Political Barbecues: Tippecanoe and Roasted Ox Too

Campaign BBQ for William Henry Harrison, image from Crystal Bridges Museum

At Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, I found a display on the subject of political barbecues. In the election of 1840, Whig candidate William Henry Harrison threw barbecues and held parades instead of debating such national problems as the expansion of slavery and the establishment of a national bank. The event depicted in this cartoon was held in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 13, 1840. Note the whole ox being barbecued in the top left corner of the cartoon.

Harrison was in fact a rich man who owned a plantation, while the poor of the frontier were Democrats. As governor of Indiana, Harrison had lead an army troop to disperse a native American uprising at Tippecanoe, and so he was regarded as an Indian fighter. By embracing the log cabin symbolism of the frontier, Harrison easily defeated Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren who insisted on addressing the issues.

Harrison and the Whigs borrowed the idea of the political barbecue from Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and his Democratic Party. In the election of 1824, the aristocratic John Quincy Adams was awarded the presidency despite losing the popular vote to the popular war hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Adam’s inauguration celebration was the most elaborate ever seen.

Four years later, Jackson took on Adams again. This time he devised a new tactic–he ignored the debate in Washington and took his campaign directly to the people through a series of parades and barbecues. Jackson won the election and his roughhewn Western supporters mobbed Washington convening at the White House for an impromptu celebration.