Political Sheet Music | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
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Political Sheet Music

Tippecanoe Slow Grand March Respectfully Dedicated to William H. Harrison Music by James M. Deems, 1841

Politicians have long appreciated the value of a catchy campaign song during an election year. A popular tune can rally the crowd, convey the spirit of the candidate, or ridicule the opponent. With the rise of music publishing in the nineteenth century, many candidates realized that an image of their faces on sheet music could be an effective form of advertising.

Although it is unlikely that a candidate won or lost an election based on the choice of a song, these political tunes were very effective propaganda. During the presidential campaign of 1840, Whig editor Horace Greeley noted that "Our songs are doing more good than anything else." The Whig candidate won, and this march was dedicated to President William H. Harrison, who gained national fame at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

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"[George] Washington's Tomb" by T. P. Coulston, music by Carrol Clifford, 1850
The VHS has numerous examples of music about notable individuals, especially generals and politicians. Of the eight Virginia-born presidents, it is not surprising that George Washington is the most popular in our collections. Music written for and about him started appearing during the American Revolution, and every aspect of his life has been commemorated since then. Anniversary observances of his birth and death produced numerous songs, as did presidential campaigns, where candidates tried to link their image to Washington's. (VHS sheet music: Washington's Tomb)
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"The Harrison Song" by Thomas Power, 1840
Many historians consider the election of 1840 to be the first "modern" campaign. The Whigs and the Democrats were both strong national parties with distinctive platforms and tactics. The Whig party ran William Henry Harrison against the Democratic opponent, Martin Van Buren. After Harrison's sudden death one month after taking office, John Tyler became president in 1841. (VHS sheet music: The Harrison Song)
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"Grand Triumphal Quick Step" by Edward L. White, 1847
Taylor's portrait on "The Grand Triumphal Quick Step" testifies to his popularity after the Mexican War where he won decisive victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista. The Whigs nominated "Old Rough and Ready," and in a close election Taylor defeated the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, and the Free Soil nominee, Martin Van Buren. (VHS sheet music: Grand Triumphal Quick Step)
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"Never Swap Horses When You're Crossing a Stream" by Harold Robe, music by Jesse Winne, 1916
Never Swap Horses When You're Crossing a Stream by Harold Robe, music by Jesse Winne, 1916 Campaign songs reached their height in popularity during the Tin Pan Alley era of music publishing. This piece of sheet music, published during President Woodrow Wilson's bid for reelection, urged the voters "Don't overlook the facts for the promise that's new, Let Wilson and Marshall keep haulin' you through, Just stick to their backs, that's a sensible scheme, And never swap horses when you're crossin' a stream." Wilson was reelected and pledged to keep the country out of World War I. (VHS sheet music: Never Swap Horses When You're Crossing a Stream)
"[George] Washington's Tomb"
"The Harrison Song" by Thomas Po
"Grand Triumphal Quick Step" by
"Never Swap Horses When You're C

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