Political Sheet Music

Time Period
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
1877 to 1924
Politics & Government
VHE_Political music_TippecanoeSlowGrandMarch.jpg

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.

George Washington's Tomb by T. P. Coulston
"[George] Washington's Tomb" by T. P. Coulston, music by Carrol Clifford, 1850
The VMHC 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)
VHE_Political music_HarrisonSong.jpg
Grand Triumphal Quick Step
"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)
Never Swap Horses When You're Crossing a Stream
"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)