The Presidential Candidate, Then and Now


Perspectives on Political Science, Fall 1997, volume 26, number 4, 208-216



The style of campaigning for president has changed from reticence in the 19th century to enthusiastic public stumping in the 20th century. James Polk and Martin Van Buren believed it was unseemly for a presidential candidate to praise himself. The 1896 campaign between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley changed the style of campaigning. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's public campaigning in 1936 affirmed the new style.

Full Text

Twud be inth'restin' ... if th' fathers iv th' counthry cud come back an' see what has happened while they've been away. In time past whin ye voted f'r prisidint ye didn't vote f'r a man. Ye voted f'r a kind iv a statue that ye'd put up in ye'er own mind on a marble pidistal. Ye nivir heerd iv George Wash'nton goin' around th' counthry distrributin' five cint see-gars.

--Mr. Dooley

Nothing seems more unremarkable than a presidential candidate delivering a speech before a large, enthusiastic crowd. We expect those who would be president to come to us, the people of the United States, and solicit our votes. We expect them to explain their positions on the issues, to mobilize the faithful, and to persuade the wavering. Every presidential candidate is expected to criss-cross this vast country in pursuit of votes. Would-be presidents do not stand for office, they run for it.

Although we take this sort of behavior for granted today, it represents a radical departure from the behavior Americans used to expect and generally get from their presidential aspirants. For close on a century, the prevailing norm was that "the office of president of the United States should neither be sought nor declined."(1) So hardy was this norm that it survived, though not unscathed, the emergence of organized, mass-based political parties, the adoption of universal white male suffrage, and even the break-down of the congressional nominating caucus. Andrew Jackson himself, even as he revolutionized the basis of presidential authority.(2) Dutifully upheld that norm. As he explained to a friend. "I meddle not with elections. I leave the people to make their own President."(3)

Of course, nineteenth-century presidential candidates, Jackson very much included, were rarely as disinterested or passive as they claimed. President Lincoln, for instance, while striking a statesmanlike pose, worked behind the scenes to ensure his reelection. Indeed, according to his secretary of the treasury, William Pitt Fessenden, Lincoln was "too busy looking after the election to think of anything else."(4) Yet in "feigning disinterest." Jeffrey Tulis points out. "candidates exemplified a public teaching that political campaigns were beneath the dignity of men suited for governance, that honor attended more important activities than campaigns" According to Tulis, in the nineteenth century "the tone of campaigns was set by that of governance." Presidents generally did not give partisan or policy-oriented speeches, so presidential candidates were expected to refrain from such undignified behavior also. Today, Tulis observes. "In a striking reversal, campaigns are becoming the model for governing." Those responsible for crafting the electoral strategy are brought in to shape governing strategy. Governance becomes an extension of the campaign. Governing, like campaigning, becomes a perpetual quest for popular support.(5)

Tulis traces this seismic shift in U.S. politics to Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, Tulis notes, was "the first victorious presidential candidate to have engaged in a full-scale speaking tour during the campaign." Wilson, according to Tulis, brought us not only "the rhetorical presidency" but also "the rhetorical campaign." Indeed for Wilson, the two phenomena were necessarily related. "In Wilson's view." Tulis tells us,"the rhetorical campaign was intended ... to prepare the people for a new kind of governance--the rhetorical presidency." Wilson revolutionized not just presidential governance but presidential campaigns.(6)

The stark contrast in candidate behaviors between a Bill Clinton and an Andrew Jackson or a Bob Dole and an Abraham Lincoln reveals the dramatic, revolutionary changes that have occurred in American presidential campaigns. Yet the dichotomy between a nineteenth-century "old way" and a twentieth-century "new way" obscures as much as it reveals. It relies on an overly unified and static version of nineteenth-century presidential history.(7) Moreover, focusing on a single, pivotal presidency, whether that president is Woodrow Wilson or, alternatively, Theodore Roosevelt, slights the gradual evolution in candidate behaviors and expectations that occurred in the latter third of the nineteenth century and the opening third of the twentieth century. Finally, by treating all presidential candidates of a given era as essentially the same, it ignores the quite different norms that attached to incumbent presidents and challengers.


The nineteenth-century presidency was not simply a logical extension of the Founders' original constitutional design. Writing in 1881, William Graham Sumner suggested that in fact "the intention of the constitution--makers has gone for very little in the historical development of the presidency." Instead, he believed, "the office has been moulded by the tastes and faiths of the people."(8) Sumner overstated his case, but he provides a useful reminder of the dynamism of the nineteenth-century presidency, buffeted as it was between venerable republican traditions and an emergent mass democracy, between a search for leaders of dignity and self-restraint and a fiercely competitive party system that relentlessly organized and mobilized the American voter. In nineteenth-century presidential campaigns, there was no single norm, no constitutional "old way," but rather contested, rival norms derived from divergent political cultures.

As historian Gil Troy has shown, the norm proscribing candidate speech coexisted uneasily with the parties' and candidates' own political interests as well as with the people's growing demand to know, as one voter wrote to Lincoln in 1860. "exactly every inch of ground you stand upon." That expectation had been stoked by Jackson's bold declaration in 1824 that it "is incumbent on me, when asked, frankly to declare my opinions upon any political or national question pending before and about which the country feels an interest." Believing that voters had a right to know where he stood on the leading issues of the day, Jackson penned a numbers of letters designed for publication that laid out his position on the issues. In the 1828 campaign, Jackson was constantly badgered by his advisers to refrain from declaring his opinions or answering attacks. Such behaviors, Jackson was repeatedly told, violated presidential decorum and would only hurt the candidate. James Polk, for instance, bluntly warned:

the ground taken for you by your friends ... that you live in
retirement on your farm, calm and unmoved by the
excitement around you, taking no part in the pending canvass
for the Presidency, but committing yourself into the hands
of your country, would seem to superficial observers to be
inconsistent with any appeal to the public made by you at
this juncture.

"Our people," Martin Van Buren advised Jackson, "do not like to see publications from candidates." Jackson largely heeded this advice, explaining to one disappointed correspondent that were he to state his opinions he "would be charged with electioneering views for selfish purposes." As an incumbent, in 1832, Jackson needed no prompting from his advisers to tell him that the proper course was to remain silent during the campaign.(9)

Not everyone, though, was persuaded that a candidate for president should remain mute. In 1836, Kentucky Congressman Sherrod Williams announced that it was "the right of every citizen of the United States to ask and demand and be fully informed of the political principles ... of those who are candidates for the various offices in the gift of the people." This was no less true of candidates for the president than it was for any other candidates for public office. Insisting that each presidential candidate "has the imperious duty to frankly and fully ... disclose the opinions which he entertains." Williams posed five political questions to each of the presidential candidates running for office.(10) Presidential candidates in the middle of the nineteenth century found themselves whipsawed between contradictory expectations: On the one hand, they were not supposed to seek the presidential office; on the other, they were supposed to engage in a direct and honest dialogue with the people about the issues.

William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign vividly illustrates the dynamic interplay of the conflicting norms. Throughout 1839 and the first part of 1840 Harrison made no public appearances, largely remaining at home and modeling his behavior on George Washington's. The dignity of the presidency, he insisted, prevented any man from actively seeking the office. Harrison referred those who inquired about his views to his record or to specific letters he had written prior to his nomination, most especially the detailed response he had made to Williams's inquiry in 1836.(11) Early in the spring, Whig operatives announced that since Harrison's views had already "been given to the public," the general would make no further statements, leaving the task of answering mail to a dime-man "correspondence committee." Democrats immediately seized on this as a violation of democracy. Jackson's old organ, the Washington Globe, countered that in a democracy a candidate "must give direct answers to all reasonable inquiries [concerning] character and principles." Harrison was ridiculed as "General Mum," a "caged" simpleton, an "Old Granny" too feeble to leave home. Against such charges. Harrison's defenders countered, "There is not a man in the United States who has more frankly and distinctly expressed his opinions upon questions involving matters of public policy than General Harrison."(12)

As the Democratic attacks on Harrison intensified, the general decided to reverse course and go public, making a three-week tour in June and a month-long trip in September. Such behavior, he told one crowd, violated his own "sense of propriety," and he worried aloud that he might be "establishing a dangerous precedent." Yet though he preferred to "remain at the domestic fireside," he felt impelled to show the people that he was not the "caged," decrepit man depicted by the Democrats. In his speeches, Harrison insisted he was not electioneering: "I do not come here to ask your sympathy or to excite your feelings in my behalf," he told one crowd in Cincinnati. Though he generally avoided issues, he did not shrink from attacking the Democrats. And, as Troy points out, on occasion Harrison did make policy pronouncements: "`Methinks I hear a soft voice asking: Are you in favor of paper money? I am,' Harrison shouted to the 'ten acres of Whigs' gathered at Dayton, Ohio." Showing little concern for consistency, Whig newspapers praised the size and enthusiasm of the crowds that came to see and hear Harrison. Democrats also subordinated consistency to partisanship, now condemning Harrison for vulgarly begging for votes as if he were running for local sheriff.(13)

Taking to the stump as Harrison did remained the exception rather than rule, but the notion that the people had a right to know where a presidential nominee stood on the issues was rapidly becoming widely accepted, much to the chagrin of one well-to-do Whig who complained to Henry Clay that "since the categories of Sherrod Williams set the precedent, every one claims to question the candidate of his life, opinion and general conduct." Martin Van Buren, Harrison's opponent in 1840, refrained from taking the stump, but wrote long, frank letters that explained his position on important issues. As Van Buren explained, responding to "interrogatories from my fellow Citizens upon public questions" was a presidential candidate's democratic duty, and quite different from soliciting support. After being nominated by the Whig Party in 1844, Clay initially vowed that he would retire quietly to his home because the people "should be free, impartial and wholly unbiased by the conduct of a candidate himself" but he soon broke his pledge of silence, penning several public letters that attempted to clarify his position on the annexation of Texas. Clay's opponent in 1844, James Polk, tried to say as little as possible for fear of alienating key constituencies but even he agreed that it was a presidential candidate's "imperative duty" to address "NEW QUESTIONS, or old questions upon which he had not been sufficiently explicit. Democracy demanded that voters know where their candidates stood on the issues.

By the 1840s and 1850s, then, presidential candidates were no longer expected to remain silent, though some like Polk found it politically advantageous to say as little as possible. Writing issue-oriented public letters was becoming relatively routine, but public speaking was quite a different matter. Harrison's departure from the republican taboo in 1840 was not repeated again until 1852 when another Whig general. Winfield Scott, took to the stump in a five-week railroad tour. Scott believed, as one supporter put it, that "a live lion in good voice, will produce ... a far greater and more lasting effect by being seen and heard, than all the [campaign biographies] which can be written." Democrats lambasted Scott, who in choosing to "beg ... for votes" had violated the venerated traditions set down by the "wise and patriotic Fathers." Scott's speeches avoided all issues, but this, too, brought him criticism from Democrats who felt that his speeches insulted the people's intelligence and encouraged "man-worship." Whigs, meanwhile, denied that Scott was electioneering and pointed to the spontaneous enthusiasm that everywhere greeted the candidate's appearances. After Scott's defeat, many Whigs as well as Democrats blamed the loss on Scott's "stumping tour," which they contrasted unfavorably with Pierce's "talent for silence."(14)

Party elites' post hoc analysis of the electoral consequences of Scott's speaking tour helped to solidify the old proscription. Speaking was not just bad form but might actually be electorally costly. Even in the wake of Scott's debacle, however, the injunction against speaking remained anything but absolute. In fact between 1860 and 1872 three of the four Democratic presidential nominees--Stephen Douglas, Horatio Seymour, and Horace Greeley--took to the stump. Douglas began the 1860 presidential campaign expecting "to look on and see a fight without taking a hand in it," but repeated entreaties from local Democrats together with his own concerns about the country's perilous situation led him to launch a speaking campaign that directly addressed the divisive issues confronting the nation. To those opponents who criticized his unseemly behavior, Douglas retorted, "What a pity it would be if a man, by the honest expression of an honest sentiment, should lose anybody's vote." In 1868, Seymour, another accomplished Democratic orator, bucked convention. Like Douglas, Seymour initially vowed not to take "an active part" in the campaign, but then bowed to the "universal sentiment" among his friends that he do so. As the Democratic New York World insisted, the taboo against presidential candidates' speaking "has no foundation in reason." Given the Republicans' tremendous financial and organizational advantages, why should Democrats deny themselves their one asset, "the most powerful and impressive speaker in the United States?" In 1872. Greeley was also persuaded to take the stump. As a Democratic congressman explained. "Things are proper now ... that never were before."(15)

Traditional rhetorical norms remained a powerful constraint on candidate behavior, however. Even as Greeley became the third Democratic candidate in four elections to break with convention, he acknowledged "the unwritten law of our country that a candidate for President may not make speeches." For defying the norm, Greeley, much like Douglas and Seymour before him, was denounced as the "great American office beggar" who believed the "man should seek office rather than the office the man."(16) Greeley, like Douglas, Seymour, and Scott, was beaten badly, which only helped to drive home the lesson that the stump was for losers. Staying home was now not only good form but good strategy.

The 1876 contest affirmed both the power of the old norm and the gulf separating the presidency envisioned by the framers from the presidency as it had come to exist in the mid-nineteenth century. Democrat Samuel Tilden, who had managed Seymour's campaign for the presidency in 1868, decided he could not wait for the presidency to seek him out. Instead he established a "literary bureau" that circulated his speeches and other documents intended to advertise his candidacy and create a "Tilden Boom."(17) Upon his nomination, moreover, Tilden wrote an acceptance letter of unprecedented length that spelled out in excruciating detail his position on virtually every issue mentioned in the party's platform. Tilden's Republican opponent, Rutherford Hayes, was more concise but still devoted close to 1,500 words to a discussion of what he deemed the central campaign issues. Hayes's issue-oriented letter was a dramatic departure from the practice of his Republican predecessors, Lincoln and Grant, neither of whom had gone beyond 250 words.(18)

Though Hayes and especially Tilden were innovators in certain respects,(19) their behavior as candidates still remained shaped by traditional norms. Both candidates went to great lengths to avoid the appearance of electioneering. "Silence," Hayes told his campaign biographer, "is the only safety." As a symbolic display of restraint, Hayes refused even to vote for himself on election day. Tilden, too, publicly professed disinterest and, like Hayes, retreated to the governor's mansion to await "the call of the people." Both Tilden and Hayes largely followed the accepted practice of leaving the job of promoting their candidacy to the legions of party orators who fanned out across the country. But not everyone was happy with the "customary" reserve displayed by the candidates. When it appeared that Hayes had lost, Republicans groused about the candidate's studied silence. Democrats, meanwhile, complained about Tilden's refusal to answer Republican charges. And to those who believed that the vital function of a presidential campaign was to scrutinize the candidates' views on the "vital and fundamental questions" or even just to "sift a man's character," the candidates' insistence on remaining in the background seemed irrational and even undemocratic.(20)

Candidates in the late nineteenth century continued to be buffeted by conflicting expectations. On the one hand they were not supposed to solicit votes or display unseemly ambition; on the other hand they were expected to communicate their views on the issues to voters. People wanted their presidential candidates to be dignified, but they also wanted to be able to scrutinize the candidates. James Garfield, the Republican nominee in 1880, struggled to carve out a role that would satisfy the contradictory expectations. Invited to New York to soothe over a party rift, he at first resisted for fear such a trip would appear undignified, but ultimately relented. On route to and from New York he greeted enthusiastic crowds at virtually every stop. His speeches never went "beyond thanks & an occasional remark on the localities through which [he] passed," but the success of the trip brought Republican calls for Garfield to take the stump. "If I could take the stump," Garfield confided, "I should feet much happier," but President Hayes and other Republicans urged him to "sit cross legged and look wise until after the election." In the face of conflicting advice. Garfield hit on an innovative arrangement that in 1896 would come to be dubbed the "front-porch" campaign. By remaining on his Ohio farm, he placated the traditionalists who believed candidates should await the people's call: but by greeting swarms of visitors at his home he "played the good democrat, addressing the people as equals in his own home." In speaking to the people he defied "the foolish custom which seals a presidential candidate's lips," and yet at the same time his speeches respected convention by avoiding issues or policy stands.(21)

In 1884, a quite different, more modern tack was taken by the Republican nominee, James Blaine, who launched an extensive tour in which he made more than 400 short speeches mostly praising the protective tariff. Blaine made no apologies for his popular appeals: "I am a profound believer in a popular government," he explained. "and I know no reason why I should not face the American people." Republicans praised his "bold and brilliant," efforts while Democrats, predictably, charged him with "vote-begging." Blaine's opponent, Grover Cleveland, opted for a more dignified pose, remaining for most of the campaign at the governor's office in Albany, just as Tilden had done in 1876. Yet even Cleveland, who was never one for public speaking, did give two substantive if brief speeches (one in Connecticut the other in New Jersey) on civil service reform, tax reduction, and the conditions of labor. Policy-oriented speech was clearly no longer proscribed though taking to the stump, in the fashion of Blaine. was still to open oneself up to criticism for demeaning the office.(22)

Wishing to avoid the fate that had befallen Blaine, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 chose instead to stay at home and emulate Garfield's front-porch strategy. But unlike Garfield, who had carefully avoided issues in his addresses, Harrison spoke often on the virtues of the protective tariff as well as on the need for increased veterans' pensions and civil service reform. Harrison's front-porch campaign was also much better organized and more carefully scripted:

a committee arranged the visits and reviewed proposed
introductory speeches--twice. Two to three times a day, at the
appointed hour, Harrison would stride from his house in
Indianapolis to nearby University Park, listen to the greetings.
and respond. Afterward, Harrison edited these speeches and
sent them out on the Associated Press wires for publication
the next day.

All told Harrison gave 94 speeches to 300.000 people in 110 delegations, going in the course of a few months from a relatively unknown ex-senator from Indiana to the principal spokesman for the Republican Party. Most indicative of all, very few people questioned the propriety of Harrison's behavior.(23)

The reaction to Harrison's speaking in the 1888 campaign signaled the shift that had taken place in the nation's expectations of candidate behavior. Yet at the same time, President Cleveland's behavior in 1888 as well as President Harrison's in 1892 (the first incumbents to be renominated by their party since Ulysses Grant in 1872) show that the norms for sitting presidents were different than those for challengers. The thought of a president campaigning, the New York Times pronounced in the summer of 1892, "disgusts the people." Conscious of the dignity of the office, neither President Cleveland nor President Harrison took an active public role in their campaigns.(24)

Few candidates for the presidency disliked stump speaking as much as Cleveland. Yet in 1892, Cleveland, now a challenger once again, was persuaded to turn his speech accepting the nomination into a massive political rally. In 1884 and again in 1888 Cleveland had given traditional acceptance speeches. In 1884, for instance, a short, dignified, and private ceremony was held at the governor's residence, where Cleveland gave a short speech that by his own admission was filled with little but "trite [and] ... simple truths." This time, though, Cleveland agreed to accept the nomination at Madison Square Garden. Unlike the private ceremonies of the past, the public this time was let in. As the Times reported, "The doors of the Madison Avenue entrance were now like a dam holding back a vast reservoir. From without there came a hoarse, rumbling, sound, the doors were quickly thrown wide open and a sea of human beings came pouring in." Roughly 15,000 people rushed into the Garden, filling every spare inch, cheering madly, and chanting loudly, "four--four--four years more." Large pictures of Cleveland and the vice presidential candidate Stevenson hung over the entrance, and behind the speakers' platform were "the words `Cleveland and Stevenson' in huge electric-lighted letters." The event was, as the Times pointed out, "without precedent in political annals." So raucous was the crowd that Cleveland found it impossible to speak, returning to his chair did not restore quiet, and he was "obliged to speak without waiting for order." Only then did the shouting and cheering subside.(25) A more dramatic contrast with the stately, stiff acceptance ceremonies of the previous years would be hard to imagine.

It was not the setting and ceremony alone that broke new ground, but the speech itself, which was far more issue oriented and partisan than any previous acceptance speech. Cleveland aggressively attacked the Republican tariff system as bad for "the plain people," consumers, farmers, and even the working man. In rousing Jacksonian tones, the ex-president condemned "unjust Governmental favoritism" and "the accumulations of a favored few" that invariably resulted from such favoritism. He tore into the Republicans, reminding his audience of the "saturnalia of theft and brutal control" that took place during Republican Reconstruction and of how Republican Party managers robbed the people of their duly elected president in 1876. Cleveland made no apologies for his "tone of partisanship" which, he explained, "befits the occasion." He instructed the crowd on the paramount importance of Party unity of the disastrous consequences that would result from a Democratic defeat in the coming campaign. "Let us tell the people," he urges his followers, "plainly and honestly what we believe and how we propose to serve the interests of the entire country." Cleveland's break with tradition brought a predictable outcry from Republicans, who complained that Cleveland had behaved like "a hired orator before a district meeting." "No Presidential candidate in the course of American history," complained one Republican partisan, "ever before made a speech so unworthy of his dignity." Democrats, however, loved the public spectacle: it showed, said the Democratic national chairman, "that the candidates were in touch with the people."(26)

After his dramatic acceptance speech. Cleveland returned to his summer home on Buzzard's Bay where, against the strong urgings of his de facto campaign manager, he reverted to a more conventional campaign of letter writing. "I have never been a stump speaker and do not think I should be a success in that role," Cleveland explained.(27) Still Cleveland did not avoid public speaking altogether. He moved to New York in mid October and in the weeks leading up to the election made several speeches at campaign rallies in New York City. On the Saturday before the election he traveled to New Jersey to deliver a blistering attack on the Republicans' tariff policy before a huge and enthusiastic crowd of Democratic partisans.(28) Republicans might not have liked what Cleveland said, but few if any believed Cleveland's speech was improper. Cleveland's relative inactivity during the bulk of the 1892 campaign had more to do with his own proclivities than it did with any norms of the day. A different candidate, with a different temperament and skills, could expect to find little resistance to taking a prominent speaking role in the campaign. In 1896 that candidate came along in the person of William Jennings Bryan.


The 1896 campaign is probably the most famous campaign in U.S. history. It is remembered for Bryan's precedent-shattering speaking tour as well as for the carefully orchestrated and impressive front-porch campaign of William Mckinley. An estimated 5 million Americans across 27 states heard one of the 600 passionate and substantive speeches Bryan crave during the campaign. McKinley stayed home but still managed to speak to 750,000 people in the 300 or so speeches he gave.(29) Neither Bryan nor McKinley shied away from issues, the former focusing almost exclusively on free silver while the latter preferred to harp on the virtues of the protective tariff.

Bryan's herculean speaking tours and McKinley's slick front-porch campaign marked a giant step in the direction of the modern candidate-centered campaign. Yet to focus on the revolution made it easy to miss the evolutionary chances that had laid the foundations for such behavior. The term front-porch campaign may have been coined in 1896, but there was nothing particularly novel about McKinley's behavior. McKinley certainly gave more speeches than Harrison had (three times as many in fact) and to more people, but the basic campaign design was clearly derivative. Bryan's behavior, too, had precedents (in Cleveland's 1892 acceptance speech, as well as in Blaine's ill-fated tour in 1884, not to mention Douglas, Seymour, and Greeley), but more important was the gradual change in expectations and incentives that encouraged Bryan to make such a tour. By 1896 the nominee was expected to be the primary spokesman and central figure of the campaign.(30)

To be sure, the immense scale of Bryan's stumping did bring partisan criticism. Republican John Hay, who in 1884 had praised Blaine's speaking tour as "bold" and "brilliant," now condemned Bryan for "begging for the Presidency as a tramp might beg for a pie." Most Republicans, though, seemed more disturbed by the "reckless" policies Bryan advocated and the emotions he played upon than by the act of stumping itself. Indeed a number of worried Republicans, Mark Hanna included, urged McKinley to join Bryan on the stump. McKinley rejected their pleas, explaining that "I might just as well put up a trapeze on my front lawn and compete with some professional athlete as go out speaking against Bryan."(31)

The 1900 rematch between Bryan and McKinley provides further evidence of the different constraints felt by challengers and incumbents at this time. Bryan essentially reprised his performance from 1896, but McKinley's behavior changed radically. "The proprieties," McKinley reasoned, "demand that the President should refrain from making a political canvass on his own behalf."(32) In 1904, the same "proprieties" constrained the far more garrulous incumbent. Theodore Roosevelt. During his first term in office. Roosevelt had not hesitated to go to the people,(33) but after his nomination, Roosevelt went almost completely silent. The strain on him was terrible: "I could cut [Alton Parker, the Democratic nominee] into ribbons if I could get at him in the open," Roosevelt told his son. "But of course a President can't go on the stump ... and so I have to sit still and abide by the result." A sympathetic Henry Cabot Lodge wrote to Roosevelt: "I think it depresses you a little to be the only man in the country who cannot take part in the campaign for the presidency."(34)

The behavior of Judge Parker showed how radically different the norms were for challengers. Unlike Roosevelt, who longed to be on the stump, Parker would have preferred to maintain a dignified silence. Parker initially tried to adopt a low-key, front-porch campaign, but amidst continual rumors that Parker would take the stump he was eventually dragged out on to it by Republican criticisms of the "Mummy" and by Democrats urging him to speak to the people. "The one thing more than anything else that the people of the country want to see,'" party leaders informed Parker, the candidate and hear him speak on the issues."(35) During the last week of the campaign, Parker spoke in public every evening, before large crowds in New York. New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The 1908 campaign began with both candidates, William Howard Taft as well as Bryan, intent on conducting a front-porch campaign reminiscent of McKinley's 1896 campaign. By the end of summer, though. Bryan had reverted to his old ways Taft, concerned with Bryan's popularity as well as by the paucity of people visiting his Cincinnati front stoop, decided that he, too, needed to take to the stump. The Washington Times assured the candidates: "It is not undignified, it is not improper. The people want to see and listen to the men asking their votes." Taft could not match Bryan's eloquence, but he came close in quantity, delivering 400 speeches over an 18,000-mile tour.(36) For the first time in the nation's history, both major party presidential nominees had criss-crossed the nation in search of votes. Taft (not Wilson) became the first victorious presidential candidate to mount a full-scale speaking tour, and in doing so he helped erase the association between stumping and losing. That Taft, who neither enjoyed public speaking nor was a good at it, go took to the stump testifies to how completely expectations of candidates had changed. At the same time, Roosevelt, who loved speaking to large crowds, remained silent in 1904, showing that incumbent presidents still operated under a different set of expectations.

In 1912. Taft found himself the incumbent while Roosevelt, the nominee of the Progressive Party, was now a challenger. Freed of constraints, the Bull Moose immediately hit the hustings, denouncing Taft, speaking early and often until an assassin's bullet in mid-October temporarily slowed him. The incumbent Taft meanwhile raced for the protective cover of the norm that had so tormented Roosevelt in 1904. Invoking "the dignity of his office," Taft fell almost completely silent after his acceptance speech, except during the week leading up to the election, when he wrote "a few dignified letters for publication."(37)

Woodrow Wilson, the other major candidate in the historic 1912 election, disliked the emotionalism of the "extended stumping tours" that he associated with Bryan and Roosevelt. Respectful of the "old-fashioned" proprieties. Wilson emphasized that "people ... look for dignity in high office." He initially refused to mount a demeaning "rear-platform" campaign of the sort that Taft and Bryan had engaged in in 1908. "I don't mind talking, but I do mind being dragged over half a continent," he explained to a friend. The telegraph, he pointed out, was a far more effective means of communicating his message than trying to cross the nation by train. Wilson's view was untenable and outmoded and he was quickly compelled to stump, at least across the Midwest and Northeast (the South he took for granted and the West he left to Bryan). In the modern campaign the candidate's persona increasingly was the issue; people wanted to know not just where Wilson stood on the issues but what sort of a person he was. Wilson himself acknowledged this demand in a speech in Indiana. "It is a great pleasure for me to ... greet ... my fellow countrymen in this way," he told the assembled crowd, "because I know they want to see what I look like, at least: not for the sake of my beauty, but for the sake of forming their own opinion as to what sort of chap I seem to be."(38)

As president, Wilson remained wary of campaigning, which he viewed as "a great interruption to the rational consideration of public questions." While Wilson's Republican opponent, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, traversed the country attacking the Wilson administration, Wilson refused to take to the stump. "Bad taste is always bad judgment," Wilson reasoned. At a press conference at the end of September, he was asked repeatedly about his reluctance to campaign. He was too busy with the real work of governing to campaign, he explained. Moreover, he felt that "it is a sort of impropriety for the President to campaign, not because of the dignity of the office, merely, but because, after he has served for four years, the record is there, and he can't change it." Wilson, though, was feeling the heat from Democrats worried by the recent Republican victory in Maine, which was among the many states Hughes had already visited in his tour. A few days before the press conference, Wilson had already delivered his first campaign speech from his estate at Shadow Lawn, the first of seven campaign addresses he would eventually deliver from his summer home. Democrats were not satisfied though. "A stump, my Kingdom for a stump," implored one Democratic senator. Wilson consented to appear before the country but refused to turn his travels into what he derisively termed a "speech-making campaign." In early October, for instance, he traveled to Omaha to speak at festivities celebrating Nebraska's semi-centennial, en route making no less than fourteen stops in the critical state of Ohio. At none of the stops, though, did Wilson go beyond expressing his gratification at the reception. Compared to his opponent, Wilson was a model of traditional restraint. But the campaign speeches he delivered at Shadow Lawn and in New York as well as the more nonpolitical speeches in Baltimore, Omaha, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Cincinatti represented a far more active postnomination campaign than an previous incumbent had attempted. Wilson's contribution to the modern presidential campaign was incremental, though, not foundational. In some ways in fact Wilson acted as a brake on emerging public expectations of candidate behavior, particularly in his reluctance to reveal his personal life to the press or the public. Like many of his contemporaries, Wilson continued to feel conflicted, caught, as Troy notes, "between traditional sensibilities and modern demands."(39)

One such conflicted contemporary was Warren Harding, the Republican nominee in 1920. Harding vowed to emulate McKinley and stick to his front porch: "this method of campaigning," he explained, "conforms to my own conception of the dignity of the office." But like Parker and Taft before him. Harding was pushed onto the stump by opposition charges that he was violating his "clear duty" as a candidate and pulled there by local Republicans insisting on the candidate's presence. Democrats, on the other hand, showed of none of Harding's (or Wilson's) ambivalence. Their model was not McKinley but the hard-charging, aggressive campaigning of Bryan. Harding's opponent, James Cox, was "perpetually in motion," outdoing even Bryan the Great Commoner by traveling 22,000 miles and speaking to over two million people. Subsequent Democratic nominees behaved similarly. Even John Davis, the gentlemanly former ambassador whom the Democrats nominated in 1924, covered 12,000 miles to speak to the people.(40) Both A] Smith in 1928 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 relished taking their case to the people and campaigned extensively across the country. But what of the incumbents?

The Republican nominee in 1924, incumbent Calvin Coolidge, was famous for his silence, but he was no traditional candidate. "Silent Cal" liked to tell people that "no Presidential candidate was ever injured by not talking too much," but he was far from mute during the 1924 campaign. Indeed by nineteenth-century standards he was almost verbose. He talked far more than Theodore Roosevelt had in the 1904 campaign, for instance. After the now obligatory lengthy acceptance speech in mid-August, Coolidge used the occasion of a visit of labor leaders on Labor Day to defend his administration's policies and to attack the "radicalism and paternalism" of Senator Robert La Follette, the Progressive Party nominee. Later that week he traveled to Baltimore for the unveiling of a monument to Lafayette and again attacked La Follette. Two weeks later Coolidge spoke to 100,000 Catholics in Washington, D.C., and vigorously upheld the principle of religious liberty, which in 1924 was far from a nonpartisan gesture. That same week, before several thousand members of the National Association of Retail Druggists, Coolidge pledged lower taxes and less interference with business. The following day he traveled to Philadelphia to speak at a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Continental Congress, and he used the nonpartisan occasion to criticize key planks of the Progressive Party platform. That was just in September. Moreover, a number of Coolidge's speeches were transmitted via radio to larger audiences. The most important of these was a detailed, issue-specific speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was broadcast via radio to the entire nation just two weeks before the election.(41) Coolidge could, of course, have spoken much more. During the second week of September, the Times reported that Coolidge had on his desk sixty-five speaking invitations from organizations across the country, and the president considered embarking on a western tour if a trend toward La Follette developed. All indications, though, were that even with La Follette's challenge Coolidge was safe.(42) Coolidge's decision not to tour reflected political strategy (as well as his own taciturn personality), not the constraint of norms.

Strategy and personality had become more important than traditional norms of presidential dignity in explaining candidate behavior, as is evident from Herbert Hoover's behavior in the 1928 and 1932 elections. Previous presidents had always campaigned dramatically less in their reelection bids than they had in their first run for office. Hoover was the first president of which this was not true. In 1928, Hoover, confident of his lead and uncomfortable with public speaking, campaigned as little as possible, delivering seven carefully crafted speeches but little else. In 1932, Hoover hoped to remain similarly inactive and announced at the beginning of the summer that "except for a few major addresses expounding policies of the administration I will not take part in the forthcoming campaign." But 1932 was not 1928, and the Republicans' defeat in the Maine election finally brought Hoover out onto the stump. Hoover now threw himself into "the rough and tumble" of partisan campaigning, traveling across the Midwest, excoriating Roosevelt for lying, evasiveness, and even profiteering. For the first time, a president was campaigning as actively as a challenger, giving as good as he got, trading partisan barbs before partisan crowds across the nation. The president as campaigner had arrived.(43)

The emergence of the modern president as campaigner was confirmed in the 1936 election. While Hoover had swung uncontrollably between dignified passivity and frenetic partisan campaigning, President Roosevelt devised a campaign that deftly wove together the dignified and nonpolitical with the partisan campaigning. Roosevelt made a series of "nonpolitical" trips throughout the summer that enabled him to appear as "President of the whole people." As aide Samuel Rosenman observed, these nonpolitical trips, to a drought-stricken area of the Midwest or a part of the Northeast working on flood control, were "the most effective political trips a President can make." Unlike Hoover who was forced onto the stump by political events and partisan attacks, Roosevelt from the outset planned to reserve his explicitly political stumping for October. During the five weeks leading up to the campaign, Roosevelt took to the stump like a duck to water. In speeches across the nation, in auditoriums as well as from the rear-platform of a train, the president vigorously defended New Deal programs and his administration and attacked the Republican party leadership.(44)

On election day, Franklin Roosevelt was reelected to the presidency in a historic landslide that buried not only his opponent, Alf Landon, but the traditional proscription against presidential stumping. Future campaigning presidents would, of course, continue to capitalize politically on the president's nonpolitical duties and status. And presidents on the stump would still often try to take the "high road," leaving the harsher partisan or personal attacks to the vice president or the national party chairman.(45) But the question of whether it was dignified or acceptable for a president to travel the country and actively solicit the people's vote had been settled for good. The president was no longer to be fixed on a "marble pidistal" but was now expected to speak with the American people just like any other candidate for elected office.


(1.) "Mr Polk's Acceptance of the Nomination," Niles's National Register 6 July 1844, 294. Also see New York Times, 18 June 1876, 1.

(2.) Richard J. Ellis and Stephen Kirk, "Presidential Mandates in the Nineteenth Century: Conceptual Change and Institutional Development," Studies in American Political Development 9 (spring 1995): 117-86.

(3.) Jackson to David Burford, 28 July 1831, as quoted in Gil Troy's See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate (New York: Free Press, 1991), 16.

(4.) Ibid., 69.

(5.) Jeffrey K. Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 183-84.

(6.) Ibid., 182-83.

(7.) So, for instance, Tulis writes that nineteenth-century presidential "candidates did not issue statements in their own behalf, much less give speeches" (ibid., 183). As evidence, he cites only an article on the 1828 presidential election, as if candidate behavior in the opening decades of the nineteenth century was essentially similar to candidate behavior in the rest of the century.

(8.) William Graham Sumner, "Presidential Elections and Civil-Service Reform," in On Liberty, Society, and Politics: The Essential Essays of William Graham Sumner ed. Robert C. Bannister (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), 95.

(9.) Troy, See How They Ran, 62. Ellis and Kirk, "Presidential Mandates," 128. Richard P. McCormick, The Presidential Game: The Origins of American Presidential Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 145.

(10.) Troy, See How They Ran, 16.

(11.) Harrison's response can be found in The Tippecanoe Textbook, ed. William Ogden Niles (Baltimore: Cushing, 1840), 77-82.

(12.) Troy, See How They Ran, 23-24.

(13.) Ibid., 25-26.

(14.) Ibid., 51, 53, 56.

(15.) Ibid., 62, 65, 70, 75.

(16.) Ibid., 75-76.

(17.) Michael McGerr, The Decline of Popular Politics: The American North, 1865-1928 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 73. Troy, See How They Ran, 79. Shelly Strong, "The Rhetorical Presidency: Rethinking Democrats in the Late Nineteenth Century," typescript, December 1995, Willamette University.

(18.) Richard J. Ellis, "Accepting the Presidential Nomination. From Martin Van Buren to Franklin Delano Roosevelt," typescript, n.d., Willamette University. The Tilden and Hayes acceptance letters can be found in the New York Times. 5 August 1876, 1, and 10 July 1876, 1, respectively.

(19.) On Tilden's important role in the rise of "educational politics," see McGerr, Decline, esp. 72-74.

(20.) Ari Hoogenboom, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988), 17-18. Troy, See How They Ran, 78-81.

(21.) Troy, See How They Ran, 89-90. Leonard Dinnerstein. "Election of 1880," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (New York: Chelsea House, 1985), 1506-507.

(22.) Troy, See How They Ran, 92-93. Mark D. Hirsch, "Election of 1884," in Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 1573.

(23.) Troy, See How They Ran, 95-96. Robert F. Wesser, "Election of 1888." In Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 1638-639.

(24.) Troy, See How They Ran, 97. Wesser, "Election of 1888," 1640. President Harrison, having alienated many in the Republican Party, did initially plan to take the stump. His plan was to avoid talking politics and instead to capitalize on the "non-partisan attention" a president could attract. His wife's illness (she died two weeks before election day), however, led him to cancel the proposed tour (Troy, See How They Ran, 97-98).

(25.) New York Times, 30 July 1884, 1; 21 July 1892, 1. Also see Ellis, "Accepting the Nomination."

(26.) New York Times, 21 July 1992, 2. Troy, See How They Ran, 99.

(27.) H. Wayne Morgan, "Election of 1892," in Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 1711. George Harmon Knoles, The Presidential Campaign and Election of 1892 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1942), 175-76, 154-60. Troy, See How They Ram, 100. The illness of President Harrison's wife gave Cleveland further cause to avoid stumping.

(28.) New York Times, 27 October 1892, 1-2; 2 November 1892, 1-2; 5 November 1892. 1-2; also see 5 October 1892. 1-2; and 26 October 1892, 1. Also see Knoles. Presidential Campaign and Election of 1892, 207-08.

(29.) Troy, See How They Ran, 104-05.

(30.) Ibid., 102.

(31.) Ibid., 93, 104. Gilbert C. Fite. "Election of 1896," in Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 1816.

(32.) Troy, See How They Ran, 109.

(33.) Gerald Gamin and Renee M. Smith, "Presidents, Parties, and the Public: Theodore Roosevelt and the Emergence of the Modern Presidency," in Speaking to the People: Presidential Rhetoric and Popular Leadership in Historical Perspective, ed. Richard J. Ellis (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, forthcoming).

(34.) McGerr, Decline of Popular Politics, 171-72. Troy, See How They Ran, 114.

(35.) Troy, See How They Ran, 116-17. "Leaders Urge Parker to Take the Stump," New York Times, 10 September 1904, 1.

(36.) Troy, See How They Ran, 121, Paolo E. Coletta, "Election of 1908," in Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 2086.

(37.) Troy, See How They Ran, 127-28. George E. Mowry, "Election of 1912," in Schlesinger, History of American Presidential Elections, 2156.

(38.) Troy, See How They Ran, 128-29.

(39.) Arthur Link et al., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982), 38:475, 8, 287; for his campaign speeches at Shadow Lawn see 212-19, 301-12, 362-68, 430-38, 500-509, 549-59, 608-15. "Big Crowds Cheer Wilson on His Trip," New York Times, 5 October 1916, 1. Troy, See How They Ran, 138-41, 132.

(40.) Troy, See How They Ran, 143-45, 150.

(41.) New York Times, 17 September 1924, 2; 15 August 1924, 1; 2 September 1924, 1; 7 September 1924, 1; 22 September 1924, 1; 25 September 1924, 1; 26 September 1924, 1; October 1924, 1.

(42.) New York Times, 12 September 1924, 1:13 September 1924, 3. Also see 3 September 1924, 1; 14 September 1924, 1; 17 September 1924, 2; and 8 October 1924, 1.

(43.) Troy, See How They Ran, 156, 161, 165.

(44.) Ibid., 168-69.

(45.) See Richard J. Ellis, Presidential Lightning Rods: The Politics of Blame Avoidance (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994), esp. chapter 4.