How To Win An Election

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In 1835, after a bitter stump-speaking campaign, Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee was defeated in his bid for a fourth term. Fed up with politics, he headed for Texas, but on his way to death and glory at the Alamo he is alleged to have made a speech, here described in his own words, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Like much other material attributed to him in The Life of David Crockett, the Original Humorist and Irrepressible Backwoodsman , it may be apocryphal, but in essence it accurately describes the kind of political campaigning for which Crockett—and many another politician before and after him—became famous.

“Attend all public meetings,” says I, “and get some friends to move that you take the chair; if you fail in this attempt, make a push to be appointed secretary; the proceedings of course will be published, and your name is introduced to the public. But should you fail in both undertakings, get two or three acquaintances, over a bottle of whiskey, to pass some resolutions, no matter on what subject; publish them even if you pay the printer—it will answer the purpose of breaking the ice, which is the main point in these matters. Intrigue until you are elected an officer of the militia; this is the second step towards promotion, and can be accomplished with ease, as I know an instance of an election being advertised, and no one attending, the innkeeper at whose house it was to be held, having a military turn, elected himself colonel of his regiment.” Says I, “You may not accomplish your ends with as little difficulty, but do not be discouraged—Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“When the day of election approaches, visit your constituents far and wide. Treat liberally, and drink freely, in order to rise in their estimation, though you fall in your own. True, you may be called a drunken dog by some of the clean shirt and silk stocking gentry, but the real rough necks will style you a jovial fellow, their votes are certain, and frequently count double. Do all you can to appear to advantage in the eyes of the women. That’s easily done—you have but to kiss and slabber their children, wipe their noses, and pat them on the head; this cannot fail to please their mothers. …

“Promise all that is asked,” said I, “and more if you can think of anything. Offer to build a bridge or a church, to divide a county, create a batch of new offices, make a turnpike, or anything they like. Promises cost nothing. …

“Get up on all occasions, and sometimes on no occasion at all, and make long-winded speeches, though composed of nothing else than wind—talk of your devotion to your country, your modesty and disinterestedness, or on any such fanciful subject. Rail against taxes of all kinds, officeholders, and bad harvest weather; and wind up with a flourish about the heroes who fought and bled for our liberties in the times that tried men’s souls. To be sure you run the risk of being considered a bladder of wind, or an empty barrel, but never mind that, you will find enough of the same fraternity to keep you in countenance.

“If any charity be going forward, be at the top of it, provided it is to be advertised publicly; if not, it isn’t worth your while. None but a fool would place his candle under a bushel on such an occasion.

“These few directions,” said I, “if properly attended to, will do your business; and when once elected, why a fig for the dirty children, the promises, the bridges, the churches, the taxes, the offices, and the subscriptions, for it is absolutely necessary to forget all these before you can become a thoroughgoing politician, and a patriot of the first water.”