Saturday, April 22, 2006
Exploring Campaign Slogans
Pop quiz! What do the following things have in common?
*A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.
*Don’t swap horses in mid stream.
*Deeds not words
*Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, and Fremont
*Tippecanoe and Tyler too
and my personal favorite….
*We Polked you in ’44, we shall Pierce you in ’52.
These are all campaign slogans used throughout U.S. election history. You can see a more complete list here.
There are many different methods of studying history. You can simply jump in chronologically, study era by era, or even categorize facts by theme such as war, women, art, business, etc. One of my favorite ways to categorize American history is through our elections.
When I studied the American story in high school and in college my instructors generally hit on every election. The background details, the intrigue, and the campaign slogans brought life to what can be pure drudgery for the disengaged, average history student.
The introduction to history my fourth graders receive is more general in nature. However, I add in elections here and there to generate interest and as a problem posing exercise for young minds to think critically. Analyzing campaign slogans can help students determine what was going on in the country at the time, the promises being made, and serve as a character analysis for the participants involved. Even a casual student of history can use a campaign slogan to gauge the temperature of the nation during a particular time period.
The most powerful reason I can think of to use elections and campaign slogans to teach history is to aide in retention. The can serve as powerful mnemonics to aide in recall of details. 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' refers to the 1840 election of William Henry Harrison. By the time the 1840 election rolled around Harrison was a man of 68. He had begun life as a member of a prominent and wealthy Virginia family. His father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The word Tippecanoe refers to a battle Harrison won in the Northwest Territory against the Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and the Prophet. Later Harrison played an important role against the British during the War of 1812 by recapturing Detroit and during the Battle of Thames. I guess 'Thames and Tyler' didn’t have quite the same ring as 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too'.
A study of the campaign slogan led my most recent group of fourth graders to question why Harrison’s family connections weren’t promoted but his dealings with Native Americans were. Through a very planned and guided question and answer session where students participated in small group discussions and in whole group conversations with me we discovered that there was a great surge of nationalism after the War of 1812 and eventually the property requirement for voting was eliminated for white men. After the war Harrison had retreated to a log cabin out in the Northwest Territory. To appeal to the common man Harrison was promoted not only as a war hero but as a log cabin man. Plus, if Americans voted for Harrison they would end up with Tyler as an added bonus.
We usually review the language arts term “irony” at this point because irony does prevail as Harrison serves the shortest time in office. His inaugural speech lasts much too long, he catches a cold which later develops into pneumonia and he’s dead one month later.
After informing the students regarding this tidbit and relating the events to “irony” one young man raised his hand and stated, “Well, I guess the country really did get Tyler too, didn’t they?”
I can always count on the wisdom of children.