Another presidential election gives people working in archives and museums the opportunity to recall past presidential elections and draw comparisons between the past and the present. Looking back, it seems that presidential campaigns have long been public spectacles. That is especially true in Ohio. Few presidential candidates have gotten to call the White House home without winning Ohio and eight presidents have called Ohio home, more than any other state. The archival and museum collections abound with political paraphenalia from bumper stickers to buttons to elephant shaped piñatas.
During the 1840 presidential election Ohio’s first president, William Henry Harrison, was the Whig Party candidate. Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler, ran an active and modern political campaign. They had a catchy nick name, “Old Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” They had a logo, the log cabin, meant to conjure up images of William Henry Harrison as a man of the people. There were numerous newspapers published to support their candidacy, such as the “Chillicothe Log Cabin Herald,” “Dayton Log Cabin,” and “Steubenville Log Cabin Farmer.” There was no question of these papers being objective. They very clearly favored Harrison and Tyler. Song books with titles like “The Harrison and Log Cabin Song Book” and “The Log Cabin Song-Book” were published with melodies celebrating Harrison, and his image was emblazoned on products from china cream pitchers to silk ribbons.
Ohio’s subsequent presidents also inspired song. The National Republican Glee Club of Columbus, Ohio was founded in 1872 to campaign for Union Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant’s second term as President. The Club, whose archives are housed at the Ohio Historical Society, went on to attend Grant’s inauguration and campaign for his successors and fellow Ohioans, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding. Pieces like the ““In the Good Old Republican Time,” “McKinley and Roosevelt, Campaign Song for 1900,” “Bye, Bye Demmies” and “Get on the Raft with Taft“ were among the Club’s repertoire.
A presidential campaign tactic that was unique to Ohio was the ‘Front Porch Campaign.’ James A. Garfield in 1880 was the first to try it and William McKinley did it again in 1896. Instead of traveling, the candidates let the voters come to them and gave speeches from their front porches. By 1920 when Republican Warren G. Harding was running for President the technique was perfected. Everyone from aging Civil War veterans to Hollywood celebrities like Al Jolson traipsed across the lawn of Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio. The press camped out in a house next door and it was all caught on film. In the archives is a photograph album that extensively illustrates the crowds that Harding drew to Marion.
The last and splashiest of the front porch campaigns is not the only reason the 1920 Presidential campaign is long remembered in Ohio political history. Both major party candidates were Ohioans. The Democratic candidate, James M. Cox, was from Dayton. It was also the first Presidential election in which women could vote. Florence Harding was captured casting her ballot as the first First Lady to help put her husband in the White House.
The archives also holds materials for Ohio candidates who tried, but did not make it to the national ticket, such as John Sherman, Robert Taft, Sr., John Glenn, John Kasich, and Dennis Kucinich. Aside from Presidential campaign items, there is also memorabilia for every other political office from county sheriff to governor housed at the Historical Society. Do not forget to vote this year and we will keep working to preserve all the trapping of the political campaigns.
This blog entry written by Lisa Wood, Curator for Audiovisual Collections.