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1840: Hard Cider and Log Cabins

The election of 1840 is widely regarded as the first modern campaign for the U. S. presidency. As in earlier elections, character defamation was a key campaign strategy, as was the veneration of a military hero. Most memorably of all, Whig campaigners formulated a catchy slogan. “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” remains one of the best-known political catchphrases in American history.

Four years earlier, the Democratic Party, represented by Martin Van Buren, had upset the Whigs in an acrimonious election. During the months leading up to the 1840 election, the Whig party designed a campaign that pitted a heroic William Henry Harrison against the patrician Van Buren, whom they called “Van Ruin,” blaming him for the disastrous banking failures of 1837. Their strategy centered on casting Harrison as a folk hero, capitalizing on his military triumphs during the War of 1812. His nickname, “Tippecanoe, ” refers to his victory over Tecumseh and the Shawnee peoples at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Party supporters were offered an array of campaign paraphernalia that featured log cabins and barrels of hard cider, two potent symbols of Harrison’s honest, hard-working, independent mind.

Whig strategies proved very successful, but Harrison’s victory was hollow. His thirty-one-day presidency was the shortest in American history. After delivering his inaugural address (the longest in history at two hours) while standing outside without a coat on a cold March day, Harrison fell ill. He died of pneumonia one month later.

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