Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 11
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1961 Volume 11 Number 3, Pages 56–64
"Vote for my Candidate" – Election Campaigns and Campaign Buttons
The general use of campaign buttons to show a preference for a candidate in a presidential election probably started, as did so many of our election "customs", with the campaign of William Henry Harrison, "Old Tippecanoe", against Martin Van Buren in 1840.
This was the campaign of the slogans "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" and the "Log Cabin Candidate"- the "Hard Cider" campaign. It was from this campaign that the phrase "Let's keep the ball rolling" originated, as the Harrison adherents fashioned a large papier-mache ball which they rolled right into Washington for their candidate. It was the campaign that first saw Campaign Songsters, which were to be a part of presidential electioneering until the early 1900's, collections of verses set to well-known "airs", proclaiming the virtues of your candidate and the vices of his opponents. This was a campaign in which issues were for the most part forgotten and the personality of the candidate emerged as the reason for his election -- William Henry Harrison, born in a log cabin, imbiber of hard cider, victor over the British in the War of 1812 and over the Indians in the campaigning after that.
And this was the campaign in which the campaign button or medallion first made general appearance. These buttons, incidentally, reflect the character of the campaign, with inscriptions such as "The Hero of Tippecanoe", "Born in a Log Cabin", and "The People's Choice in the Year 1840", arranged around an impression of a log cabin.
These early "buttons" were actually more like medallions or fobs than our present-day buttons, though buttons with pins on their backs, like those we know today, were also used at least as early as 1872. Most of the early buttons were die-stamped or embossed metal disks, usually with the candidate's likeness. Printed pictures of the candidates were affixed to these metal buttons as early as 1864, though, if not before that.
Cloth-covered buttons were also used in the late 1800s, and by 1896 the printed celluloid or metal button was fairly common. Around the turn of the century, lapel buttons that fitted through a buttonhole were also in widespread use.
If the campaign of 1840 was the first in which there was a general use of campaign buttons, the campaign of 1896 perhaps marked the first widespread use of this type of campaign material. (In the museum of the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester there is a large case of buttons and medallions, all from this campaign.)
This 1896 campaign was the McKinley-Bryan campaign with the 16:1 silver issue, the issue of protective tariffs, and Bryan's famous "Cross of Gold" speech that won him the nomination on the Democratic ticket after having been the leader of the Populist party for a number of years. These issues are reflected in the buttons; for McKinley, a lapel button in the shape of a beetle, representing the "gold bug", others with the slogan "Sound Money"; for Bryan, buttons reading "No English Dictation -- The American 16/1 Policy", "We Demand the Money of the Constitution", or one showing a clock face in which the hands point to 12:44 -- or "sixteen to one".
Other buttons feature the McKinley homestead ( "A Republican Shrine"), "Protection and Home Rule".
By 1900 the issue had changed: it was, for the Republicans, "Four Years More of the Full Dinner Pail", a slogan shown, with pictures of a dinner pail, on several of the McKinley-Roosevelt buttons. The carnation ("We Will Bloom Again for McKinley and Roosevelt"), McKinley's favorite flower, was featured on others, along with buttons with pictures of the candidate, with or without red, white, and blue shields, streamers, flags, or eagles in the background, as suited the designer's fancy.
Most of the 1904 buttons simply showed pictures of the candidates: Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Fairbanks for the Republicans, and Alton B. Parker and Henry Davis for the Democrats. One variation has the pictures of Roosevelt and Fairbanks on the lenses of a pair of pince-nez spectacles, which were virtually a trademark of T. R. There are also buttons for the Socialist candidates in this campaign, Eugene Debs and Ben Hanford, with a farmer and a laboring man saluting each other in the background.
With the buttons from the 1908 Taft-Bryan campaign there are several watch fobs. One, for Bryan, in the form of a square weight, proclaims "A Square Deal", a forerunner of the "Square Deal" slogan used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and the "New Deal" slogan of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
These fobs suggest many other devices allied to the campaign buttons and used in different election campaigns: rings, key chains, balloons, match folders, handkerchiefs, neckties, hosiery with clocks, crickets or snappers,pencils, hot-dish holders, thermometers, shopping bags, bumper stickers, costume jewelry, license plate attachments -- all saying "Vote for My Candidate!"
The 1912 campaign was a three-way race when Theodore Roosevelt "bolted" from the Republican party and ran as a Progressive Party candidate, labelled the "Bull Moose" ticket when Roosevelt announced to a reporter "I'm feeling
like a bull moose." Buttons and lapel pins for Roosevelt featured the moose, while others bore the inscription "A Square Deal", or simply "T.R." -- no further identification was necessary. Republican buttons proclaimed William Howard Taft "The Safest", with the first letter, the "A" and "F", and the last letter of the slogan contrasting colors to spell out the candidate's name. For Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee after a hard convention fight against Champ Clark, the buttons came closer to some of the issues of the campaign: "I Am For Wilson and an 8-hour Day."
Preparedness and "He Kept Us out of the War" became the slogans in 1916 when Wilson sought re-election against Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican nominee. (This was the election when, the vote from California turned the tide, with Hughes the apparent victor on election night but the loser the following morning.) "Preparedness, Peace and Prosperity" and "Peace With Honor" were Wilson slogans on campaign buttons, along with "Woodrow Wilson's Wisdom Wins", a large red "W" serving as the initial letter for all four words.
Puns or plays on the candidate's name are frequently used on the buttons. Thus, in 1924, the slogan "Keep Cool with Coolidge", shortened for button purposes simply to "Keep Coolidge", appeared, while four years later the question was inevitably "Who But Hoover?". This same approach is found in later buttons announcing Truman a "True Man", asking "Dewey or Don't We", or showing a key following the word "Will", for Wendell Willkie.
Other interesting buttons from the 1928 campaign, when Herbert Hoover defeated Alfred E. Smith, were those showing simply the brown derby, long associated with the Governor from the Sidewalks of New York, and the name "Al". The prohibition issue is also reflected in some of the Hoover buttons, imploring "Please Vote Dry for Me", while the economic boom of the '20's is reflected in the buttons with the slogan "Hoover and Prosperity".
By the 1932 campaign, however, the boom times were over and the depression became the issue. Buttons for Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the slogans "For Repeal and Prosperity" and "Sweeping the Depression Out". Despite buttons reading "Speed Recovery, Re-elect Hoover", it was a Democratic landslide.
There are also Norman Thomas buttons from the 1928 and 1932 campaigns, as well as lapel pins for William Lemke, who ran with Thomas O'Brien on a Farm-Labor ticket in 1936.
Slogans and symbols were featured aplenty on the buttons of the 1936 campaign, particularly on those of the Republicans, The sunflower motif was used and re-used (or, as F. D. R. would say, used "again and again and again") on the buttons for Kansas Governor Alf Landon, the Republican nominee, while others proclaimed "Deeds, Not Deficits" on the issue of heavy federal spending as opposed to the balanced budget and a more decentralized program. But all to no avail--it was "Roosevelt, More than Ever", as some of the Democratic buttons put it.
Incidentally, there generally seem to be more different Republican buttons than for the Democrats. This may be a reflection of difference in the financial reserves of the two parties or in their belief in this type of campaign material, or it may be that the Democrats actually produce as many buttons as the Republicans, but with less variety in their design.
The 1940 campaign has been called by some the "Battle of the Buttons". Some collections have over 500 different Wilkie buttons alone, as the chant "We Want Willkie" led to the nomination of Wendell Wilkie by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt who was seeking a then unprecedented (and now unconstitutional) third term. The slogans on the buttons reflect much of the heat (frequently at the sacrifice of dignity) of the campaigning, which was so bitter that there even appeared a "Salesman's Safety Pin" showing the pictures of both candidates!
Roosevelt's fireside chats ("No more Fireside Chats", "My Friends... Goodbye"), his vacations aboard the U.S.S. Augusta ("No More fishing Trips on Battleships"), Mrs, Roosevelt's ubiquitous peregrinations ("We Don't Want Eleanor Either", "Roosevelt's Buying the Aquacade to Keep Eleanor Ho(l)me", a double-edged pun which also referred to the firing of Eleanor Holm from the 1940 U.S. Olympic Swimming team), the appointment of Roosevelt's son Elliott to an army captaincy ("Papa, I Want to Be a Captain Too"), neutrality ("I Hate Wah"), the federal works programs ("Jobs, Not Relief, With Willkie"), Roosevelt's New York estate ("Dr. Jekyll of Hyde Park") -- all became subjects for Willkie buttons.
And on the other side, Willkie's big-business interests ("Willkie for President-of Commonwealth and Southern", "Willkie for the Millionaires, Roosevelt for the Millions"), his inexperience ("Win What With Willkie?"), his early popularity ("Watch Willkie Wilt") were grist for the Democrat's mill. If the Republicans suggested F.D.R. stood for "Franklin Deficit Roosevelt", the Democrats countered with "Franklin Deserves Re-election".
And, of course, there was the third term-issue. While the Roosevelt buttons announced "Two Good Terms Deserve Another" and "Better a Third-Termer than a Third-Rater", Willkie buttons showed a weird variety on the subject. From the simple direct statement "No Third Term" to the baseball allusion "Out Stealing Third", the buttons described Election Day as "Dethronement Day" and "Thanksgiving Day" (another double-edged reference, since one year Roosevelt had moved Thanksgiving Day a week ahead to provide a longer Christmas shopping period); urged "No Crown for Franklin" and "No Royal Family"; showed dice with a one and a two, announcing "You Lose, Franklin"; compared a Third Term with the Third International and the Third Reich; and asked "Third Term Grab? It Can't Happen Here" - for just a few examples of the variations on this theme.
In 1944 it became "Three Good Terms Deserve Another" as Roosevelt was again the Democratic nominee, this time against Thomas E. Dewey. The war, of course, dominated the campaign, with Roosevelt buttons showing the Morse Code "... _ V" for victory and the slogan "We are Going to Win the War and the Peace that Follows". "No Fourth Term" buttons were a somewhat weak counter-slogan, and it was, as one button suggested, "Phooey on Dewey" when the results were in.
The 1948 campaign was a four-sided affair, the Democrats being split three ways as Henry Wallace and Glen Taylor formed a Progressive Party and the Southern "Dixiecrats" backed J. Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright rather than support the incumbent Harry Truman, running with Alben Barkley. Some of the Progressive party buttons show Wallace with the shadow of F.D.R. in the background, the implication being that Roosevelt's former vice-president would carry on his "New Deal" policies. Minor scandals in the Truman administration were reflected in some of the Republican buttons for Dewey, one showing a broom and suggesting "Clean House with Dewey", while others asked "Had Enough? Vote Republican" and favored "Truman for Ex-President".
The scandals of the Truman administration were again an issue in the 1952 campaign, when General "Ike" Eisenhower and Richard Nixon ran against Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman. The alliterative slogan "I Like Ike", adapted from a song in a Broadway musical, was, of course, widely used on many Republican campaign buttons, while others said "Let's Clean House with Ike and Dick" or "Make the White House the Dwight House", to use Eisenhower's proper given name. Buttons advocating that members of the other party vote for your candidate have been used since at least as early as 1896 ("I am a Democrat, But I'll vote for McKinley") , but this was the first campaign in which the buttons could read "Dem-Ike-Crats for Eisenhower".
As Eleanor Roosevelt was featured on buttons in the 1940 campaign, so Mamie Eisenhower appeared on buttons in the 1956 campaign as the same presidential candidates again opposed each other. But there was a difference: it is "We Want Mamie" that the buttons declared. "I Like Ike" also became "J'aime Ike" and "Yo Quiero Ike" in bids for votes in foreign language areas, and "I Like Ike Even Better" or "I Still Like Ike" among English-speaking voters. And there were bad puns again too: "For the Love of Ike, Vote Republican" When the Democrats used a candid photograph of Stevenson with a hole in the sole of his shoe to show that their candidate had the common touch (it was used as a symbol on lapel pins, sometimes by itself and sometimes with a coonskin cap to symbolize Estes Kefauver, his running mate, by his supporters) the Republicans turned it to their advantage on buttons with the slogan "Don't Let This Happen to You!"
Incidentally, the campaign buttons for the Democrats showed considerable confusion about the pronunciation of Stevenson's first name. "Madly for Adlai", "Vote Gladly for Adlai" and "We want Adlai Badly" the buttons proclaimed on the one hand, while others exhorted "All the Way with Adlai". An incident during the Republican convention provided the theme for other Democratic buttons: as a protest against the routine renomination of the incumbents, a Nebraska delegate placed the name of "Joe Smith" in nomination for the vice presidential candidate, and sure enough, there were soon buttons saying "I'm for Joe Smith" and "Adlai, Estes, and Joe Smith" for Democratic voters.
In 1960, among the Republicans, it was "Click with Dick" as Richard Nixon was the nominee, with Henry Cabot Lodge his running mate. "America Needs Nixon" and "Experience Counts" were used on buttons as slogans to point to the relative inexperience of his opponent, John F. Kennedy, while "Don't Send a Boy" referred to Kennedy's relative youthfulness. The support of Eisenhower was used to Nixon's advantage on buttons reading "Ike's for Dick, and So Am I", and following the Pattern set with Mamie, "Pat for First Lady" buttons also appeared.
"All the Way with Adlai" became "All the Way with J.F.K." on Kennedy buttons, while others featured the "New Leadership" slogan (though, surprisingly, there seem to be none with specific reference to the "New Frontier") and the "Man for the 60's". The PT boat, emblematic of Kennedy's war service, was featured on campaign jewelry, while "Viva! Kennedy" buttons helped swing the Spanish-speaking vote of the larger cities.
One button announced "Khrushchev Does Not Want Kennedy end Johnson-'I Do' ", but the same manufacturer also produced buttons reading "Khrushchev Does Not Want Nixon and Lodge-'I Do". Apparently Khrushchev was set to follow the instructions of a gag button that suggested "Vote No for President" as a result of a television comedian's routine.
These, of course, are just a few of the thousands of campaign buttons that have appeared every four years for the past century and more. And while they may not always be concerned with the major issues of the election, they do reflect and recall some of the color and incidents and sidelights of the campaigns as the voters select the President of our country.
Illustrations for this article by Robert M. Goshorn.
Page last updated: 2011-08-14 at 19:29 EDT