Bradenton gets a glimpse at presidential campaigns from past

vmannix@bradenton.comAugust 26, 2012 

BRADENTON

The small American flag was faded in its frame and Matthew Woodside held it with care and reverence.

It was a presidential campaign flag from 1860.

"People would display it in a window or above a store counter to show you were for this man named Abe Lincoln," said the South Florida Museum's director of exhibitions and collections.

Then Woodside showed off:

n An embroidered yarmulke from the 2000 Gore-Lieberman campaign.

n A coffee mug from the Benajamin Harrison's 1888 campaign.

n President Dwight Eisenhower's classic "I Like Ike" button from 1952 and 1956.

They are but a small sampling from "Vote for Me! Vote for Me!" -- an exhibit of vintage presidential campaign memorabilia apropos of this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The exhibit begins Tuesday and runs through Nov. 25 at the museum.

The mementoes are on loan from a private collector and they include examples of presidential campaign paraphernalia dating back to the mid-1800s.

"This idea of marketing

was not new," Woodside said. "Politicians and campaigns have used all sorts of things throughout time to advertise, to get the word out about their candidate."

Buttons, dolls, hats, posters, razors, ties, you name it.

Even a lunch pail.

"Four More Years of the Full Dinner Pail" was the slogan used by Republican incumbent William McKinley's campaign in 1900 to emphasize the prosperity of his first term and to appeal to the labor vote.

Despite pulling the nation out of a serious depression and a successful war against Spain in 1898, McKinley saw he needed to show himself an ally of working-class America to win re-election.

Hence the lunch pail.

McKinley beat Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

Negative campaigning was not exclusive to contemporary presidential campaigns, either.

"It's not even new to the 20th century," Woodside said. "It goes back to the 19th century and the 1828 campaign when the mud began flying."

Andrew Jackson, a polarizing figure, was called a "jackass" by his opponents. But "Old Hickory" embraced it, taking what was a derogatory term and turning it into what would eventually become the symbol of the Democratic Party.

Negative or not, marketing of presidential campaigns took on added dimension as America's frontiers were pushed westward.

"Candidates knew they had to have not only the voice of the merchants and industrialists in the big cities, but the illiterate backwoodsman, who now had a chance to have his voice in the popular vote," Woodside said. "So candidates had to play to the audience."

Some devices were quite subtle compared today's in-your-face presidential campaign strategies.

"This was in a more polite society, even though there was a lot of contention with politics like there is today, people literally wore their politics," Woodside said. "You never went out without your hat and gloves and if a man wore a top hat, inside the crown would be a photograph or image of the person you were in favor of.

"So if you met another gent on the street and engaged in conversation, you could take off your hat, show them so that person would see. Then you'd either put your hat back on and go on your merry way before things got too heated, or invite him to join you for a whiskey."

If you go

When: Aug. 28-through Nov. 25

Where: South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton.

Admission: $15.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors (65 and older) and $11.95 for children (ages 4-12). Children ages 3 and younger are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Reception: A special exhibition reception will be held 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday. The cost for the reception is free to museum members and $10 for nonmembers.

Information: 941-746-4131 or www.southfloridamuseum.org.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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