Musical Mudslinging on the Campaign Trail

Before TV came on the scene, presidential candidates relied on campaign songs for negative advertising

Parade with banner showing head and shoulder portraits of Grover Cleveland, Adlai E. Stevenson and Gov. John Peter Altgeld. (Joseph Klir / Library of Congress)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Before TV came on the scene, presidential candidates relied on songs for negative advertising. Consider this 1889 ditty in support of Benjamin Harrison: "Ben’s a man who bravely went for his native land to shoot / Whereas Grover Cleveland skulked behind the nearest substitute" Presidential Campaign Songs, from Smithsonian Folkways (1999), features tunes spanning 40 elections. The time-honored tactics of campaigning are all represented, from celebrity endorsements (a Charles Lindbergh testimonial in favor of Herbert Hoover in 1929) to fear-mongering (fire, pistols, guns, swords, knives and famines are threatened in a 1828 song if John Quincy Adams is not elected). And you thought dirty politics was new?

Hear Abraham Lincoln), He's All Right (Benjamin Harrison) and If He's Good Enough for Lindy (Herbert Hoover)

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label of the Smithsonian Institution. Please click here to purchase or for more information

About Anika Gupta
Anika Gupta

Anika Gupta’s writing has appeared in India and the United States, including in Business Today magazine, where she served as its first digital content editor, the Hindustan Times newspaper and Smithsonian magazine. Currently, she is a Master's student at MIT, where she studies user-generated content and mainstream media culture. She's also a science writer, media blogger, and essayist.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus