Political Songs in America, Page 2


This is a continuation of the November, 2002 Feature, if you missed page one, check the link at the end of this page or use this link.


We saw in part one of this issue the emergence of political and campaign songs in America. We continue our survey of this style of music with a look at more songs from the 1890's to 1920.

Since I Joined Tammany Hall


Music by: Lou Edmunds
Lyrics by: Edmunds
Cover artist: unknown


Political corruption and lies to get votes seems to be a permanent fixture in American politics. It's strange how we all know that but still manage to be chumps and fall for it. My own biases aside, the saga of "Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall," stands out as one of history's greatest examples of political corruption. Tammany Hall was not a place but an organization. Tammany represented a form of organization that wedded the Democratic Party and the Society of St. Tammany, started in 1789 for patriotic and fraternal purposes). During the Civil War era, the Society of St. Tammany became the Democratic Party equivalent to the Union League Club and the Republicans. The difference is that the Democrats won control of New York City and "The Big Apple" was, perhaps, the most important government structure in the United States for more than seventy years. Later, in 1860 William March Tweed became chairman of the New York county Democratic Party and the leader of the Tammany club. For the next seventy years the Tweed organization held control of New York for all but ten years, setting a high bar for political corruption and swindling of the taxpayers. . An estimated 75 to 200 million dollars were swindled from the City between 1865 and 1871.


During those years, It is probable that the term "you can't fight city hall" became a watchword and the populace were simply along for the ride. It had to be a frustrating and annoying situation for the millions of honest citizens who were being stiffed. But, you have to wonder why they kept voting for them; patronage? Regardless, one way to protest was through song and humor and this work from the peak of Tammany Hall control makes a classic political statement in music. This song, with a jaunty melody tells the story of how a boarding house owner and his tenants were lied to and cheated by the Tammany Hall politicians. It also shows that "if you can't beat them, join them," does not always work out either. Be sure you enjoy this song's full lyrics by either listening using the scorch player, or the lyrics link below. This work is a good example of a non-campaign song that is a protest song of but is carefully done with a level of humor that probably kept the composer from being taken downtown for a talk with Boss Tweed.


Listen to and see this 1893 political song(scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version




William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska


Music by: Wm. T. Whelan
Lyrics by: Whelan
Cover artist: unknown

William Jennings Bryan is one of American history's most colorful and interesting personas. Perhaps most remembered today for his part in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee, he made many contributions to America and should be remembered for his other accomplishments. A quite popular person, he was also a perennial candidate for president, running in 1896, 1900 and 1908.

Born in Salem, Illinois, March 19, 1860, he graduated from Illinois College and Union College of Law. In his political life, Bryan viewed his role as doing God's work. He was U.S. Representative from Nebraska to Congress in 1891-95. At thirty-six he was nominated for president in 1896 by the Democrats and seven other parties. Although he received forty-seven percent of the vote and won in more states and territories than William McKinley, voting fraud stole six states from Bryan, and he lost this election and those of 1900 and 1908. In 1912 Bryan helped Woodrow Wilson get elected, and Wilson named Bryan his Secretary of State. While in this office for three years, Bryan negotiated peace treaties with thirty nations and helped promote Wilson's progressive policies and strengthen the U.S. position in the Caribbean.

Excerpted from William Jennings Bryan & The Scopes Trial by R.M. Cornelius

Known as a great orator, Bryan was extremely influential and was responsible for many reforms, policies and programs in government. Known as a man of principle, R.M. Cornelius (above) said that had he been elected president, it is doubtful he could have done more than he did in his other capacities.


As we move into a new century, the style of campaign songs became more polished and musically more sophisticated. We find songs that are more similar to the professionally crafted songs of Tin Pan Alley. Though still grounded in the earlier style, with this song we begin to see a style of song that is a tad ore complex and beginning to reflect the style of popular song, from here on it gets more commercial till when we reach the last of our examples, the music looks and sounds just like a Tin Pan Alley commercial production. The cover of this work is already a step up in that it is more professional looking with a marvelous portrait of Bryan on the cover.


Hear and see this song(SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version




Our Good And Honest Taft



Music by: Annie R. Waln Bassett
Lyrics by: Bassett
Cover artist: unknown


With another great portrait on the cover, we enter into the period when the campaign music really does get good. The next three songs can all vie for the best songs in this months feature. This one certainly wins hands down as the best waltz song of the lot (OK, OK, so it's the only waltz). In fact, using a waltz as a campaign song really departed from the style we've seen thus far. On first hearing this song, I wondered why a composer would create such a beautiful song and use it as a one-time throwaway, for that's really all that most campaign songs are. Then of course I realized that political zeal can make people do just about anything.


William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1857, the son of a distinguished judge, he was graduated from Yale, and returned to Cincinnati to study and practice law. He rose in politics through Republican judiciary appointments, through his own competence and availability, and because, as he once wrote facetiously, he always had his "plate the right side up when offices were falling." His route to the White House was via administrative posts. President McKinley sent him to the Philippines in 1900 as chief civil administrator. Sympathetic toward the Filipinos, he improved the economy, built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some participation in government. President Roosevelt made him Secretary of War, and by 1907 had decided that Taft should be his successor. The Republican Convention nominated him the next year. Taft disliked the campaign--"one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life." But he pledged his loyalty to the Roosevelt program, popular in the West, while his brother Charles reassured eastern Republicans. William Jennings Bryan, running on the Democratic ticket for a third time, complained that he was having to oppose two candidates, a western progressive Taft and an eastern conservative Taft. William Howard Taft spent four uncomfortable years in the White House. Large, jovial, conscientious, he was caught in the intense battles between Progressives and conservatives, and got scant credit for the achievements of his administration.

The above biographical information was extracted from the White House web site biographies of US Presidents at:


Unfortunately, as with many of the composers of these songs, I'm unable to find any definitive information about Annie R. Waln Bassett or any other works she may have written. She showed a great deal of talent and promise in this song, enjoy it.


Listen to and see this great waltz (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version




Wilson - That's All


Music by: George Walter Brown
Lyrics by: Ballard Mac Donald
Cover artist: Starmer

The period from now till 1920 was perhaps the apogee of popularity, use and quality of political campaign songs. With this issue we see again (after almost 50 years) a campaign song written by a mainstream songwriting team. In addition, we see a cover that matches any from Tin Pan Alley and to boot, the artwork is by one of the most prominent sheet music cover artists of the times, Starmer. As if that were not enough, the song is clearly in the Tin Pan Alley style of the day and would possible have been a big and perhaps lasting hit had it not been a campaign song. Be sure you use the scorch player and watch the music and lyrics as you listen. See the huge difference between this song and all the one's before (except for the Taft one) and you can clearly see that campaign songs have finally come of age. A great march song with excellent lyrics, musically this is one of the best. Look for the interesting use of the bass line bagpipe drone at measures 40-43, perhaps an attempt to bring in the Irish & Scots voters into the fold?


Like Roosevelt before him, Woodrow Wilson regarded himself as the personal representative of the people. "No one but the President," he said, "seems to be expected ... to look out for the general interests of the country." He developed a program of progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. In 1917 he proclaimed American entrance into World War I a crusade to make the world "safe for democracy." (That sounds familiar?) Wilson had seen the frightfulness of war. He was born in Virginia in 1856, the son of a Presbyterian minister who during the Civil War was a pastor in Augusta, Georgia, and during Reconstruction a professor in the charred city of Columbia, South Carolina.


After graduation from Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) and the University of Virginia Law School, Wilson earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University and entered upon an academic career. Wilson advanced rapidly as a conservative young professor of political science and became president of Princeton in 1902. His growing national reputation led some conservative Democrats to consider him Presidential timber. First they persuaded him to run for Governor of New Jersey in 1910. In the campaign he asserted his independence of the conservatives and of the machine that had nominated him, endorsing a progressive platform, which he pursued as governor.

He was nominated for President at the 1912 Democratic Convention and campaigned on a program called the New Freedom, which stressed individualism and states' rights. In the three-way election he received only 42 percent of the popular vote but an overwhelming electoral vote.


Wilson maneuvered through Congress three major pieces of legislation. The first was a lower tariff, the Underwood Act; attached to the measure was a graduated Federal income tax. (So now we know who the evil creator of an income tax was.) The passage of the Federal Reserve Act provided the Nation with the more elastic money supply it badly needed. In 1914 antitrust legislation established a Federal Trade Commission to prohibit unfair business practices. Wilson won reelection based on keeping us out of the first World War but after the election concluded that America could not remain neutral in the World War. After the Germans signed the Armistice in November 1918, Wilson went to Paris to try to build an enduring peace. He later presented to the Senate the Versailles Treaty, containing the Covenant of the League of Nations, and asked, "Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?"


But the election of 1918 had shifted the balance in Congress to the Republicans. By seven votes the Versailles Treaty failed in the Senate. The President, against the warnings of his doctors, had made a national tour to mobilize public sentiment for the treaty. Exhausted, he suffered a stroke and nearly died. Tenderly nursed by his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, he lived until 1924.

The above biographical information was extracted from the White House web site biographies of US Presidents at:

Ballard MacDonald (1882 - 1935) was born in Portland Oregon. He was educated at Princeton and became best known as a lyricist who collaborated with some of the greatest Tin Pan Alley composers of the period. His best known works are The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine, (MIDI) written in 1913 with Harry Carrol and Back Home Again In Indiana with James M. Hanley, 1917. He also wrote Play that Barber Shop Chord in 1910 which resulted in an interesting court case. In 1910, publisher/composer Fred Helf published Play That Barbershop Chord, by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, or at least that is how Helf published it. Songwriter Ballard MacDonald had begun work on the song and had written dummy lyrics before leaving the song behind. The piece was finished by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, and MacDonald was incensed that Helf left his name off the sheet music. He sued Helf successfully, and the award of $37,500 forced Helf into bankruptcy thus ending his foray into publishing. MacDonald died in Forest Hills, New York in 1935.


Hear this great campaign song (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version



We're Ready For Teddy Again


Music by: Alfred Solman
Lyrics by: Harry D. Kerr
Cover artist: unknown


For every election there is a loser, and that 1912 election saw the return of Teddy Roosevelt, one of America's best loved presidents to run again after a four year hiatus on safari in Africa. Though his first two terms were as a Republican, Roosevelt's return was as an independent on a progressive ticket. To reporters he once remarked that he felt as fit as a bull moose, and that became the name of his new party. Originally William McKinley's vice president, with the assassination of President McKinley in September of 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, not quite 43, became the youngest President in the Nation's history. He brought new excitement and power to the Presidency, as he vigorously led Congress and the American public toward progressive reforms and a strong foreign policy. He took the view that the President as a "steward of the people" should take whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution." I did not usurp power," he wrote, "but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power." A popular president and war hero, Roosevelt was also an avid conservationist where he made some of his greatest achievements. He added enormously to the national forests in the West, reserved lands for public use, and fostered great irrigation projects. While campaigning in Milwaukee, he was shot in the chest by a fanatic. Roosevelt soon recovered, but his words at that time would have been applicable at the time of his death in 1919: "No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way."


Though Roosevelt lost the 1912 election, the campaign song for him was a great one, again, in my opinion one of the very best in our issue this month. The cover picture is a great one, perhaps one of the best I've seen of him but it is the music that makes this song special, a rousing march that really gets into the subject. Written by another of Tin Pan Alley's best teams, the song has a wonderfully contemporary march (1912) feel to it. The lyrics are excellent also, a perfect example of lyrics that can create excitement and commitment to an issue. If songs were the determining factor, Teddy should have won!


Alfred Solman (1868 - 1937) Was one of Tin Pan Alley's more prolific lyricists who collaborated with a number of composers. In spite of his output, little biographical information is available for him. His most successful work is probably his 1916 song, There's a Quaker Down in Quaker Town. Other works from his pen include; The Bird On Nellie's Hat, 1906; Why Did You Make Me Care, 1912; In the Sweet Long Ago, 1916; The Heart You Lost in Maryland, You'll Find in Tennessee, 1907; My Lonely Lola Lo (In Hawaii), 1916 and In the Valley of the Moon, 1913


Hear this great old song

Listen to MIDI version



President Harding March


Music by: Paul Crane
Lyrics by: Crane
Cover artist: Rose Symbol

After World War One, the importance and use of campaign songs began to wane and today, campaign songs hardly used and even less noticed. Only a few candidates past this period used songs effectively; Franklin Roosevelt's Happy Days Are Here Again, and Harry Truman's great song by Eubie Blake, I'm Just Wild About Harry are about the only memorable tunes to come out of political campaigns since then. There have been of course many forgettable and lost tunes, most of those we have published this month are nothing more than footnotes to history and it is likely none have been publicly heard for many decades till now.

Our final work is a wonderful march written on the occasion of the election of Warren G. Harding in 1920. Before his nomination, Warren G. Harding declared,

"America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality...."

A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, called Harding's speeches "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."


What would we do without political spin, rhetoric and invective?

Harding served as Governor of Ohio, a congressman and senator till in 1920, an Ohio admirer, Harry Daugherty, began to promote Harding for the 1920 Republican nomination because, he later explained, "He looked like a President." He won the nomination and Presidential election by an unprecedented landslide of 60 percent of the popular vote. Republicans in Congress easily got the President's signature on their bills. They eliminated wartime controls and slashed taxes, established a Federal budget system, restored the high protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon immigration.


By 1923 the postwar depression seemed to be giving way to a new surge of prosperity, and newspapers hailed Harding as a wise statesman carrying out his campaign promise--"Less government in business and more business in government." Behind the facade, not all of Harding's Administration was so impressive. Word began to reach the President that some of his friends were using their official positions for their own enrichment. He did not live to find out how the public would react to the scandals of his administration. While on a trip with his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover in August of 1923, he died in San Francisco of a heart attack.

A joyful, even playful march song, this song is another of the best that political songs had to offer us. Again we have a well crafted song that could have stood well on its own as a popular work given a different set of lyrics and purpose. The song also is reflective of the times ahead and has a bit of that 20's fox-trot sound to it.


Enjoy this rare old song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version



Political songs served an important purpose for almost 200 years of our history. The campaign and political songs of the past communicated issues, recruited believers and celebrated success throughout the political process. As more efficient forms of communication evolved, the importance of political songs faded and they lost their impact and value. However, even today we hear political issues brought to bear through music and the protest songs of the 60's and 70's were a staple item on the political landscape. The shame of the genre is that they have been virtually lost and forgotten save a few examples that have lived on in other identities (Pop Goes The Weasel, for example). We hope that this article preserves some of the musical glory these songs offered and refreshes our collective memory of one important aspect of the rich musical history in America


As always, be sure to come back next month for a new feature or just come back anytime to browse our extensive archive of issues and special articles.

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