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Salacious, slightly obscene slogans of past presidential campaigns

By Curt Anderson
February 11, 2020 12:33 am
Category: History
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1852: "We Polked You in '44,
We Shall Pierce You in '52."

Voters didn't know much about Democrat Franklin Pierce when he headed into the 1852 election, so Pierce decided to cast himself as the rightful heir to popular ex-president James K. Polk. The pun on their names seemed to have worked. At least it didn't hurt: Pierce decisively defeated his Whig opponent, Winfield Scott.

Pierce's presidency was an unhappy one. It started out in the worst way imaginable. His wife and their only son 11-year-old Benjamin were involved a train crash shortly before Pierce's inauguration. Their train car derailed and rolled down an embankment near Andover, Massachusetts. Young Benjamin was crushed to death, his body nearly decapitated. Both Pierce and his wife witnessed the gruesome event.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pierce drank heavily while president. Quite possibly because of his alcohol abuse, his presidency was unsuccessful. Pierce had expected to be renominated for a second term. However, his party had other ideas. Pierce's loss marked the only time in U.S. history that an elected president who was an active candidate for reelection was not nominated for a second term. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1869.



1856: We Po'ked 'em in '44,
We Pierced 'em in '52,
And we'll "Buck 'em" in '56.

James Buchanan evidently liked the Pierce's campaign slogan pun, and decided to recycle it by adding a third line referring to his nickname, "Buck". (See image below)

Buchanan was America's only bachelor president and many have speculated our only gay president.

Buchanan was known to have had one relationship with a woman. Buchanan became engaged to Ann Coleman, the 23-year-old daughter of a wealthy iron magnate. Supposedly the strain of work caused Buchanan to neglect his betrothed, Coleman broke off the engagement, and she died shortly thereafter of what her physician described as "hysterical convulsions." Rumors were that she had committed suicide. For Buchanan’s part, he later claimed that he entered politics as "a distraction from my great grief." Buchanan also claimed he could never love another woman, which apparently was true.

Years later, while the both were members of Congress, Buchanan and William Rufus de Vane King, another confirmed bachelor, shared a long-time, intimate friendship and quarters in Washington, DC. Buchanan called their relationship a "communion". Rufus was referred as his "better half," "his wife," and "Aunt Fancy." Upon King's appointment as minister to France, Buchanan wrote: "I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentleman, but have not succeeded with any of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners from me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."


1920: Cox and Cocktails

"Cox and Cocktails" was a slur used by presidential candidate Warren Harding. (See image below) Harding was running against James M. Cox. As a US senator, Harding voted for the Eighteenth Amendment which imposed the prohibition of alcohol. As difficult as it may be to believe, Prohibition was actually popular 100 years ago. The implication of "Cox and Cocktails" was that Cox opposed prohibition. This was hypocritical on two levels.

Firstly, it was hypocritical because Harding was drinker. According to a White House staffer, Elizabeth Jaffray and others, Harding often enjoyed Scotch and soda while playing cards with his cronies. They were violating the 18th Amendment in the White House. Many of Harding's drinking and card playing buddies became embroiled in the infamous Teapot Dome bribery scandal.

Secondly, whatever his personal beliefs may have been, as Ohio governor Cox signed every piece of legislation on prohibition enforcement which passed the legislature. According to a contemporary biographer, Roger W. Babson, in Cox, The Man, "Cox stood for a less rigid prohibition program" than his radically dry opponent in a gubernatorial election.

In the 1920 election, Harding and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, soundly defeated Cox and his running mate, young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Cox was the only one of those four who never served as president. But life turned out well for Cox. He outlived Harding, Coolidge and Roosevelt and became a rich man.

After stepping down from public service, he concentrated on building a large media conglomerate, Cox Enterprises which exists to this day. Cox Enterprises, Inc. is a privately held global conglomerate headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, with approximately 55,000 employees and $21 billion in total revenue. Its major operating subsidiaries are Cox Communications, Cox Automotive and Cox Media Group. The company's major national brands include AutoTrader, Kelley Blue Book and more.


1928: Vote for Al Smith and make your wet dreams come true.
In 1928, the battle over Prohibition pitted the "Wets" versus the "Drys". Smith and the Democrats favored the repeal of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. The more sober Republicans opposed repeal. (See image below)

It seems unlikely that the coiners of Smith's slogan were aware of the alternate meaning and intentionally used it as a suggestive double entendre in a presidential campaign. But it seems that Smith's advertising team should have known. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the first known use of term "wet dream" to mean nocturnal emission was in 1851.


1948: Dew-it-with Dewey
In 1948, the Governor of New York, Thomas E Dewey, put "Dew-it-with-Dewey," on a t-shirt which may be the earliest recorded printed shirt. (See image below) The Smithsonian museum has the t-shirt its collection.

Maybe the "Dew it" line was a unconscious overreaction to a cutting remark attributed to witty socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, in the 1944 election. She mocked Dewey as "the little man on the wedding cake" alluding to his neat mustache and dapper dress. It was ridicule he could never shake.

In 1948 Dewey ran a cautious, vague campaign because of his experience as a presidential candidate in 1944. He lost to FDR in a partisan, mudslinging affair. Speech after speech was filled with empty statements of the obvious, such as the famous quote: "You know that your future is still ahead of you." An editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal summed it up:
No presidential candidate in the future will be so inept that four of his major speeches can be boiled down to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. Our future lies ahead.

The pollsters and pundits were practically universal in their predictions of a Dewey victory. The election ended with Harry Truman jubilantly holding up a Chicago newspaper emblazoned with the now-legendary and erroneous headline: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.





Cited and related links:

  1. mentalfloss.com
  2. smithsonianmag.com
  3. post-gazette.com
  4. archive.boston.com
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