During the 1800s and early 1900s candidates themselves did little, if any, of the kind of campaigning that candidates do today. Their supporters, however, used the banners and handkerchiefs on view to show they agreed with a candidate’s position on a hot-button issue. For example, whether or not to continue a protective tariff for American industries was a running theme throughout the second half of the 1800s. Candidates who thought the tariff was a good idea often linked it to patriotism and prosperity. A banner supporting 1844 Whig Party candidate Henry Clay (1777-1852) includes the slogan “National Currency, Revenue, and Protection,” showing his support for a national bank, a protective tariff and federal funding of improvement projects. Clay lost to James Democratic candidate and Freemason James K. Polk (1795-1849).
Until the 1900s, manufacturers and merchants designed these textiles rather than the candidates or their campaigns. The themes, topics and iconography on these banners show us that many of the issues we grapple with today are not new, nor is passionate political discourse.
One of the banners promoting the Democratic ticket of sitting president Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), and his vice presidential candidate Allen G. Thurman (1813-1895), includes a picture of crossed brooms and suggests these candidates will “sweep clean the stables of government.” Another banner supporting their campaign includes the slogan, “A Public Office is a Public Trust,” underscoring the honest government promised by the ticket.
All of the campaign textiles presented in “Who Would You Vote For” were donated to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 2001, along with several dozen others, by Robert A. Frank.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website