The Campaign

Portrait of Martin Van Buren on the left and portrait of William Henry Harrison on the right
Martin Van Buren (left) and William Henry Harrison (right) were the candidates for president in 1840

The American people vote every four years for a person to serve as President of the United States. When the President's four years are over they are allowed to campaign to be re-elected (voted as president for a second time).

Martin Van Buren became President in 1836. When his four years were over, he ran a campaign against William Henry Harrison to be re-elected as President of the United States.

Many wanted William Henry Harrison to win and were terribly unkind to Martin Van Buren. They made up awful lies about him, called him names, wrote songs, poems and drew cartoons for newspapers to make fun of him.

People who travelled to hear William Henry Harrison give a speech were given a ‘token’ to take home. One ‘token’ created was meant to make Martin Van Buren look mean and scary.

Martin Van Buren lost his campaign for re-election and returned to Kinderhook, New York to take care of the house and farm he bought called ‘Lindenwald.’

Check out the book from your library, 'Vote for Me!' by Ben Clanton to learn about a donkey and an elephant who campaigned against each other, then make your own Martin Van Buren campaign token.

Drawing of Martin Van Buren holding a goblet of champagne
Note: As this is an activity for children, the token image was altered for propriety purposes.

1840 Presidential Campaign: Recreate a Whig Party Campaign Token (For Adults)

The 1840 presidential election between Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison paved the way for the political campaigns that we have today. It included activities and items we recognize as common of modern campaigning. Harrison’s Whig Party embraced many novel tactics such as songs and slogans and campaign giveaways. The popular song, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, is from this campaign.

The Whigs campaigned vigorously against Van Buren and the Democratic Party which was slow to adopt the new active campaign style. Although he had been born poor the Whigs portrayed Van Buren in a negative light; they made him appear as an aristocrat and a lover of expensive items. This fed opposition to Van Buren who as president was attempting to manage the economic Panic of 1837 which had caused many bank failures and high unemployment. The Whigs cast Harrison in a positive light; as an effective manager and a war hero. Although born into wealth, he was portrayed as a common man, born in a log cabin, who loved to drink cider. He was portrayed as someone empathetic to the economic plight of regular citizens.

This activity recreates a Whig campaign token. Mechanical cards such as this were a novelty item that became increasing popular in the second half of the nineteenth century for promoting sales. This card portrays Van Buren first smiling and enjoying and “a beautiful goblet of White House champagne” with his initials on it, but when the tab is pulled the champagne is replaced by an “ugly mug of log cabin hard cider” this time with Harrison’s initials. Van Buren’s smile is replaced with a frown. Harrison and the Whigs went on to defeat Van Buren.

Last updated: December 22, 2020

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