Something for the weekend. Tippecanoe and Tyler Too! The 1840 campaign for President was considered to be an insult to intelligence by more than a few observers. The Whigs put up a military hero of the War of 1812 William Henry Harrison. Prior to the War of 1812 in 1811 he had gained the victory against massed Indian tribes under Tenskawtawa (the Prophet) the brother of Tecumseh. The two Shawnee brothers had been meeting with some success in setting up a nascent Indian confederation to resist American expansion. The battle was fought at Prophetstown, modern day Lafayette, Indiana, near to the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers, hence the name of the battle was Tippecanoe and became a nickname for Harrison. Harrison went on after the War to be a Senator from Ohio and an ambassador to Colombia, but had met with little political success in the 1830s. At the time he received the Whig nomination he was Clerk of Courts for Hamilton Country Ohio. His running mate was John Tyler, a Virginia aristocrat and former Democrat, who had turned against Jackson. Tyler had served in the state legislature in Virginia, in Congress both in the House and in the Senate, and as Governor of Virginia. He was put on the ticket to ensure Southern votes.
The incumbent Martin Van Buren had reaped the whirlwind sown by Jackson’s economic policies and the country was ready for change. However, serious discussion of the issues of the day was largely absent from the campaign. The Democrats then, as now, posed as the champion of the common man.. Van Buren came across as something of a stuffed shirt. When a Democrat paper made the mistake of sneering, completely inaccurately, as a backwoodsman, who would be content to live in his log cabin if awarded a pension of 2000 a year and a barrel of hard cider, the Whigs seized upon it gleefully. Usually accused as being the party of the rich, the Whigs ran a “hard cider and log cabin” campaign decrying Martin Van Buren as a New York aristocrat who wore frilly shirts, used perfume and ate off of gold plate. The tenor of the campaign is illustrated by this little ditty that Whig partisans would chant:
Old Tip he wore a homespun coat, he had no ruffled shirt: wirt-wirt,
But Matt he has the golden plate, and he’s a little squirt: wirt-wirt!
At wirt-wirt, the Whig chanters would spit tobacco. The Whigs won in a landslide. To be fair to the Whigs, who included among their numbers a young Lincoln who vigorously supported Harrison, they had been taught these campaign methods by the Democrats during Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaigns. Ah, American politics, some things never change.