Thursday, February 26, 2004

Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860

Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860 This is an exhibition examining the national popular political culture in the antebellum United States through campaign materials from presidential campaigns from 1840-1860. Site includes histories, biographies, and primary source material such as campaign biographies and campaign songbooks, as well as song recordings, images, and teachers' guide.

Here is part of a lesson plan from site:

Students will examine campaign songs from the 1840, 1848, and 1860 elections to explore the campaign strategies of 19th century political parties.

Students will draw connections between elements of the songs and the political, social, and economic climate in which they were written.

During the 1830s most states had dropped property qualifications for voting rights, which up to that point had allowed only the wealthy upper classes (those who owned enough property) to have control in presidential elections. Dropping these qualifications allowed for greater numbers of men to vote and made the election process in the United States more democratic (women and African-Americans were still denied the right to vote, however). The number of voters swelled from 1.5 million in 1836, to 2.4 million by the 1840 election. Because of this increase of participation by members of the lower classes, political parties and their candidates had to begin appealing to the common people. In the 1840 election, the participation of the average citizen in campaigning through rallies, parades, barbecues, and the like was larger than ever before. Political parties 'marketed' their candidates to voters through songs, banners, and even dolls and porcelain figurines.

The campaign songs from these elections can be of particular use to historians looking to examine American political thought, culture, and ideals, because they are designed to make the candidate look appealing to the greatest number of voters. Examining what these songs say about the candidates can give us a clue as to what Americans were concerned with and what was valued at the time the elections were held.

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