Recent news of state and local elected officials stepping up their campaigns for the 2014 November elections brings to mind the fascinating array of campaign material housed in the museum's Division of Political History. My research for a display on the early 1960s for the museum's 50th anniversary this year required delving into the division's collection of memorabilia from the 1960 and 1964 Presidential campaigns.
Kennedy campaign sticker
For years political parties have used parades and rallies, slogans, songs, and signs to not only promote their favorite candidates but to disparage their opponents as well. An abundant amount of campaign trade material such as buttons, stickers, hats, postcards, playing cards, coasters, match books, and more was and continues to be produced.
During the 1960 Presidential campaign the young democratic Senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy was pitted against the experienced republican Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Kennedy pledged to "get the country moving again." Emphasis was on finding new ways to deal with domestic problems of poverty and inequality and focusing on new challenges such as space exploration.
Hats like the one pictured below were worn by delegates and supporters of the Kennedy/Johnson presidential ticket at the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles.
A woman's Kennedy/Johnson campaign hat
Richard Nixon campaigned as the more responsible and experienced candidate in both domestic and foreign policies and promised to continue the peace and prosperity of the previous eight years of the Eisenhower administration in which he played a part as Vice-President.
Nixon campaign bumper sticker
Nixon campaign sheet music
Defining moments of the 1960 campaign were the debates between the nominees which were televised for the first time in history and watched by millions of viewers.
First televised Kennedy-Nixon debate
Evidence of the popularity of these debates is this handmade community sign, with political buttons of the candidates attached, urging citizens to gather together to watch the fourth and last Kennedy-Nixon televised debate.
Handmade sign from 1960 urging voters to watch the Nixon-Kennedy debate
The election was very close as JFK barely edged Nixon in popular votes however the electoral votes gave him the lead. John F. Kennedy was on his way to the White House as he became the nation's youngest President and first Catholic ever elected to office.
Kennedy campaign sticker
In contrast to the narrow margin of victory in the 1960 Presidential election, the 1964 election was a landslide. Much had occurred during the previous four years. In November, 1963, before he could complete his dream of a "New Frontier," President Kennedy was assassinated and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President. Johnson carried on the policies and goals of JFK under the slogan "Great Society." His proposals included civil rights legislation, education aid, and medical care for the elderly.
Comic book featuring Lyndon Johnson and the "Great Society"
However, many southerners, including some elected democratic officials, were not pleased when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and it threatened to split the party. Just four weeks before the election first lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, born and raised in the south, embarked on a four-day whistle-stop tour throughout rural areas of the south to gather support for her husband's campaign and defend the idea of civil rights. To publicize the event postcards like the one below were sent from aboard the "Lady Bird Special" as the first lady traveled to 47 towns making 47 speeches from a platform on the back of the train.
Postcard for the Lyndon Johnson campaign's Lady Bird Special train
Johnson's opponent in the 1964 campaign was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Conservative Goldwater was outspoken and often controversial in his views. He proposed limiting Federal Government involvement in activities such as welfare and medical care and was a strong advocate against communism. At one point in the campaign, he suggested using nuclear weapons as a means of dealing with the conflict in Vietnam. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention he stated, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."
Both sides of a fan supporting the Goldwater campaign
The campaign was heated as Johnson and Goldwater conflicted over every issue. The Republicans focused on Johnson's overspending and recklessness with the economy while Goldwater claimed the country was in "moral decay" with "violence in the streets" under Johnson's administration. The Democrats called Goldwater irresponsible and extreme in his views, especially on the use of nuclear weapons. Though Goldwater's supporters officially coined the slogan "In Your Heart You Know He's Right," the un-official slogan of his opponents became "In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts."
Political parties often distributed satirical material to discredit their opponents such as this "Bettor Deal Certificate" emphasizing Johnson and the Democratic Party's undesirable policies and this cartoon book that the Democratic National Committee used to decorate their office displaying Goldwater as a radical buffoonish character.
Johnson "Funny Money" certificate
Goldwater cartoon book
The candidates toned down their rhetoric later in the campaign but it was "LBJ All the Way" and Johnson went on to win the election with 486 of the 538 electoral votes and by a margin of more than 16 million popular votes.
Johnson campaign sticker
National Museum of American History