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Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art Paperback – May 15, 2012
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“This handsome, 11” x 14” collection includes more than 100 suitable-for-framing reproductions of vintage one-sheet posters throughout American history (from Andrew Jackson’s 1828 campaign against John Quincy Adams to Barack Obama’s iconic 2008 “Hope”), plus several culturally significant parodies, in an entertaining, informative overview about “the art” of getting out the vote.”—American Profile
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For a American History teacher who wants their student to feel the styles of the various periods with rotating images this would be an excellent investment. For an American History buff, this is a wonderful addition to the library.
The Library has a collection of over 100,000 of these posters, and one can criticize this relatively small sampling of 200 posters as not being representative, as being too political for one party or another, of missing a personally "essential" poster. But, as a beautiful overview of the art form, and as a historically accurate description of the campaign from which the posters have been drawn, this collection simply cannot be beat. A really nice touch are the side bar illustrations of other campaign materials that were used with, and sometimes in opposition to, the main poster.
A sample of the sort of text that accompanies these posters, this one published by the Clay forces against Jackson, shown as a king:
"In the early nineteenth century, many Americans still remembered firsthand the oppression of royal rule. That's why in this poster presidential candidate Henry Clay set out to paint the incumbent Andrew Jackson as a tyrant prone to letting his strong will run roughshod over the U.S. Constitution. Clay was certain that the image of a crowned, scepter-bearing Jackson standing in front of a throne would be like a bucket of cold water to voters. Instead, Jackson defeated Clay by a huge margin: Jackson won 219 electoral votes to Clay's 49 electoral votes."
This one accompanies a Lewis Cass poster:
"The Democrats promoted Lewis Cass as a distinguished politician with an extensive resume of public service, producing a campaign poster in which his portrait sat pompously at the center of a constellation of the eleven former presidents. Cartoonists thought less of Cass than he thought of himself, especially since his name provided serendipitous opportunities for wordplay featuring ass and gas."
A more recent one, with a cartoon like image of Robert Kennedy, resonates with this reviewer (a Eugene McCarthy supporter):
"Robert F. Kennedy made a late and controversial entrance into the Democratic race in March 1968, only four days after Eugene McCarthy nearly upset President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. Although Johnson and Kennedy had a testy relationship, Kennedy had not wanted to oppose the president. But when McCarthy's strong showing demonstrated that the party was not united behind Johnson, Kennedy made his move. Kennedy was embraced by young voters, as evidenced by the psychedelic campaign poster."
I'm sure readers will be able to find their own villains and heroes on these pages -- either for framing or for condemning -- all part of the great American election cycles.
A number of these posters have been collected on various websites; a particularly nice collection is at the website of WNYC in New York City. The Library of Congress also has an exhibit, and through its search engine allows one to find some of the 100,000 or so posters that aren't illustrated in this book; check the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
If you have any interest in American history, this is a wonderful way to explore the entire 200 years of that culture.
Robert C. Ross
revised April 2015
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