The New-York Historical Society will mark the occasion of the upcoming November elections with a small exhibition that surveys the history of American presidential elections through the lens of campaign ephemera and other items of material culture. A wide spectrum of 19th and 20th century presidential campaign memorabilia from New-York Historical's Museum will be displayed, including lapel buttons, parade lanterns, ribbons, flags, banners, whiskey bottles, neckties, thimbles, handkerchiefs and bandanas, board games, hats worn by the candidates and a dress worn by an Eisenhower supporter in 1956. These provocative objects illustrate the many forms of political persuasion that have been used over the past two centuries and reveal much about the nation's changing election issues, prevailing political decorum, and the characteristics that Americans value in their leaders. In our age, saturated with electronic and print media, it is easy to lose sight of the central role that these large and small campaign materials played as vehicles for signifying political loyalties and inspiring voter support.
This exhibition of original artifacts, iconic images and hand-written period documents, many in Lincoln's own hand, will for the first time fully trace the evolution of Lincoln's relationship with the nation's largest and wealthiest state: from the time of his triumphant Cooper Union address here in 1860, to his efforts to hold the Union together in 1861, to the early challenges of recruitment and investment in the Civil War, to the development of new military technologies and the challenge to civil liberties in time of rebellion. Lincoln's evolving stance on slavery issues alternately pleased and infuriated New Yorkers. African-Americans, many of them veterans of the anti-slavery movement and Underground Railroad activism, saw Lincoln as slow to deal with the numerous slaves escaping during the war. These "contraband" forces clamored to join the Union army which for several years excluded colored troops—be they free men or the newly freed. Meanwhile free black New Yorkers readied volunteer regiments.
New York's role as the Union's prime provider of manpower, treasure, media coverage, image-making and protest, some of it racist—the 1863 Draft Riots and the robust effort to unseat Lincoln in 1864—will be traced alongside Lincoln's concurrent growth as a leader, writer, symbol of Union and freedom, and ultimately as national martyr. This show will demonstrate how through all, from political parades to funeral processions, New York played a surprisingly central role in the Lincoln story—and how Lincoln became a leading player in the life of New York. This exhibition commemorates the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. A catalog will accompany the exhibition.
This exhibition has been developed with grant funds from the
U.S. Department of Education
Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program
Additional project support has been provided by The Bodman Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities