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Chapter 14: the Log-Cabin. ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too.’

  • Wire-pulling
  • -- the delirium of 1840 -- the Log -- Cabin -- unprecedented hit -- a glance at its pages -- Log-Cabin jokes -- Log-Cabin songs -- Horace Greeley and the cake-basket -- pecuniary difficulties continue -- the Tribune announced.


Wire-pulling is a sneaking, bad, demoralizing business, and the people hate it. The campaign of 1840, which resulted in the election of General Harrison to the presidency, was, at bottom, the revolt of the people of the United States against the wire-pulling principle, supposed to be incarnate in the person of Martin Van Buren. Other elements entered into the delirium of those mad months. The country was only recovering, and that slowly, from the disasters of 1836 and 1837, and the times were still “hard.” But the fire and fury of the struggle arose from the fact, that General Harrison, a man who had done something, was pitted against Martin Van Buren, a man who had pulled wires. The hero of Tippecanoe and the farmer of North Bend, against the wily diplomatist who partook of sustenance by the aid of gold spoons. The Log-Cabin against the White House.

Great have been the triumphs of wire-pulling in this and other countries; and yet it is an unsafe thing to engage in. As bluff King Hal melted away, with one fiery glance, all the greatness of [181] Wolsey; as the elephant, with a tap of his trunk, knocks the breath out of the little tyrant whom he had been long accustomed implicitly to obey,—so do the People, in some quite unexpected moment, blow away, with one breath, the elaborate and deep-laid schemes of the republican wire-puller; and him They have done it, O wire-puller! and will do it again.

Who can have forgotten that campaign of 1840? The “mass meetings,” the log-cabin raisings, the “hard cider” drinking, the song singing, the Tippecanoe clubs, the caricatures, the epigrams, the jokes, the universal excitement! General Harrison was sung into the presidential chair. Van Buren was laughed out of it. Every town had its log-cabin, its club, and its chorus. Tippecanoe songbooks were sold by the hundred thousand. There were Tippecanoe medals, Tippecanoe badges, Tippecanoe flags, Tippecanoe handkerchiefs, Tippecanoe almanacs, and Tippecanoe shaving-soap. All other interests were swallowed up in the one interest of the election. All noises were drowned in the cry of Tippecanoe and Tyler too.

The man who contributed most to keep alive and increase the popular enthusiasm, the man who did most to feed that enthusiasm with the substantial fuel of fact and argument, was, beyond all question, Horace Greeley.

On the second of May, the first number of the Log-Cabin appeared, by “H. Greeley & Co.,” a weekly paper, to be published simultaneonsly at New York and Albany, at fifty cents for the campaign of six months. It was a small paper, about half the size of the present Tribune; but it was conducted with wonderful spirit, and made an unprecedented hit. Of the first number, an edition of twenty thousand was printed, which Mr. Greeley's friends thought a far greater number than would be sold; but the edition vanished from the counter in a day. Eight thousand more were stuck off; they were sold in a morning. Four thousand more were printed, and still the demand seemed unabated. A further supply of six thousand was printed, and the types were then distributed. In a few days, however, the demand became so urgent, that the number was re-set, and an edition of ten thousand struck off. Altogether, forty-eight thousand of the first number were sold. Subscribers came pouring in at the rate of seven hundred a day. The list lengthened in a few [182] weeks to sixty thousand names, and kept increasing till the weekly issue was between eighty and ninety thousand. “H. Greeley and Co.” were really overwhelmed with their success. They had made no preparations for such an enormous increase of business, and they were troubled to hire clerks and folders fast enough to get their stupendous edition into the mails.

The Log Cabin is not dull reading, even now, after the lapse of fifteen years; and though the men and the questions of that day are, most of them, dead. But then, it was devoured with an eagerness, which even those who remember it can hardly realize. Let us glance hastily over its pages.

The editor explained the “objects and scope” of the little paper, thus:—

The Log Cabin will be a zealous and unwavering advocate of the rights, interests and prosperity of our whole country, but especially those of the hardy subduers and cultivators of her soil. It will be the advocate of the cause of the Log Cabin against that of the Custom House and Presidential Palace. It will be an advocate of the interests of unassuming industry against the schemes and devices of fuctionaries “drest in a little brief authority,” whose salaries are trebled in value whenever Labor is forced to beg for employment at three or four shillings a day. It will be the advocate of a sound, uniform, adequate Currency for our whole country, against the visionary projects and ruinous experiments of the official Dousterswivels of the day, who commenced by promising Prosperity, Abundance, and Plenty of Gold as the sure result of their policy; and lo! we have its issues in disorganization, bankruptcy, low wages and treasury rags. In fine, it will be the advocate of Freedom, Improvement, and of National Reform, by the election of Harrison and Tyler, the restoration of purity to the government, of efficiency to the public will, and of Better Times to the People. Such are the objects and scope of the Log Cabin.

The contents of the Log Cabin were of various kinds. The first page was devoted to Literature of an exclusively Tippecanoe character, such as ‘Sketch of Gen. Harrison,’ ‘Anecdote of Gen. Harrison,’ ‘General Harrison's Creed.’ ‘Slanders on Gen. Harrison refuted,’ ‘Meeting of the Old Soldiers,’ &c. The first number had twenty-eight articles and paragraphs of his description. The second [183] page contained editorials and correspondence. The third was where the ‘Splendid Victories,’ and ‘Unprecedented Triumphs,’ were recorded. The fourth page contained a Tippecanoe song with music, and a few articles of a miscellaneous character. Dr. Channing's lecture upon the Elevation of the Laboring Classes ran through several of the early numbers. Most of the numbers contain an engraving or two, plans of General Harrison's battles, portraits of the candidates, or a caricature. One of the caricatures represented Van Buren caught in a trap, and over the picture was the following explanation:—‘The New Era has prepared and pictured a Log Cabin Trap, representing a Log Cabin-set as a figure-4-trap, and baited with a barrel of hard cider. By the following it will be seen that the trap has been sprung, and a sly nibbler from Kinderhook is looking out through the gratings. Old Hickory is intent on prying him out; but it is manifestly no go.’ The editorials of the Log Cabin were mostly of a serious and argumentative cast, upon the Tariff, the Currency, and the Hard Times. They were able and timely. The spirit of the campaign, however, is contained in the other departments of the paper, from which a few brief extracts may amuse the reader for a moment, as well as illustrate the feeling of the time.

The Log Cabins that were built all over the country, were “raised” and inaugurated with a great show of rejoicing. In one number of the paper, there are accounts of as many as six of these hilarious ceremonials, with their speechifyings and hard-cider drinkings. The humorous paragraph annexed appears in an early number, under the title of ‘Thrilling Log Cabin Incident:’—

The whigs of Erie, Pa., raised a Log Cabin last week from which the banner of Harrison and Reform was displayed. While engaged in the dedication of their Cabin, the whigs received information which led them to apprehend a hostile demonstration from Harbor Creek, a portion of the borough whose citizens had ever been strong Jackson and Van Buren men. Soon afterwards a party of horsemen, about forty in number, dressed in Indian costume, armed with tomahawks and scalping knives, approached the Cabin! The whigs made prompt preparations to defend their banner. The scene became in-tensely exciting. The assailants rode up to the Cabin, dismounted, and surrendered themselves up as voluntary prisoners of war. On inquiry, they proved to be stanch Jackson men from Harbor Creek, who had taken that mode of arraying [184] themselves under the Harrison banner! The tomahawk was then buried; after which the string of the latch was pushed out, and the Harbor-Creekers were ushered into the Cabin, where they pledged their support to Harrison in a bumper of good old hard cider.

The great joker of that election, as of every other since, was Mr. Prentice, of the Louisville Journal, the wittiest of editors, living or dead. Many of his good things appear in the Log Cabin, but most of them allude to men and events that have been forgotten, and the point of the joke is lost. The following are three of the Log Cabin jokes; they sparkled in 1840, flat as they may seem now:—

The Globe says that “ there are but two parties in the country, the poor man's party and the rich man's party,” and that “ Mr. Van Puren is the friend of the former.” The President is certainly in favor of strengthening the poor man's party, numerically! He goes for impoverishing the whole country—except the office-holders.

What do the locofocos expect by vilifying the Log Cabin? Do they not know that a Log Cabin is all the better for being daubed with mud?

A whig passing through the streets of Boston a few mornings ago, espied a custom-house officer gazing ruefully at a bulletin displaying the latest news of the Maine election. ‘Ah! Mr.——taking your bitters this morning, I see.’ The way the loco scratched gravel was a pattern for sub-treasurers.

One specimen paragraph from the department of political news will suffice to show the frenzy of those who wrote for it. A letter-writer at Utica, describing a “mass meeting” in that city, bursts upon his readers in this style:

This has been the proudest, brightest day of my life! Never—no, never, have I before seen the people in their majesty! Never were the foundations of popular sentiment so broken up! The scene from early dawn to sunset, has been one of continued, increasing, bewildering enthusiasm. The hearts of twenty-five thousand Freemen have been overflowing with gratitude, and gladness, and joy. It has been a day of jubilee—an era of deliverance for Central New York! The people in waves have poured in from the valleys and rushed down from the mountains. The city has been vocal with eloquence, with music, and with acclamations. Demonstrations of strength, and emblems of victory, and harbingers of prosperity are all around us, cheering and animating, and assuring a people who are finally and effectually aroused. I will not now attempt to describe the procession of the people. Suffice it to say that [185] there was an ocean of them! The procession was over five miles long. * * * Governor Seward and Lieut. Gov. Bradish were unanimously nominated by resolution for re-election. The result was communicated to the people assembled in mass in Chancery Square, whose response to the nomination was spontaneous, loud, deep and resounding.

The profusion of the presidential mansion was one of the standing topics of those who wished to eject its occupant. In one number of the Log-Cabin is a speech, delivered in the House of Representatives by a member of the opposition, in which the bills of the persons who supplied the White House are given at length. Take these specimens:

34 table knives ground,$1,37 1/2
2 new knife blades,75
2 cook's knife blades,2,50
——--
4,62 1/2
——--
2 dozen brooms,$3,75
1-2 do. hard scrubs,2,37
1-2 do. brooms,1,38
——--
6,50
——--
2 tin buckets,$2,00
Milk strainer and skimmer,92 1/2
Chamber bucket,2,00
2 dozen tart pans,2,50
——--
7,12 1/2
——--

This seems like putting an extremely fine point upon a political argument. What the orator wished to show, however, was, that such articles as the above ought to be paid for out of the presidential salary, not the public treasury. The speech exhibited some columns of these “house-bills.” It made a great sensation, and was enough to cure any decent man of a desire to become a servant of the people.

But, as I have observed, Gen. Harrison was sung into the presidential chair. The Log Cabin preserves a large number of the political ditties of the time; the editor himself contributing two. A very few stanzas will suffice to show the quality of the Tippecanoe poetry The following is one from the “Wolverine's song” : [186]

We know that Van Buren can ride in his coach,
With servants, forbidding the Vulgar's approach—
We know that his fortune such things will allow,
And we know that our candidate follows the plough;
But what if he does? Who was bolder to fight
In his country's defence on that perilous night,
When naught save his valor sufficed to subdue
Our foes at the battle of Tippecanoe?
Hurrah for Tippecanoe!
He dropped the red Locos at Tippecanoe!

From the song of the “Buckeye Cabin,” these are two stanzas:
where, tell me where, was your Buckeye Cabin made?
Oh! where, tell me where, was your Buckeye Cabin made?
'Twas made among the merry boys that wield the plough and spade
Where the Log Cabins stand in the bonnie Buckeye shade.

Oh! what, tell me what, is to be your Cabin's fate?
Oh! what, tell me what, is to be your Cabin's fate?
We'll wheel it to the Capitol and place it there elate,
For a token and a sign of the bonnie Buckeye State.

The “Turn out song” was very popular, and easy to sing:
From the White House, now Matty, turn out, turn out,
     From the White House, now Matty, turn out!
Since there you have been
     No peace we have seen,
So Matty, now please to turn out, turn out,
     So Matty, now please to turn out!
...

Make way for old Tip! turn out, turn out!
     Make way for old Tip, turn out!
'Tis the people's decree,
     Their choice he shall be,
So, Martin Van Buren, turn out, turn out,
     So, Martin Van Buren, turn out!

But of all the songs ever sung, the most absurd and the most telling, was that which began thus: [187]

What has caused this great commotion-motion-motion
Our country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too,
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too;
And with them we'll beat little Van;
Van, Van, Van is a used — up man,
And with them we'll beat little Van.

This song had two advantages. The tune—half chaunt, half jig—was adapted to bring out all the absurdities of the words, and, in particular, those of the last two lines. The second advantage was, that stanzas could be multiplied to any extent, on the spot, to suit the exigences of any occasion. For example:

The beautiful girls, God bless their souls, souls, souls,
The country through,
Will all, to a man, do all they can
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too;
And with them, etc., etc.

During that summer, ladies attended the mass meetings in thousands, and in their honor the lines just quoted were frequently sung.

These few extracts from the Log Cabin show the nature of the element in which our editor was called upon to work in the hot months of 1840. His own interest in the questions at issue was intense, and his labors were incessant and most arduous. He wrote articles, he made speeches, he sat on committees, he traveled, he gave advice, he suggested plans; while he had two newspapers on his hands, and a load of debt upon his shoulders. His was a willing servitude. From the days of his apprenticeship he had observed the course of “Democratic” administrations with disgust and utter disapproval, and he had borne his full share of the consequences of their bad measures. His whole soul was in this contest. He fought fairly too. His answer to a correspondent, that “articles assailing the personal character of Mr. Van Buren or any of his supporters cannot be published in the Cabin,” was in advance of the politics of 1840.

One scene, if it could be portrayed on the printed page as visibly as it exists in the memories of those who witnessed it, would show [188] better than declaratory words, how absorbed Mr. Greeley was in politics during this famous “campaign. ” It is a funny story, and literally true.

Time,—Sunday evening. Scene,—the parlor of a friend's house. Company,—numerous and political, except the ladies, who are Gracious and hospitable. Mr. Greeley is expected to tea, but does not command the meal is transacted without him. Tea over, he arrives, and plunges headlong into a conversation on the currency. The lady of the house thinks he “had better take some tea,” but cannot get a hearing on the subject; is distressed, puts the question at length, and has her invitation hurriedly declined; brushed aside, in fact, with a wave of the hand.

‘Take a cruller, any way,’ said she, handing him a cake-basket containing a dozen or so of those unspeakable, Dutch indigestibles.

The expounder of the currency, dimly conscious that a large object was approaching him, puts forth his hands, still vehemently talking, and takes, not a cruller, but the cake-basket, and deposits it in his lap. The company are inwardly convulsed, and some of the weaker members retire to the adjoining apartment, the expounder continuing his harangue, unconscious of their emotions or its cause. Minutes elapse. His hands, in their wandering through the air, come in contact with the topmost cake, which they take and break. He begins to eat; and eats and talks, talks and eats, till he has finished a cruller. Then he feels for another, and eats that, and goes on, slowly consuming the contents of the basket, till the last crum is gone. The company look on amazed, and the kind lady of the house fears for the consequences. She had heard that cheese is an antidote to indigestion. Taking the empty cake-basket from his lap, she silently puts a plate of cheese in its place, hoping that instinct will guide his hand aright. The experiment succeeds. Gradually, the blocks of white new cheese disappear. She removes the plate. No ill consequences follow. Those who saw this sight are fixed in the belief, that Mr. Greeley was not then, nor has since become, aware, that on that evening he partook of sustenance.

The reader, perhaps, has concluded that the prodigious sale of the Log Cabin did something to relieve our hero from his pecuniary embarrassments. Such was not the fact He paid some debts [189] but he incurred others, and was not, for any week, free from anxiety. The price of the paper was low, and its unlooked—for sale involved the proprietors in expenses which might have been avoided, or much lessened, if they had been prepared for it. The mailing of single numbers cost a hundred dollars. The last number of the campaign series, the great ‘O K’ number, the number that was all staring with majorities, and capital letters, and points of admiration, the number that announced the certain triumph of the Whigs, and carried joy into a thousand Log Cabins, contained a most moving ‘Appeal’ to the ‘Friends who owe us.’ It was in small type, and in a corner remote from the victorious columns. It ran thus:—‘We were induced in a few instances to depart from our general rule, and forward the first series of the Log Cabin on credit—having in almost every instance a promise, that the money should be sent us before the first of November. That time has passed, and we regret to say, that many of those promises have not been fulfilled. To those who owe us, therefore, we are compelled to say, Friends! we need our money—our papermaker needs it! and has a right to ask us for it. The low price at which we have published it, forbids the idea of gain from this paper: we only ask the means of paying what we owe. Once for all, we implore you to do us justice, and enable us to do the same.’ This tells the whole story. Not a word need be added.

The Log Cabin was designed only for the campaign, and it was expected to expire with the twenty-seventh number. The zealous editor, however, desirous of presenting the complete returns of the victory, issued an extra number, and sent it gratuitously to all his subscribers. This number announced, also, that the Log Cabin would be resumed in a few weeks. On the fifth of December the new series began, as a family political paper, and continued, with moderate success, till both it and the New Yorker were merged in the Tribune.

For his services in the campaign—and no man contributed as much to its success as he—Horace Greeley accepted no office; nor did he even witness the inauguration. This is not strange. But it is somewhat surprising that the incoming administration had not the decency to offer him something. Mr. Fry (W. H.) made a speech one evening at a political meeting in Philadelphia. The [190] next morning, a committee waited upon him to know for what office he intended to become an applicant. ‘Office?’ said the astonished composer—‘No office.’ ‘Why, then,’ said the committee, ‘what the h—ll did you speak last night for?’ Mr. Greeley had not even the honor of a visit from a committee of this kind.

The Log Cabin, however, gave him an immense reputation in all parts of the country, as an able writer and a zealous politician—a reputation which soon became more valuable to him than pecuniary capital. The Log Cabin of April 3d contained the intelligence of General Harrison's death; and, among a few others, the following advertisement:

New York Tribune.

On Saturday, the tenth day of April instant, the Subscriber will publish the first number of a New Morning Journal of Politics, Literature, and General Intelligence.

The Tribune, as its name imports, will labor to advance the interests of the People, and to promote their Moral, Social, and Political well-being. The immoral and degrading Police Reports, Advertisements and other matter which have been allowed to disgrace the columns of our leading Penny Papers, will be carefully excluded from this, and no exertion spared to render it worthy of the hearty approval of the virtuous and refined, and a welcome visitant at the family fireside.

Earnestly believing that the political revolution which has called William Henry Harrison to the Chief Magistracy of the Nation was a triumph of Right Reason and Public Good over Error and Sinister Ambition, the Tribune will give to the New Administration a frank and cordial, but manly and index pendent support, judging it always by its acts, and commending those only so far as they shall seem calculated to subserve the great end of all government—the welfare of the People.

The Tribune will be published every morning on a fair royal sheet-. (size of the Log-Cabin and Evening Signal)—and transmitted to its city subscribers at the low price of one cent per copy. Mail subscribers, $4 per annum. It will contain the news by the morning's Southern Mail, which is contained in no other Penny Paper. Subscriptions are respectfully solicited by

Horace Greeley, 30 Ann St.

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