Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1984 Volume 22 Number 4, Pages 139–146

Election Campaigns in the Nineteenth Century

from contemporary newspaper accounts

Page 139

Election campaigns as we know them today had their beginning in 1840, when William Henry Harrison ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too!") successfully opposed the re-election of Martin Van Buren. It was the famous "hard cider, log cabin" campaign, replete with slogans and songs, parades, rallies and mass meetings, picnics and ox-roasts. It happened here in Tredyffrin and Easttown townships too.

In fact, voters in Tredyffrin and Easttown were given a rather unique reason to support General Harrison. Here is a notice from the West Chester Village Record for June 2, 1840. It appeared under the headline "WAYNE'S WHIG BRIGADE", and was signed "STONY POINT".

"We hope to see on the 9th, the Paoli District fully and properly represented - rallying under the banner of Harrison, who at 19 years of age, served as aid to Chester Counity's distinguished son, Gen. Wayne, in his victorious campaign against the British and Indians. Let the delegates from that noble and patriotic district bear aloft their banner, on which shall be inscribed the portrait of Gen. Wayne, with Harrison as his aid, by his side. On the other side of the banner let the following words be inscribed, which Gen. Wayne, stated in his dispatch to the President, giving an account of his victory at the Miami Rapids."

Page 140

from the collections of Chester County Historical Society ; I840 Chester County Whig banner, inscribed ; MAJOR GENERAL WAYNE giving an order to Lieut. W. H. HARRISON One of his gallant AIDS of CAMP at the battle of the MAUMEE

'My faithful and gallant Aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Harrison, rendered the most essential service by communicating my orders in every direction, and by his conduct and bravery, excited the troops to press for victory.'

>> If the spirit of 76 moulders not with the bones of the American troops massacred at midnight on the Paoli battle ground, by British murderers, but lives in the bosoms of the sons of the neighbors and compatriots in arms of the gallant Wayne, they will not be slow to honor their country's defenders! Let Wayne's Brigade be up and doing and it will be WELL DONE."

Small wonder that "many thousand" persons were reported to have been present at a Whig rally and Harrison meeting held at Valley Forge, at which the great Daniel Webster was the speaker!

The "loco-focos" or "Vanites" in the area were active too. Here is another political item (not without a bit of editorial bias) from the Village Record for August 4. It was titled "HICKORY POLE".

Page 141

"At every cross-roads, tavern or village, the locos are putting up 'Hickory poles.' We passed by 'Cedar Hollow' just the other day, and some distance off we observed a majestic one, with a beautiful foliage of 'Hickory Leaves, and something floating at its mast resembling a 'shinplaster,' bearing an inscription not very legible from our position, but which seemed to be as follows - 'THE BETTER CURRENCY.' The whole was handsomely executed. The old emblem of the Jackson party, was a 'hickory broom, 'but the Vanites have substituted a bunch of 'HICKORYLEAVES.' Quite significant; but very appropriate! - signifying that General Jackson was going to use the broom; but Martin held on to the MONEY, while shinplasters are good enough for the people!"

A victory pole, with a bright banner "flung to the breeze" at the top, was a feature of many of the local quadrennial election campaigns from then on.

During the campaign of Franklin Pierce against General Winfield Scott in 1852, for example, it was reported in the West Chester American Republican for July 20 of that year,

"The hickory pole went up, at Paoli, on Saturday afternoon, and we are pleased to learn that, notwithstanding the very unfavorable weather, there was quite a good turnout of Democrats on the occasion - this, we believe, is the first Pole raised in honor of Pierce and King, in Chester County."

And, following the campaign in 1880, in which James Garfield won over General Winfield Hancock, it was reported in the December 20 issue of the West Chester Daily Local News,

"The pole which was raised at Howellville during the late campaign, and said to be the largest in that section of the country, was felled to the earth on Thursday last. The pole was of the Garfield and Arthur kind, and quite a crowd collected to witness its fall, drawn thither no doubt through curiosity, as the pole had gained a wide reputation on account of its size."

The size of the pole was apparently a matter of real local pride - and, on one occasion, a matter that led to some embarrassment to the party adherents! Four years later it was reported in the Local,

"The Republicans of Howellville and vicinity, so says a reader of the LOCAL NEWS, had a Blaine and Logan pole raising on Saturday. The pole, which was a large one, was too much for those of the Republican party present, and their Cleveland and Kendricks neighbors kindly gave their assistance and the pole was satisfactorily raised."

Page 142

A Blaine and Logan pole raised in Easttown that year was almost equally impressive in its height. On September 20, 1884. it was reported in the Local,

"A Blaine and Logan pole will be raised at Waterloo Mills, Easttown township, Saturday evening, October 4th. The pole is 120 feet in length. A Republican meeting will be held after the pole raising, when it is expected that one or two good West Chester speakers will be present to expatiate on the political issues of the day."

The Republicans' pole in Strafford eight years later, when Benjamin Harrison ran unsuccessfully for re-election, against Grover Cleveland, was only half as high. In the Local for August 8, 1892 it was noted,

"The Republican meeting at Strafford last evening was attended by about 250 persons. There was much enthusiasm in the audience, fire and snap in the speeches and much interest manifested on all sides.

"It was the opening of the campaign for that section of the country. A sixty-foot pole, with a handsome 10 x 21 foot flag, was hoisted, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and in the evening the meeting was held in the hall. ..."

In 1860 the pole-raising in behalf of Abraham Lincoln at the Leopard was followed in the evening by a torch-light procession and "grand mass meeting". In the Village Record for October 30 this announcement appeared:

"A Grand Mass Meeting will be held at the LEOPARD, in Easttown, on SATURDAY EVENING, NOVEMBER 3d.

"The Charlestown Brass Band has been invited for the occasion.

"There will be a POLE RAISING in the afternoon, and in the evening a grand TORCH-LIGHT PROCESSION of the following Companies, who have been invited and are expected to attend.

"The Union Republican Club, Willistown Wide-Awakes, Radnor Club, Brandywine Club, Easttown Wide-Awakes, Lincoln Guards, Marple and Haverford Club.

"The above are Horse Companies. The following are Foot Companies:

"Tredyffrin Club, Downingtown Club, West Chester Wide-Awake Club, Norristown Club, Phoenixville Railsplii>ters, Upper Merion Club, and others.

"The meeting will be addressed by JOHN M. BROOMALL, Esq., G. N. CORSON, Esq., of Norristown, and the BUCKEYE BLACKSMITH."

Page 143

Torches of the type used in torchlight parades

While clubs (or Companies) had been especially formed during the campaigns in earlier years - Wayne's Whig Brigade in 1840, the Tredyffrin Rough & Ready Club in 1848, and the Easttown Rough & Ready Club formed by "the Friends of Zachary Taylor" that same year, for examples - it was apparently with the "Wide-Awake" clubs that mushroomed in 1860 that these torchlight processions or parades became a popular feature. By the 1880's they were a part of every local election campaign.

In the Local for November 2, 1880, for example, it was reported that

"John A. Groff, Esq., tells us that he, T. W. Pierce and William Shields were at a meeting at Waterloo Mills last evening, and addressed one of the most enthusiastic assemblages they have met during the campaign. There were at least 1000 persons preent and 300 in the torch-light parade by actual count. ... Mr. Groff also tells us that the best and most handsomely decorated platform that he has spoken from was provided for the occasion. Among the clubs in line of parade were a number from Delaware county and the Tredyffrin club."

From the October 28, 1884 issue of the Local,

"The beautiful little hamlet called Berwyn, in Easttown township, was the scene Monday evening of one of the most imposing demonstrations the Republicans have made in Chester county, Preparations had been made on an extensive scale for the reception of the visiting clubs. A vast influx of people from the surrounding country filled the streets from which a view of the parade could be obtained.

Page 144

Flags flung forth, Chinese lanterns, together with the general illumination, served to arouse the village to unwonted animation.' ... Six hundred inarching men participated in the parade, who proceeded through the town, carrying lighted torches, banners and other paraphernalia belonging to such a demonstration, producing an exceedingly attractive spectacle. ..."

(Among the clubs reported in the line of march were the Berwyn Cornet Band, 20 pieces; Easttown Blaine and Logan Club, 100 men; the colored 'Easttown Pioneer Corps, 30 men; Easttown Labor Club, carrying shovels, rakes, pitchforks and other tools, with "several men and boys burlesquing in masqueraded costume", 40 men; the Malvern Band, 20 pieces; the colored New Centreville Drum Corps, 16 men; Tredyffrin Blaine and Logan Club, 50 men; Newtown Blaine and Logan Club, 20 men; the mounted Radnor Blaine and Logan Club; and the mounted Schuylkill Republican Club, 25 men; as well as three clubs from Philadelphia.)

Four years later, in the Local for September 22, 1888, it was reported

"Berwyn was a blaze of glory last night. There was a big turnout at a Republican meeting held there. There were flags, transparencies amd Japanese lanterns displayed on all sides and 300 men with a band made a pretty parade, On the backs of their capes the word protection was displayed. The occasion was the raising of a large banner. Speeches were made and there was a big time generally."

Ten days later, in the Local for October 2, it was noted in another report that the parade "

"was a pronounced success, being participated in by clubs from Bryn Mawr, Radnor, Tredyffrin, the Valley, Willistown, and other places. ..."

And in 1892 both parties held parades during the campaign, though apparently the Democrats had to go some distance for recruits. In the Local for September 21 it was reported,

"Berwyn will have a rousing Democratic meeting on Saturday next, at which there will be a parade. Philadelphia organizations will participate, and the Willistown Club, with 100 horsemen, will make its first turnout of the campaign in the parade."

The Republicans paraded a month later, and in the October 21 Local it was reported

"A good-sized torchlight procession and Republican meeting was held last evening at Howellville, Tredyffrin township. All the clubs in the neighborhood turned out and it made a very nice little parade. The village was decorated throughout with Japanese lanterns, flags, bunting, etc.

Page 145

"The following organizations were in line: Berwyn Band; Tredyffrin Club, 40 men; Easttown Club, 50 men; Easttown Colored Invincibles, 35 men; Washington Republican Club of Valley Forge, 50 men,.."

The Republicans also paraded in Berwyn; in the Local for November 1 it was reported, in "a Berwyn special of Oct. 31",

"A parade of local Republican clubs was held here this evening. Among the clubs participating were the Easttown, Tredyffrin, Bryn Mawr, Radnor, and Dirigio and Excelsior Pioneer Corps of Bryn Mawr

"The illuminations along the route of the parade, which covered Devon and Berwyn, were numerous and pretty,"

Parades were also held as post-election celebrations.

One such demonstration, with a number of satirical references to some of the issues of the campaign, was held to mark Benjamin Harrison's victory over Grover Cleveland in 1888, As reported in the Local for November 13 of that year,

"At least five hundred people marched and cheered the names of Harrison and Morton in Berwyn last night. It was the Republicans' jollification over the results of the election. ... There were three clubs in line, the Berwyn, Malvern and Tredyffrin, besides people in citizen's dress from the three places. The Malvern and Berwyn bands furnished music for the demonstration. ...

"The Malvern boys wore high hats made of pasteboard. Prominent in the line was the float with a catrigged yacht, Thos. Hunter, representing President Cleveland, sat In the rear and, with fishing tackle, imitated a fisherman very acceptably. On the float red, white and blue lights were burned and rockets and Roman candles were set off. In front of the post office the dead march was rendered, ...

"Berwyn was illuminated as it never was before, and an enthusiastic time was had,"

But perhaps one of the more amusing victory "jollifications" was one that took place four years before that. In the Local for November 29, 1884. it was revealed

Page 146

"William Steward and William Thomson, Easttown, made a wager prior to the Presidential election, the conditions of which were that if Cleveland was elected William Steward, a Republican, was to "wheel William Thomson, a Democrat, in a wheelbarrow from his home to Berwyn, a distance of 2 miles, and if Blaine was elected Thomson was to wheel William Steward. The result of the election makes it obligatory upon Steward to do the wheeling, which will take place this (Saturday) evening. There appears to be a considerable amount of interest felt in the matter in that vicinity, and the prospects are that there will be a large procession, which will be headed by the Berwyn Cornet Band. Mr. Steward says that the roads are so muddy that it would be a pretty hard job for him to do the work and will bring into requisition one or more of his horses, which he will attach to the barrow to do the pulling, but that he will manipulate the handles. The Democrats of that locality will avail themselves of this event to hold their jollification."

During these presidential campaigns there were, of course, many more formal political rallies and meetings, at which speeches were made and resolutions adopted. Local politicians, county officials, and, on occasion, Congressmen or other national figures - men such as Isaac Wayne, Joshua Evans, Townsend Haines, Smedley Darlington, Thomas S. Butler, former Senator George P. Edmunds - "expatiated on the political issues of the day". Sometimes their speeches were with "fire and snap"; more often the issues were discussed at some length.

But the campaigns were also enlivened by a lighter side, as shown by these contemporary newspaper accounts.

- rmg -


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