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illustration National Impact

The 19th century saw the transformation of American politics from a primarily elite concern to the focus of massive popular excitement.  Broadened rights of suffrage, political parties, nominating conventions, and electioneering made elections truly popular in nature. For more than 150 years, Presidential campaigns have relied partly on material culture to attract votes. Every election has inspired and made use of objects—jewelry, bandanas, walking sticks, ceramic plates, lapel ribbons, buttons, bumper stickers—for partisan purposes.  Commemorative items celebrated centennials, honored the accomplishments of American leaders, and lamented their passing.  Such material culture, along with popular paper sources such as cartoons, prints, and posters and promotional ephemera such as broadsides and handbills, can enhance and illuminate the study of more conventional documentary sources on American political history. 

Political memorabilia are a particularly rich resource, bringing life and color to the study of the past.  Beyond their immediate goal of promoting presidential candidates and their parties, these objects also served to simplify complex personalities and issues, give them immediacy, and generate and maintain emotional bonds.  Through their texts, imagery, design, and materials, they offer direct access to lives of everyday people, speaking of public exhortations, performances, and provocations and private gestures of allegiance and mourning made by common citizens. They record all of the aspects of the American presidential campaign, including high fun and bitter denunciations as well as serious debates over public policy. 

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Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library

Copyright 2002 Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853
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