Congress to get look at campaigns of the past
By Michael E. Ruane,
The Mormon candidate for president was pained by the state of the world.
“Born in the land of liberty and breathing air uncorrupted . . . [by] barbarous climes, I ever feel . . . anxiety for the happiness of all men,” he began his campaign pitch.
It was 1844, and the candidate — the denomination’s first for president — was Joseph Smith, its founder. Smith had little chance of winning but saw the election as a chance to air his views more broadly.
Although he was slain by a mob later that year, his religion thrived. And with the candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon, Smith’s manifesto is one of the striking objects in a special Library of Congress display on the history of U.S. elections.
The display, which has been assembled to show members of Congress next week, includes old campaign posters, sheet music, cartoons, buttons, portraits, television commercials, maps and newspaper headlines.
“It is politicking,” said Beverly Brannan, a curator of photographs. “These are the beginnings of the traditions in our country. You have to have a symbol. You need a song. You need a catchy phrase. You need an idea that sticks in people’s heads.”
Although the artifacts will not be on public exhibit, members of the media were given a glimpse Wednesday.
“These are the stakes,” says the voice of President Lyndon B. Johnson. “We must either love each other, or we must die.”
A political cartoon from the 1980 campaign, drawn by Pat Oliphant, shows nude candidates Edward M. Kennedy, John Connolly, Jerry Brown and Ronald Reagan engaged in the act of “streaking” to get attention.
A huge, colorful campaign poster featuring Mexican war hero and future president Zachary Taylor on horseback never mentions the candidate’s name.
He was already so famous, said library art curator Sara Duke, that his name was not deemed necessary.
One campaign song, “Harding, You’re the Man for Us,” was written for President Warren G. Harding by entertainer Al Jolson. “This is really one of the first celebrity musical endorsements that we see,” library music expert James Wintle said.
Another tune, penned in 1798 for President John Adams, was sung to the melody of the national anthem — 16 years before the words to the latter were inked.
The melody, Wintle said, was popular long before it became the music for the anthem.
“Between 1790 and 1820, there were around 84 different sets of lyrics set to this same tune,” he said. “The most popular one, of course, is ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ But this is one of the first that was really popular, called ‘Adams & Liberty.’ ”
Elsewhere on display in the oak-paneled “Members of Congress Room” in the library’s Jefferson Building was a typed newspaper dispatch sent to the Washington Star by the legendary newspaper reporter Mary McGrory.
Addressed to the Star’s national desk, the story was sent from the campaign of future president John F. Kennedy during a stop in Milwaukee in 1960.
“The only living creature who visibly resisted Senator Kennedy . . . as he made his way through Wisconsin yesterday was a Holstein heifer who shook her head . . . and glared at him when he tried to pat her,” McGrory began.
“Except for the hostile Holstein, Senator Kennedy had a presidential candidate’s dream of a day . . . ,” she wrote.
McGrory died in 2004 after a career that spanned more than five decades.
Mike Buscher, head of the geography and map division reading room, had hauled out decades-old political maps for the legislators, showing that “red state, blue state”-type designations have been around for years.
But the colors have evolved. In one pre-Civil War map, free states were pink, and slave states were green. A 1916 map shows Democratic turf in green and Republican areas in pink.
As for the first Mormon candidate, Joseph Smith “wasn’t a serious contender, and he knew that,” said library manuscript division historian Barbara Bair.
“It’s very similar to people who run in the primaries knowing they’re not going to be nominated but want to participate in the public debate,” she said.
And Smith’s concern for his country feels current.
“My cogitations . . . have for a long time troubled me when I view the condition of men,” he wrote, “especially in this boasted realm.”