Americans have come to expect that the nation's presidential campaigns will be characterized by a carnival atmosphere emphasizing style over substance. But this fascinating account of the pivotal 1840 election reveals how the now-unavoidable traditions of big money, big rallies, shameless self-promotion, and carefully manufactured candidate images first took root in presidential politics.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated former Wall Street Journal reporter Ronald G. Shafer tells the colorful story of the election battle between sitting president Martin Van Buren, a professional Democratic politician from New York, and Whig Party upstart William Henry Harrison, a military hero who was nicknamed "Old Tippecanoe" after a battlefield where he fought and won in 1811. Shafer shows how the pivotal campaign of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" marked a series of firsts that changed presidential politicking forever: the first presidential campaign as mass entertainment, directed at middle-income and lower-income voters; the first "image campaign," in which strategists painted Harrison as an everyman living in a log cabin sipping hard cider (in fact, he was born into wealth, lived in a 22-room mansion, and drank only sweet cider); the first campaign in which a candidate, Harrison, traveled and delivered speeches directly to voters; the first one influenced by major campaign donations; the first in which women openly participated; and the first involving massive grassroots rallies, attended by tens of thousands and marked by elaborate fanfare, including bands, floats, a log cabin on wheels, and the world's tallest man.
Some of history's most fascinating figures - including Susan B. Anthony, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, Thaddeus Stevens, and Walt Whitman - pass through this colorful story, which is essential listening for anyone interested in learning when image first came to trump ideas in presidential politics.
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More timely than the author knew