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11 Campaign Slogans That Went Beyond Buzzwords

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Heritage Auctions

Christine Lusey runs Retro Campaigns, the internet's premier source for historical campaign t-shirts and memorabilia. We asked if she could compile some memorable slogans from past elections. She did not disappoint.

These days it seems like every campaign slogan is just a series of political buzzwords. But it wasn't always this way. Here are some old slogans we hope will inspire the next crop of candidates to go with something unique.

1. Al Smith (1928)

Proponents of the nationwide prohibition against the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol were called "drys," while opponents, like 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith, were called "wets."

2. Anti-FDR (1940)

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Clearly, not everyone was pleased when Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke with tradition and announced he would seek a third term in 1940.

3 & 4. The Case for — and Against — Barry Goldwater (1964)

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Republican Barry Goldwater never shied away from tough talk during the 1964 presidential campaign, and while many Americans reacted positively to his aggressive stance on the perceived Communist threat (he joked about dropping a nuclear bomb "into the men's room at the Kremlin"), others were a little less sure. So when the Goldwater camp ran with "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right," Democratic nominee Lyndon Johnson quickly countered with "In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts."

5. Adlai Stevenson (1952)

When a photographer caught a picture of Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson with a hole in his shoe in 1952, the quick-witted Stevenson said, "Better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head!" The now-iconic image came to represent Stevenson as a frugal everyman, and was soon seen on buttons and made into pins and paperweights. He still lost to war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice!).

T-shirt available from RetroCampaigns.com

6. Thomas Dewey

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Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican candidate for president, losing to Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and Harry Truman in 1948. The double-meaning of the Democratic Party donkey symbol wouldn't have been lost on anyone.

7. Anti-FDR (1940)

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The iconic image we know as Alfred E. Neuman actually predates the debut of Mad Magazine in 1954 and appeared in various incarnations dating back to the 19th century. Here the "simp" is opposing FDR in 1940.

8. William Henry Harrison (and Tyler Too!) (1840)

In 1840, the Whigs took advantage of William Henry Harrison's military victory at the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory over a confederation of Native American tribes. He would enjoy greater success later in the War of 1812, but it was the battle at Tippecanoe that stuck with Harrison and provided easy campaign material for the Whigs. "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" (John Tyler was his running mate) remains a classic campaign slogan.

T-shirt available from RetroCampaigns.com

9. The Prostitute Vote (1960)

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Will it be John Kennedy or Richard Nixon in 1960? The world's oldest profession wisely chooses to remain neutral, thank you very much.

10. Franklin Pierce (1852)

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By 1844, the Whigs had abandoned incumbent President John Tyler and instead nominated Henry Clay to face off against Democrat James K. Polk, a man so unknown to the public that one of the Whigs' campaign slogans that year was "Who is James K. Polk?"

Well, Polk won, so, in 1852, when the Whigs found themselves in a similar position... they did the exact same thing. Chucking President Millard Fillmore in favor of General Winfield Scott to run against Democrat Franklin Pierce probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Like Polk, Pierce was nobody's first choice: there were 35 ballots at the national convention before Pierce was even mentioned, while Scott was a war hero. As in 1844, the Whigs tried to use the Democratic candidate's obscurity to their advantage. The Democrats saw similarities as well, campaigning with one of the all-time-great slogans: "We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!" And again the Whigs saw their man defeated. The party was dissolved before the next presidential election.

11. Grover Cleveland (1884)

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

If you're a fan of negative campaigning, then 1884 is your year. The Democrats and their nominee, Grover Cleveland, tried to capitalize on rumors of corruption that plagued Republican nominee James Blaine with the catchy little ditty: "Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! Continental liar from the state of Maine!"

Then Republicans were handed a gift when a newspaper revealed that Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child. Blaine supporters gleefully chanted "Ma, Ma where's my Pa?" at rallies.

But the Democrats had the last laugh: after Cleveland was elected, they added the line, "Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!"

This post originally appeared in 2011. Go take in more political history over at Retro Campaigns.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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