Tag Archives: Whig

Election year fatigue? Blame it in part on the race of 1840

Presidential elections are a foundation of American democracy dating back to George Washington. But presidential campaigns, as we know and endure them, came later.

In a book published this fall, The Carnival Campaign, author Ronald G. Shafer reflects on the race in 1840 that laid the groundwork for today’s songs and speeches, insults and branding, rumors about health and left us with a catchphrase for the ages, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

Gone forever were the elections for which candidates stayed home and hesitated even to say they were candidates, Shafer told The Associated Press in an interview.

“Originally, you had to kind of pretend that you weren’t running for president because it was thought that the office sought the man,” Shafer says.

The contenders in 1840 were President Martin Van Buren, a democrat, and Whig Party candidate William Henry Harrison, a War of 1812 hero and, at age 67, the oldest man at that time to seek the White House.

Van Buren, nicknamed “The Little Magician,” was known as a skillful and influential politician and organizer.

But the economy was still suffering from the “Panic of 1837” and the president would find himself on the wrong side of an argument few candidates can afford to lose — which one was seen as a “man of the people”?

Thanks to a flippant remark by a democratic newspaper that Harrison was better off drinking hard cider in his “log cabin,” the Whigs effectively fashioned their well-to-do nominee as an ordinary citizen and helped make the log cabin a national symbol. Harrison and running mate John Tyler won easily, but Harrison’s candidacy had a more enduring legacy than his presidency; he fell ill soon after taking office and died in the spring of 1841.

During a recent interview with The Associated Press, Shafer discussed the innovations of the 1840 race:

On Harrison, an Ohio native, becoming the first major nominee to give a public speech:

“(The Democrats) called him General Mum. They said that he was kept in the cage because they didn’t trust him to talk for himself, and this really upset Harrison. So one day, he got an invitation to come speak at a memorial service at a fort that he had helped defend during the War of 1812, Fort Meigs up near Toledo. So he accepted it … He did leave his silk hat at home, and he took his farmer’s hat because he wasn’t going to mess with the image, and he stopped overnight in Columbus, Ohio, right in the middle of town, right in the middle of the state, the capital of Ohio. The next morning, he was leaving to go on his way, and there was a crowd outside. So he started saying a few remarks, and pretty soon, he had launched into a speech.

“And he went around the state, and it was so unusual that he drew crowds in Dayton and Cincinnati, 100,000 people, which given the population back in those days was quite incredible.”

On the public’s perception of Harrison:

“His was the first heavily marketed presidential campaign, and there were all kinds of posters of him as a general, as a middle-aged man. There were even some paintings of him as this man standing against the background of the evening sun, and so when people saw him in person, they were quite shocked in some cases because he was 67 years old. He was graying, a little slow, but once he started, once they saw him, and he started talking, he seemed more lively, and he had a good touch of showmanship, too. He would ride up to the stands sometimes on his white horse and hop off and talk. He would make jokes about people saying, ‘Well, you see, I’m not walking on crutches, and I’m not the old man that you read about in the opposition newspaper.””

On the Harrison campaign as a commercial phenomenon:

“There were hundreds of products promoting either Tippecanoe (a famous military victory for Harrison) or Harrison, including … Tippecanoe soap, shaving soap. There were canes. There were pictures. There were plates with log cabins on them. There were all kinds of medicines, and companies just used the election in their own advertisements, and there was this free advertising for the Harrison campaign.”

On how Alexander Coffman Ross, a jeweler from Zanesville, Ohio, helped invent the campaign song and coined “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”:

“The Whig Party had gotten every town to have their own Tippecanoe Glee Club of singers. So he went back, and he wrote this song about the great commotion of this ball. But the final part of it, the final verse was about ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.’ Well, this just took off. In today’s terms, it went viral. All over the country, people were singing this song about ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.’”

Is a major new political party now inevitable?

American politics is in system failure. In a democratic republic, the definition of system failure is when a clear public consensus emerges that we the people are being ruled, not represented. Current conditions fit that definition.

The latest polling by The Associated Press shows nearly all Americans now believe that neither major political party represents the views of your average voter. A mere 14 percent say the Democratic Party is responsive to the voters while just 8 percen say the same about the Republicans.

An overwhelming majority of voters told AP in no uncertain terms that neither party is receptive to fresh perspectives. Only 17 percent of the public say the Democratic Party is open to new ideas for dealing with the country’s problems, and a meager 10 percent say that about the Republican Party.

t Seventy percent of voters, including equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans, admit to feeling frustrated about the 2016 presidential election and 55 percent say they feel “helpless.”

The AP is hardly alone in finding evidence of boiling public discontent with the major parties and ruling class. Pew Research Center found most Americans believe elected officials from both parties don’t care what we think, are out of touch, bought off, and put their own interests ahead of the country’s. Princeton University researchers provided a jolting explanation for why everyday Americans have good reason for feeling this way, with a study showing that public opinion has “near-zero” impact on what Congress does.

Pew has been surveying American public opinion for three-quarters of a century and has never before found such alienation from the two major parties as its polls are detecting right now. And according to Gallup polling, close to 60 percent of Americans want a new major party to emerge because they feel the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing them.

All of these findings are akin to tremors that foreshadow a coming earthquake. Seismic events have been rare in American politics. Never in our lifetimes has a major party splintered and disintegrated. Never in living memory has a new major party taken shape and seriously threatened the ruling parties. But it has happened before. On multiple occasions, as a matter of fact. The birth of the Republican Party coincided with the death of the Whig Party as the country wrestled with the evil institution of slavery. The Progressive movement produced major political upheaval in the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th Century, causing massive fractures within the major parties at the time and ultimately transforming both of them.

For the first time in a very long time, the signs are again unmistakable. You can feel the tremors. America is on the brink of the political equivalent of an earthquake. The landscape is going to be dramatically altered. No one has a crystal ball capable of showing us exactly when the quake will hit or where the largest chasms will open. But what is clear is that the conditions are ripe for the emergence of a new major party. Chances are the majority of Americans will get their wish soon enough.

Mike McCabe is founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and the author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics.

For more about Blue Jean Nation, visit www.bluejeannation.com.