PHOTOS: Paraphernalia from the Political Campaigns of Yore

The great American pastime of politics and posturing has deep roots, but have we become more or less civil?

Show your support for Clinton with a hat that looks like cheese. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

As the 2012 presidential campaign gains steam with party conventions, round-the-clock television ads and the usual up-tick in party-affiliated rhetoric, it becomes necessary to remind ourselves of the timelessness of such divides. In his 1796 farewell address, George Washington warned against the dangers of political factions: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

We have yet to heed his advice.

Political history curators Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein of the National Museum of American History have spent decades collecting the ephemera of our two party system, putting ideologies aside in the spirit of assembling the most valuable mementos for American history students of the future. Attending both conventions every four years, Bird and Rubenstein (known as “Harry and Larry”) preserve materials that best represent the atmosphere of the presidential campaigns, from the red, white and blue confetti that rains down at the end of speeches, to the dapper buttons of the candidates’ devotees.

In celebration of the work that Harry and Larry embark on every year, we’ve assembled a few tokens of presidential campaign memorabilia from the Smithsonian collections.

Avoiding slogans and slander, this poster gives just the facts: who’s running, where they’re from and what they look like. Photo courtesy the American History Museum

Benjamin Harrison, who beat incumbent Grover Cleveland in 1888 to become the 23rd president. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

Horatio Seymour, the 1868 Democratic nominee, lost to Ulysses S. Grant. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

Alton Parker, the 1904 Democratic nominee, lost to the popular incumbent Theodore Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

A campaign button from the 1869 election of Ulysses S. Grant. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

For Harry and Larry, collecting campaign memorabilia “reflects the larger story of democratic history.” Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

No need to borrow any tunes from rock stars, this time. A songbook for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum

…And with this song, you will too. Photo courtesy of the American History Museum


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