Yesterday, we announced a new contest we're doing. It's using the format of the World Cup, with an eye toward identifying the most significant political slogan in American history. Yesterday's entry explained the background and the basic plan, and introduced the first four contenders:
Today is the first of four groups of presidential slogans, this one covering the years before the Civil War:
| The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved! (1830, sort of): Undoubtedly, readers will know that there are many famous lines that
changed between the original utterance and the version that became famous. For example, Mohandas Gandhi actually said
"As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him," not "Be the change you wish to
see in the world." Machiavelli wrote "One must consider the final result," not "the end justifies the means." And Mark
Twain said "The report of my death was an exaggeration," not "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." It
even happens in fiction; Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" and Captain Kirk never said "Beam me
up, Scotty" (at least, not in the TV show). Both characters said similar things, in different formulations, but not
these exact things.
We bring this up because while this quote is attributed to Andrew Jackson, he didn't say it in this exact way. Jackson's relationship with his first vice president, John C. Calhoun, was kind of like the relationship between Donald Trump and Mike Pence, except that in the former case, it was the vice president who was fomenting potential insurrection (over tariff rates, and not "stolen" elections). Calhoun was more subtle than Trump, but Jackson was no fool and knew what was going on. And so, at a dinner in honor of the birthday of (the recently deceased) Thomas Jefferson, at which both the President and VP were in attendance, Old Hickory rose and offered this toast: "Our Federal Union, it must be preserved!"
The quote acquired its famous form sometime in the 1850s, by which point Jackson was too busy being dead to object. And since the former president was one of America's great heroes at that time, his (sorta) words carried great weight with Americans. So much so that Abraham Lincoln embraced the phrase as one of his campaign slogans in 1860, despite the fact that Lincoln hated Jackson. However, it was a pithy and effective way for the Railsplitter to communicate the core message of his campaign, namely that he would do whatever necessary to save the country. This wasn't strictly true, mind you; Lincoln did not demand an end to slavery, but he was not willing to allow it to spread, even if committing to doing so would have "saved" the union. Still, even Honest Abe had to fudge the truth a bit once in a while.
| Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too! (1840): This was the election that established both campaign slogans and campaign
songs as fundamental elements of American political culture. Throughout its entire existence, the Whig Party was not only the minority party,
but was also a coalition of interests that didn't agree on much, beyond their dislike of Andrew Jackson. And the folks who ran the Party
figured out that their only hope of winning presidential elections was to nominate popular generals and then to avoid taking stands on any issues.
As a consequence of this strategy, the 1840 presidential election was as devoid of substance as any in American history. The Whigs largely ran on William Henry Harrison's image as a wise military chieftain (and Indian killer), and otherwise relied on clever wordplay and campaign theater to carry the day. To that end, G. E. Blake wrote "Tip and Ty," a song that was very catchy (listen here) but that contains absolutely nothing of substance. Here's the first verse and the chorus:
What's the cause of this commotion, motion, motion,"Van" is Martin Van Buren, Harrison's opponent. And Tyler is John Tyler, his running mate. Anyhow, although the original slogan was actually "Tip and Ty," that didn't have enough syllables for song lyrics, so Blake spelled it out. And ultimately, the longer version is what caught on. It also worked, as Harrison was elected. And then quickly died. The Whigs successfully used the same strategy in 1848, although Gen. Zachary Taylor's slogan was the more pedestrian "For President of the People."
|54-40 or Fight! (1846): This slogan, which encouraged Americans to take an aggressive attitude in the dispute with Britain over the Oregon border, is one of the most famous in U.S. history. So, we certainly have to include it. That said, we also have to point out two things. First, James K. Polk ran for president in 1844. While he did eventually embrace the line, he didn't actually use it to win the presidency, since it didn't exist until 2 years after he was elected. Second, the actual boundary that was agreed to is 49-40, so it's not like Americans carried through with the threat that is embedded in the slogan.|
|Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Frémont (1856): We did not select too many slogans from losing presidential candidates, but we do have a few. This is certainly the most alliterative presidential slogan in American history, and it's arguably one of the most poetic. And while it did not get Frémont elected, it did help launch the newly-formed Republican Party as a national organization and a successor to the Whigs. Further, it committed the Party to a free soil position—that slavery would be allowed to remain where it was, but that it could not be allowed to spread to any new territories. As we note above, Abraham Lincoln's commitment to the free soil position created a red line he would not cross, and so helped usher in the Civil War.|
The ballot for this round is here. And of course, we appreciate comments as to why you did, or did not, vote for a particular slogan. Up Monday are slogans used by important reform movements. (Z)