If the current presidential election campaign leaves you yearning for the good old days when civil discourse reigned in American politics, stop by “Presidents and Politics,” the current exhibit at the St. Louis Mercantile Library located in the Thomas Jefferson Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. You may be surprised.
“We Don’t Want Eleanor Either,” said a button from 1940, a reference to the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was seeking an unprecedented third term. A 1964 button implored: “Keep America Beautiful, Get Rid of the ‘Birds,’” referring to President Lyndon Johnson’s wife and daughter, known as Lady Bird and Linda Bird Johnson.
This exhibit is selected from the more than 3,000 items of political ephemera in the Dr. Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker collection. It tells the story of American politics from President Washington to President Obama and how candidates use images, slogans and symbols to woo the public. And when the public had a chance, it expressed itself in political cartoons, posters and music.
One cartoon from the 1912 election shows a very tall Uncle Sam poking a diminutive Teddy Roosevelt in the nose. TR is dressed as a baseball player. Standing behind Uncle Sam is a roly-poly ballplayer depicting William Howard Taft. The caption reads, “Back up; you’ve batted twice,” a reference to Roosevelt’s attempt to run for a third term. Taft won the election.
A handwritten ledger from the 1824 election in St. Louis lists voters with names familiar to most residents: Benton, Clayton, Forsythe, Lindell, McKnight. John Quincy Adams won that election against Andrew Jackson. And a voting booth from Lee County, Fla., reminds visitors of the highly contested election in 2000 when “hanging chads” and the U.S. Supreme Court decided the results in favor George W. Bush.
The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 27, is free and open to the public. Visit the St. Louis Mercantile Library for hours and more information. Tours are available Saturday and Sunday. Group tours can be arranged at other times. Call 314-516-7248.
The Shopmaker collection was a gift to the Mercantile Library. Allen B. Shopmaker was a longtime Clayton, Mo., veterinarian. For more than 25 years, he and his wife, Helen, taught English to new immigrants and foreign students at the International Institute in St. Louis. In 2002 they endowed a professorship in their name at UMSL in collaboration with Springboard to Learning.