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[Detail] Let me kiss him for his mother

Chronological Thinking

America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets provides a number of opportunities to develop historical thinking skills. A timeline can be created from some of the song sheets to assess presidential campaign tactics. Lyrics responding to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation provide historical comprehension of the decision and its repercussions. Songs describing John Brown's raid on a fort in Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and his subsequent execution can be used to interpret how Brown's attack related to the national debate over slavery. Minstrel songs and other pieces characterizing ethnic stereotypes can be used to discuss the racial attitudes of historical and contemporary culture.

Chronological Thinking

Politicians in the late-nineteenth century often attempted to gain support by harkening back to the ideological conflicts that sparked the Civil War. Evidence of this tactic, known (for its divisive nature) as "waving the bloody shirt," is available with a search on the term, campaign.

Military analogies were particularly fitting for presidential candidates such as Democrat George McClellan and Republican Ulysses Grant since they played important roles in the Union army.

He led his noble army on Antietam's bloody field,
And he battled for the Union, to make the rebels yield,
'Til owld Abe, the rail-splitter, relieved him from command,
But we'll show him our devotion, and by him we will stand.

From the "McClellan Campaign Song " during the 1864 presidential election.

Throughout our great republic all the patriot hosts to-night,
Are girding on the armor for the battle of the right,
But the fight is at the ballot-box, not on the battle plain,
And we have named the leader who will win the fall campaign.

From the "Grant Campaign Song " during the 1868 election.

This practice ran through the Reconstruction era with pieces such as the 1876 "Republican Campaign Song," which declared,

"By the blood of "Our Soldiers" for liberty shed-- / By the widows and the orphans of our Patriotic dead-- / Our President shall never be a "slimy" copperhead,-- / Thirty million shout to-day for Hayes and Wheeler."

These and other pieces from the collection can be used to construct a timeline chronicling presidential elections and their campaign messages.

  • How do these songs relate presidential elections to military campaigns?
  • What do you think was the purpose of drawing this comparison?
  • What other themes and images are prevalent throughout the timeline of presidential elections? Which themes and images appear only in certain campaigns?
  • How do these songs compare to pieces that rallied Union troops during the Civil War such as " Hurrah for the Union"?
  • How do you think that voters responded to these songs?