Thumbs up, America!

Houghton Library Blog 2012-07-02


Music has always played a major role in U.S. political campaigns – Sarah Palin had Hart’s Barracuda and Bill Clinton had Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t stop.  However, long before television commercials, songs espousing a candidate’s platform were vital to spreading the candidate’s message and increasing their popularity.  In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuel J. Tilden in one of the most controversial elections the United States had ever witnessed.  Only eleven years after the cessation of the Civil War, the south was still a hotbed of political unrest and became the battleground upon which the fervor of the ‘76 election exploded.    Democrats and Republicans accused each other of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and ballot tampering, and months of deliberations ensued.  Campaign songs for both sides used similar language in declaring their respective messages.  In what appears to be a reference to Republican success in the Civil War, Hurrah for Hayes and Wheeler by William F. Sudds proclaims,

We will rally from the hillside, we will rally from the plain, for we saved the land from rebels and we’ll save it once again…

MS Thr 862 (11)

In support of Tilden, The Banner of Tilden and Hendricks by J.H. James contends,

We’ll rally again by the flag and the law, and pledged to uphold them once more; our well-beloved country – the land of our birth, all true loyal freemen adore…

True to verse, Democrats and Republicans did indeed rally.  Four months after the election Hayes was officially confirmed the victor and privately inaugurated on March 3, 1877.  Presidential campaign songs continued to be popular throughout the 20th-century.  More recent songs include All the way with L.B.J by Billy Hays, Henry Tobias’ Hang in there, Mr. President, composed for Richard Nixon, and Thumbs up, America! the inaugural theme song for Ronald Reagan.

To learn more about sheet music featuring presidential candidates look at our online finding aid 19th and 20th-century sheet music featuring politicians, heads of state, and patriotic themes, 1843-1981 (MS Thr 862)

[post contributed by Ashley M. Nary, Archival Assistant]