Off Beat: In 1860s, supporters literally sang candidates’ praises



Long before political action committees filled the election airwaves, the campaign soundtrack was provided by another form of PAC: the presidential advocacy chorus.

“Music was a main form of campaigning used by presidential candidates in the 1860s,” said balladeer “Illinois” Doug Tracy.

Tracy explored the musical aspects of the 1860 and 1864 presidential elections in a Thursday presentation at the Clark County Historical Museum, but that isn’t the only local angle.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln was challenged by a former Vancouver resident. Gen. George McClellan was one of many soldiers who served at Fort Vancouver in the 1850s before achieving prominence in the Civil War. (Ulysses S. Grant, of course, wound up as commander of the Union Army and our 18th president).

McClellan became recognized as a commander who could organize an army, but was reluctant to send it into battle. Lincoln supposedly said: “If McClellan is not going to use the Army anytime soon, I would like to borrow it.”

Lincoln eventually relieved McClellan of command. The general tried to return the favor, becoming the Democratic nominee for president.

His campaigners took popular tunes such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and added lyrics to get the Democratic blood pumping. They’d distribute song sheets at rallies, where thousands of supporters would join in to sing:

“To beat the old rail-splitter and to Springfield send him back, no candidate is fitter than the gallant little Mac …”

And, “McClellan is the people’s choice, this fall — this fall!”

And, “We are marching to the polls, boys, for ‘Little Mack’ to vote …”

Unfortunately for “Little Mack,” 55 percent of the boys voted for “Abraham the Great and Genl. Grant His Mate,” as a Republican campaign song was titled.

And the girls? This was 1864, remember: The girls didn’t vote at all.– Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.