May 03, 2010

Of 19th Century Campaign Slogans

Just finished Harrison (sucked) and haven't finished Tyler yet, but I thought a good transitional post would be about the greatest gift that the two of those jokers gave to posterity---the campaign slogan. "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" is a masterpiece---at once alliterative, iambic, and stirring. It makes a man feel good about casting his ballot for politicians capable of constructing such a sturdy slogan.

James K. Polk, Janet's fave, continued Harrison's tradition of poetic slogans with his melodic "54-40 or fight." However Polk also brought upon us the age of the cumbersome campaign slogan with his "Reannexation of Texas and Reoccupation of Oregon." Any political scientist could have told Polk that presidential elections are about change, and that it is ill-advised to use the prefix "re" in your slogan three times (if you look hard enough).

Then came Zachary Taylor's "President of the People" campaign, which boldly forfeited the coveted animal vote to ensure his election. John C. Fremont's unsuccessful 1856 bid had as its rallying cry, "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, and Fremont," and mostly Honest Abe Lincoln followed in the money-for-nothing theme with "Vote Yourself a Farm." Lincoln's 1864 slogan was "Don't swap horses in the middle of the stream," which sounds reasonable enough, and which George W. Bush appropriated in his 2004 run. The message: I got you into this mess, so who else is better equipped to get you out? It reminds me of my late Uncle Danny, who spent the first half of his career installing asbestos insulation, and the second half removing it.

Then, my friends, we arrive at the 1884 election between President Grover Cleveland, and his challenger, James G. Blaine of Maine. Blaine struck first with his rhyme, "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha." It is hard to make much of this, but my feeling is that this little ditty was the 1884 version of the oft-seen 2000 bumper sticker, "A village in Texas is missing its idiot." Cleveland, not to be outdone, retorted, "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine." Aside from the four superfluous syllables of "Continental," the slogan is pure genius---the perfect smartass comeback to the playground taunt. Cleveland took it all the way to the White House, and history remembers Blaine as just another continental liar.

That is all for this gimmick post. This may leave you wondering if we can really be serious about breaking this post up so that we will have another slogan column at the ready when we have nothing to write about during the 20th century presidents. Yes, We Can.


  1. "Ma, ma where's my pa?" was about how Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child while mayor of Buffalo (woo!). Come on man, only the biggest presidential sex scandal of the second half of the 19th century...

  2. "Continental" isn't superfluous if you say it to the rhythm of Turkey in the Straw. I've just found this via Bookslut and am having a good time reading through the presidents.