From George Washington to Barack Obama, America has had 44 presidents, which means 44 presidential campaigns — some more memorable than others.
Coming up with a campaign theme, for an incumbent president or a challenger, is a tough game. Some themes barely matter: Washington ran unopposed for his second term in 1792, so he didn’t need one. Others fail by being forgettable. Who remembers what Al Gore’s theme was in 2000? (“Prosperity and Progress”) or John Kerry’s in 2004 (“Let America be America Again” — which sounds really similar to Mitt Romney’s current presidential campaign theme…)
And others sound out of place with the passage of time. The theme for Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential campaign in 1860 was “vote yourself a farm,” referring to his promise to expand free homesteads out west. Of course, he also wanted to halt the spread of slavery into the new territories, while “preserving it where it exist[ed]”
Campaign themes can be ironic: President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the theme: “He kept us out of war,” only to lead the U.S. into World War I a year later. Or they can spawn commonly used phrases: Lincoln’s 1864 re-election theme was “Don’t swap horses when crossing a stream”, which soon became, “don’t switch horses midstream.”
Others take advantage of the candidate’s quirks or name: Calvin Coolidge won with “Keep cool with Coolidge” in 1924, Warren Harding rolled out “Cox and cocktails” in 1920, to ding his opponent, James Cox, for opposing prohibition, and Jimmy Carter, former peanut farmer, won in 1976 with “Not just peanuts.”
So which campaign themes are the most memorable? Here are the top ten: