By Brendan Spiegel
While today's presidential slogans are mostly indistinguishable combinations of the words "America," "leader," and "change," that certainly wasn't always the case. Here are 10 campaign slogans worth remembering.
1. Voters didn't know much about Democrat Franklin Pierce when he headed into the 1852 election, so Pierce decided to cast himself as the rightful heir to popular ex-president James K. Polk. Pierce's pun of a slogan? "We Polked You in '44, We Shall Pierce You in '52." It may sound oddly threatening now, but it did the trick. Pierce beat his Whig opponent in a landslide.
2. Modern-day politicians make some pretty outlandish campaign pledges, but giving away government property has to take the cake. That's what Abraham Lincoln did in 1860 when he ran for the White House under the slogan "Vote Yourself a Farm"—a bold promise to give settlers free land throughout the West. To his credit, however, Lincoln followed through and signed the Homestead Act in 1862.
3. Modern politicians didn't invent you're-either-with-us-or-against-us politics. Way back in 1868, General Ulysses S. Grant rode his Civil War victories into the White House with the slogan "Vote as You Shot"—a direct order to Union voters to toe the Republican line.
4. The award for quickest about-face on a campaign slogan goes to Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned for re-election in 1916 with the motto "He Kept Us Out of War." Americans voted with him in an effort to keep the peace, but five months later, Wilson led the country into World War I.
5. Prohibition was all the rage in 1920, much to the dismay of Democratic nominee James M. Cox, who believed making alcohol illegal only benefited criminals and bootleggers. His opponent, Warren G. Harding, attacked Cox for this stance and ridiculed him with the slogan "Cox and Cocktails." Ironically, after Harding won the presidency in a landslide, he was well-known to enjoy stiff drinks in the comfort of the White House.
6. Kansas Governor Alfred Landon emphasized his heartland roots during the 1936 election by adorning his campaign paraphernalia with bright yellow sunflowers. In response, opponent Franklin Roosevelt and his Democratic supporters went right for the kill, pointing out that "Sunflowers Die in November." They were right; Landon won just two states. Kansas wasn't one of them.
7. When F.D.R. sought an unprecedented third term during the 1940 presidential race, it incited a backlash among those who felt it was time to move on. His Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie, got right to the point, stamping his campaign buttons with the slogan "Roosevelt for Ex-President."
8 & 9. Republican nominee Barry Goldwater inspired a legion of impassioned conservatives in 1964 with his slogan "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right." But Lyndon Johnson's Democratic campaign came up with a response that more effectively branded Goldwater as a right-wing extremist: "In Your Guts, You Know He's Nuts."
10. After unexpectedly winning the 1976 Democratic primary, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter sought to stress his humble roots as a peanut farmer and also prove that he was a candidate to take seriously. He did both with his slogan, "Not Just Peanuts."
This article originally appeared in the Wildest Rides to the White House issue of mental_floss magazine (Sept-Oct 2008).