidman at 6:00PM   |  5 comments
Cover of Baum's Book (1900) & Republican Party Poster, Showing McKinley on a Gold Coin (1896)

In 1964, Henry Littlefield (a high school teacher in Mount Vernon, New York) published an article in the American Quarterly, which called L. Frank Baum's children's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (published in 1900), a political parable of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, which focused on the election of 1896.

It was suggested by Littlefield that these Baum characters represented the following people and groups:

  • The Wicked Witch of the East = Eastern industrialists and bankers, who "dehumanized a simple laborer so that the faster and better he worked the more quickly he became a kind of machine," according to Littlefield.
  • The Munchkins = the citizens--most of whom were oppressed
  • The Scarecrow = the western farmers
  • The Tin Woodman = the downtrodden eastern workers
  • The Cowardly Lion = William Jennings Bryan
  • The Wizard = "any President from Grant to McKinley....  [H]e symbolizes the American criterion for leadership--he is able to be everything to everybody," wrote Littlefield.
  • The Yellow Brick Road = the gold standard
  • Dorothy's silver shoes = the Democratic/Populist demand for silver coinage
  • The Emerald City = Washington, D.C.
  • Dorothy = Everyman

Other writers have added to, or challenged, Littlefield's interpretations (see David Parker's article). One, for example, noted that Dorothy's dog, Toto, represented the Prohibitionist teetotalers and that Oz was an abbreviation for "ounce." The silver advocates in 1896 had called for a 16-to-1-ounce ratio of silver to gold. Another thought Dorothy symbolized Mary Elizabeth Lease, a Populist speaker, who was thought to have told Kansas farmers to "raise less corn and more hell." Yet another thought that the book had much to do with imperialism in Asia, with The Wicked Witch of the East being President Grover Cleveland, The Wicked Witch of the West, William McKinley, and The Wizard, the latter's campaign manager, Mark Hanna. And another scholar wrote that The Wicked Witch of the West was Populism itself.

Many still think, however, that the work was mainly about the political battle between silver and gold advocates, after the Great Depression of 1893 in the United States: "Baum, a reform-minded Democrat who supported William Jennings Bryan's pro-silver candidacy, wrote the book as a parable of the Populists, an allegory of their failed efforts to reform the nation in 1896." wrote Parker about this theory.

The 1896 election campaign was one of the most exciting in U.S. history. In 1896, with farm foreclosures, and labor unemployment and discord growing alarmingly, the silver advocates took over the Democratic Party, gaining its nomination for Bryan, a dynamic congressman from Nebraska. His “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention in July of that year compared the cause of free silver to that of the Crusades and the American Revolution, with the political fight “in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity.” During the campaign, zealous meetings were convened to discuss the silver issue. Broadsides announced these and called for “those who believe that in silver lies the remedy for the present financial stagnation” to support the cause. Democratic posters featured silver coins near portraits of Bryan. Bryan barnstormed the country campaigning for himself, and he gave about six hundred speeches to approximately five million people, while his Republican opponent, McKinley, stayed on the front porch of his home and spoke to people in groups selected by Hanna.

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