Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Don't...stop...thinking about using...presidential campaign songs: A terrific resource to use with landmark presidential elections

Which landmark presidential campaigns and elections do you emphasize with your students?  In the first half of the year, my list of course includes--

  • Election of 1800: Jefferson and Burr tie in the electoral college (leading to the 12th Amendment)
  • Election of 1824: The corrupt bargain (and first misfire: Andrew Jackson wins a popular and electoral majority, but is denied the White House)
  • Election of 1840: The log cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison
  • Election of 1860: Lincoln wins in a four-way race with less than 40% of the popular vote
  • Election of 1876: Voting irregularities in four states lead to the Electoral Commission and the Compromise of 1877 (Democrats deny victory to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, who had won the popular vote, so that they could be "Redeemed" and regain control of the south).
There any any number of useful primary source sets of documents and images to show your students to study these campaigns and elections, but here is one set that was new to me.  The Constitution Center just blogged about presidential campaign songs.  As the author explains,
Music has been part of presidential campaigns since George Washington ran unopposed for the office.
The post then lists campaign songs from eleven landmark campaigns, beginning with Thomas Jefferson's "Jefferson and Liberty" (attacking Adams for supporting the Sedition Acts) and up to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" supporting Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign.

This source is terrific for two reasons.  First, it explains the context of the song and how it was used to support the candidate's central message.  Second, and best, it includes links to YouTube videos of recording artists performing each song.  For example, here Pete Seeger sings "Jefferson and Liberty":
And in this example Oscar Brand sings "I Like Ike":

It would be fun to play these songs and show these videos for our students as they enter class.  As a warm-up, you could show them the lyrics and ask them to speculate on what issues were of greatest concern to voters at the time.

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