Before the invention of the televison and radio, politicians had to use a variety of other ways to advertise themselves to the people. The methods ranged from simple posters to photographs to newspapers. Presidential Candidates had to gain as much support as possible, so they often employed multiple tactics at once to try and get the edge on their opponent. The elections between 1854 and 1908 followed those of Campaigns from 1800 to 1850.

Campaign Methods:

This is an example of stumping. How would stumping gain public support for a candidate?
This is an example of stumping. How would stumping gain public support for a candidate?

The methods used evolved over time as new technologies became available. At first, Candidates used methods such as pamphlets, newspaper articles, posters, and catchy slogans to get support from the people. Soon photographs, political cartoons, and direct mailing became important to campaigning. Giving Speeches and Stumping were also popular tactics, except when seen as undignified. A few major elections show how campaign tactics were used to connect with the people and how the techniques used to gather votes evolved over time.

Election of 1896:

The election of 1896 pit the Democratic-Republican William McKinley against the Democrat-Populist William Jennings Bryan. The issues of the day were the gold standard, women's rights, race relations, and immigration. Both candidates utilised speeches to get their name out to the people. McKinley utilized mass markerting by sending colorful posters, pamphlets, and novelties to people across the nation using direct mail. He also pursued a Front Porch Campaign, which is when a candidate stays close to home to campaign. He used the railroads to bring the people and press to his home in Ohio. In contrast, Bryan made over 600 speeches during his Whistle-Stop Campaign, which is when a candidate travels the country (usually the railroad) to give speeches. One of the most famous speeches was Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech over the issue of the gold standard. McKinley won the electoral college, placing him in the presidency. This election is often seen as the begining of the mass marketing era of politics due to the 100 million pieces of advertising which McKinley sent out.

This is one of Bryan's campaign posters from 1900. What was he trying to get across in this poster?
This is one of Bryan's campaign posters from 1900. What was he trying to get across in this poster?

Election of 1900:

William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan faced off again in the election of 1900, with McKinley running for reelection. The candidates did not focus on the personality of the other candidate, but rather focused on the issues of imperialism, gold standard, and anti-trust legislation. They used newspapers, political cartoons, live speeches, and posters to campaign. The candidates generally followed the same tactics that they had used in the previous election, with McKinley using a front porch campaign strategy and Bryan using a whistle-stop campaign. Using the success he had during his first term as president, McKinley won the election once again, giving him a second term as President.

Election of 1904:

The election of 1904 was a face-off between Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Alton Parker. The main issues in this election were imperialism, race relations, immigration, anti-trust policy, and unions. At this point in time, active campaigning was seen as undignified, so both candidates ran relatively quiet campaigns. However, both made small tours in 1902 and 1903 before the race began to gather a little support. Newspapers, postcards, and posters were still holding strongly as the main source of campaigning. Photography was now begining to make its way into newspapers, making the physical image of the candidates more important than before. Roosevelt used his personality and charisma, along with the attention he gained from the "Teddy Bear," to gather support quietly, leading him to victory.

Election of 1908:

The issues of morality, banking reform, and concentration of wealth were huge in the 1908 election, which set Republican William Howard Taft against William Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Taft used a business-like strategy for campaing, using a direct mailing system to send "Penny postcards" to people to gain support. Taft also tried to link himself with Theodore Roosevelt, a successful republican. Bryan ran a heavily negative campaign, even using the newspaper he owned to attack Taft through writing. The use of political cartoons and posters was still popular, however the shift towards personal appearance continued with the advancement of photography. Taft held many photo-ops as a way to positively show himself to the people. William Jennings Bryan lost once again, with Taft taking a majority of the electoral college.


The tactics and techniques of candidates' campaigns changed over time. Newspapers, posters, and pamphlets were used consistently in the elections, but the camera brought the physical image of the candidate to the public's mind. Direct also became more popular as it allowed candidates to advertise themselves efficiently and cheaply. Certain candidates used a front porch campaign style while others used a whistle-stop campaign style. Sometimes, candidates didn't have many speeches at all! The pre-television and pre-radio age from 1854-1908 reveals a lot about the change in style of campaigning.


1.Which candidate used a Front Porch Campaign?

a. William Jennings Bryan

b. William McKinley

c. Alton Parker

d. William Howard Taft

2. What is a whistle-stop campaign?

a. Blowing whistles to gain support

b. Giving Speeches on Trains

c. Staying near home to give speeches

d. Traveling the country to give speeches

3. What is stumping?

a. Standing on a tree stump

b. Giving speeches from a federal building

c. Giving standard speeches from town to town

d. Confusing an opponent

4. How did the camera change how candidates were percieved by the public?

5. Describe the campaign strategy of the election of 1904.

Vocabulary Terms:

Stumping: Using a standard speech to go from town to town to give speeches for political support
Front Porch Campaign: Staying at home or near home to run a campaign and give speeches
Whistle-Stop Campaign: Going across the country to give speeches and gain support, usually by train
"Penny Postcards": Cheap postcards that were mass produced to send by direct mail to constituents.

See Also: - How has modern day technology changed how candidates campaign?;words=REPUBLICAN+Convention+Republican+CONVENTION+McKinley+MCKINLEY+Roosevelt+ROOSEVELT - What does this newspaper article say about McKinley in the 1900 election?;words=Fairbanks+FAIRBANKS+Roosevelt+ROOSEVELT - What does this newspaper article say about Roosevelt in the 1904 election?

Works Cited:

Bingham, George C. Stump Speaking. N.d. Wikimedia. Wikipedia. Web. 9 Dec. 2012. <>.
"On This Election Eveā€¦ Some Thoughts from William Jennings Bryan." Voices from Russia., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
"Presidential Campaigns & Elections Reference." Presidential Campaigns Elections Reference. Word Press, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
"Project Look Sharp :: K-12 & Higher Ed. Media Literacy Lesson Plans :: Ithaca College." Project Look Sharp :: K-12 & Higher Ed. Media Literacy Lesson Plans :: Ithaca College. Ithaca College, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.
"TR & Teddy." Theodore Roosevelt Association. Theodore Roosevelt Association, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.

By: Jon Hauser, Tyler Wright, and Brian Dickenson