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From The Tnr Archives: Campaign Craziness

Here on The Plank, we're going to start dipping into the magazine's vast archives, the idea being that an occasional look back can be instructive. Plus, it's fun reading this stuff. To get us kicked off, we have Nicholas von Hoffman's piece from November 5, 1984, titled "Campaign Craziness: A Cracker-Barrel History." It follows the winding evolution of presidential campaigns, starting with William Henry Harrison's 1840 presidential bid, and it offers plenty of entertaining anecdotes along the way.

For instance, in 1840, to emphasize his "rustic frontier background," Harrison created a "Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign," handing out miniature log cabin whiskey bottles as souvenirs and building a 50-by-100 foot log cabin in the center of New York City.

But despite such achievements, Hoffman selects William Jennings Bryan as the "champion Presidential campaigner." Why?

At the beginning of his 1896 campaign Bryan had no staff, no advance men, no money, nothing. He just went down to the railroad depot, looked at the train schedules, and bought himself a ticket. ... He solved the laundry problems by taking off his clothes between stops, and he took care of personal hygiene by sponging his teetoaling, temperance-touting self down with gin, so that occasionally during that insufferably hot summer of 1896 the God-fearing Presbyterian Populist appeared in public smelling like a dynamited distillery. ... By the time the campaign ended, the candidate had traveled 18,000 miles, making as many as thirty speeches a day.

Check out the whole piece here and keep checking back for more from the TNR archives.

--Amanda Silverman