Who Would You Vote For? – Campaign Banners from the Robert A. Frank Collection
December 19, 2015 through December 10, 2016
How will you decide who to vote for in the next presidential election? Do the political ads splashed across the newspaper and shown on TV help you make your decision? Will you take advantage of the chance to hear a candidate speak in person? “Who Would You Vote For? Campaign Banners from the Robert A. Frank Collection” presents 16 political banners dating from 1844 to 1936 that reveal the persuasive role political textiles historically played in campaigns. The exhibition opens at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library on December 19, 2015, and will be on view through December 10, 2016.
During the 1800s and early 1900s candidates themselves did little, if any, of the kind of campaigning that candidates do today. Their supporters, however, used the banners and handkerchiefs on view to show they agreed with a candidate’s position on a hot-button issue. For example, whether or not to continue a protective tariff for American industries was a running theme throughout the second half of the 1800s. Candidates who thought the tariff was a good idea often linked it to patriotism and prosperity. A banner supporting 1844 Whig Party candidate Henry Clay (1777-1852) includes the slogan “National Currency, Revenue, and Protection,” showing his support for a national bank, a protective tariff and federal funding of improvement projects. Clay lost to James Democratic candidate and Freemason James K. Polk (1795-1849).
Until the 1900s, manufacturers and merchants designed these textiles rather than the candidates or their campaigns. The themes, topics and iconography on these banners show us that many of the issues we grapple with today are not new, nor is passionate political discourse.
One of the banners promoting the Democratic ticket of sitting president Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), and his vice presidential candidate Allen G. Thurman (1813-1895), includes a picture of crossed brooms and suggests these candidates will “sweep clean the stables of government.” Another banner supporting their campaign includes the slogan, “A Public Office is a Public Trust,” underscoring the honest government promised by the ticket.
All of the campaign textiles presented in “Who Would You Vote For” were donated to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 2001, along with several dozen others, by Robert A. Frank.