11 Presidential Campaign Slogans That Went Beyond Buzzwords

filed under: History, politics
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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: Hope! Change! Values! Newt! 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)

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions (HA.com)
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)

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions (HA.com)

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)

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions (HA.com)

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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January 28, 2014 - 10:30am
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