Header Graphic
First Great Political Rally

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 26, 1930




The First Great Political Rally—TIPPECANOE and TYLER TOO

By Howard Burba


     On the eve of a state-wide election one reads in the daily press that “It has been red-hot,” or that “It has been a spectacular campaign!”

     Then one wants to use the language of the small boy in the street and inquires: “Where do you get that stuff!”

     Red-hot and spectacular may be sufficient unto themselves to describe the campaign now entering its final stage.  But they are sickly looking adjectives when used to describe that red-letter day in Dayton history when William Henry Harrison appeared here “in person” and the city was crowded until late arrivals, seeking parking places for their horse-drawn vehicles counted themselves lucky if they found it within a couple of miles of the center of town.

     Incidentally, it was the anniversary of Perry’s victory on Lake Erie, and that helped some to swell the crowd.  But primarily it was just another rally in the traditional “Hard Cider” campaign, and we owe much to the historians of earlier days for preserving its details that posterity may, for all time, compare the cut-and –dried political rallies of modern days with it and smile at what we now call a “red-hot” campaign.

     The date, to be exact, was Sept. 10, 1840.  Perry had won his laurels on the same day just 27 years before.  Gen. William Henry Harrison was the “People’s Ticket” candidate for the presidency, and his running mate was the doughty John Tyler.  It was the campaign in which the log cabin first figured to any very great extent, and from which latter-day politicians conceived their idea of that favorite bit of propaganda now paraded so regularly every time a candidate of lowly birth shies his hat in to the political ring.

     Harrison had been born in a log cabin.  The fact that later investigation revealed the “cabin” as pretty much of a mansion in those days doesn’t detract from the picture.  Just how the “hard cider” end of the campaign came to be dragged in doesn’t to this day appear clear, so it must be left to the reader to surmise that, in the absence of a Volstead law and its widespread ramifications “hard cider” provided the material of which arguments are made.

     At any rate, Harrison’s campaign managers saw an opportunity to cinch the vote of all the northwest territory by concentrating their efforts on one grand and glorious political rally.  They selected Dayton as the locale in which that rally should be staged, and later events proved most conclusively the wisdom of that selection.  The event not only proved the greatest political celebration in the history of the entire middlewest up to that time, but never in the 90 years since, with but one single exception, the notification rally in the Cox-Roosevelt campaign of 1920, has there been anything to approach it in either enthusiasm or attendance.

     Our historian tells us that for weeks before the day of the “big doings” Dayton citizens were engaged in decorating for the occasion.  Never before had flag and bunting manufacturers received such vast orders as came from Dayton merchants.  Never before had the countryside been reviled with more glowing pictures of the “feast of reason and flow of soul” that awaited them.  Billing Barnum’s own circus as an added free attraction for the day would not serve to swell the crowd, for everybody and his neighbor from 50 miles around was here, anyhow.

    People began pouring into Dayton two days before the day fixed for the rally.  On the 9th of September, a full 24 hours before Harrison and his distinguished traveling companions were scheduled to arrive, roads leading into Dayton were congested as they had never been before with wagons, carriages, and incoming visitors on horse-back and afoot.  The Cincinnati delegation came in at dusk on the eve of the celebration.  They were met at Centerville by the local reception committee, where parade formation was completed.

     Then, headed by the “Dayton Grays,” crack military organization of the ‘forties, the “Butler Guards,” a military band and 11 stage coaches, the march to Dayton was started.  Dayton proper extended scarcely to the present site of the fairgrounds at that time, but the crowd spread on down to the pike for more than a mile.  It was the first real intimation local citizens had of what they might expect on the morrow.

     Early on the morning of the 10th, the day of days, 12 canal boats, each filled to capacity with cheering advocates of the “hard cider” ticket, arrived at the landing north of the library.  And bright and early in the morning word was passed around that Gen. Harrison had reached the home of Jonathan Harshman, five miles east of town, on the previous evening, and that the march to Dayton would be started form that point at 7 a. m.

     Now let us add strength to the picture by quoting from the file of an old newspaper of the day following the historic rally:

     Under the direction of Charles Anderson, afterwards governor of Ohio, chief marshal, met the general and his escort at the junction of the Troy and Springfield roads.  The battalion of militia, commanded by Capt. Bomberger, of the Dayton Grays, and consisting of the Grays and Washington Artillery of Dayton; the Citizens’ Guard, of Cincinnati; the Butler Guards, of Hamilton, and Piqua Light Infantry, were formed in a hollow square, and General Harrison, mounted on a white horse, his staff and Gov. Metcalf and staff, of Kentucky, were placed in the center.  Every foot of the road between town and the place where Gen. Harrison was to meet the escort was literally choked with people.

     “The immense procession, carrying banners and flags, and accompanied by canoes, log cabins furnished in pioneer style and trappers’ lodges—all on wheels and filled with men, girls and boys—proceeded into town.  One of the wagons contained a live wolf, enveloped in a sheepskin, representing the ‘hypocritical professions’ of the opponents of the Whigs.  All sorts of designs were carried by the delegations.  One of the most striking was an immense ball, representing the Harrison states, which was rolled through the streets.  The length of the procession was more than two miles, with carriages usually three abreast.  More than 1000 carriages were in line.

      “The day was bright and beautiful and the wildest enthusiasm swayed the mighty mass of people who formed the most imposing part of this ‘grandest spectacle of time.’”

     But the gentleman who provided that illuminating bit of “copy” for his newspaper was but a cub, as a perusal of a contemporary sheet will show.  Here the fine hand of the seasoned political writer is in evidence.  Here we find an array of adjective-spilling that would make the present day writer of summer resort literature green to the gills with envy.  Listen a moment to this description of the red-letter event as it is taken word for word from the pages of the rival sheet:

     “The huzzas from “gray-haired patriots, as the banners borne in the procession passed their dwellings, or the balconies where they had stationed themselves; the smiles and blessings, and waving kerchiefs of the thousands of fair women who filled the front windows of every house; the loud and heartfelt acknowledgements of their marked courtesy and a generous hospitality by the different delegations, sometimes rising the same instant from the whole lines; the fluttering folds of some one or more of the thousands of flags which displayed their glorious stars and stripes from the tops of the houses on every street; the soul-stirring music, the smiling heavens, the ever-gleaming banners, the emblems and mottoes, added to the intensity of the excitement.  Every eminence, housetop and window was thronged with eager spectators, whose acclamations seemed to rend the heavens.

     After marching through the principal streets the procession was disbanded by General Harrison at the National hotel, on Third st.  At 1 o’clock the precession was reformed and moved to the stand reserved for speeches.  Upon a spacious plain east of Fourth st. and north of Third (lying at that time just east of the old canal) Samuel Forrer, an experienced engineer of his day, estimated, through space measurements, the number of people present.  The early newspaper from which we have quoted gives the interview with Mr. Forrer in these words:

     “An exact measurement of the lines gave for one side of the square (oblong) 130 yards, and the other 150 yards, including an area of 19,500 square yards which, multiplied by four, would give 78,000.  Let no one who was present be startled at this result or reject this estimate until he compares the data assumed with the facts presented to his own view while on the ground.  It is easy for anyone to satisfy himself that six, or even a greater number of individuals may stand on a square yard of ground.  Four is the number assumed in the present instance.  The area measured is less than four and one-half acres.  Every farmer who noticed the ground could readily perceive that a much larger space was covered with people, though not so closely as that portion measured.  All will admit that an oblong square of 130 yards by 150 did not at any time during the first hour include near all that were on the east side of the canal.  The time of observation was the commencement of Gen. Harrison’s speech.  Before making this particular estimate I had made one, by comparing this assemblage with my recollection of the 25th of February convention at Columbus, and came to the conclusion that it was at least four times as great as that.  Two other competent engineers have also measured the ground and their lowest estimate of the number of people at the meeting is 75,000.  As thousands were still in town who did not form any part of the crowd at the speaking, I estimate that as many as 100,000 people were in Dayton on the 10th day of September.”

     Aside from the old National hotel, then located on E. Third st., Dayton was practically void of inns.  There were commodious boarding houses scattered about the town, but these, of course, were occupied as a rule by regular boarders and few transients could be accommodated.  For that reason the reader must do his own speculating as to how that immense throng –a crowd that would even now tax the city’s pretentious accommodations—was taken care of.

     One feature that added admirably along the line, however, and one that must not be overlooked since possibly on no other occasion has it ever been practiced here, was in the matter of feeding that vast throng.  But Daytonians were then, as now, equal to any emergency.  Long before the day of the festivities they broadcast the announcement to the outside world that there would be no lack of food for the hungry.  And that invitation went out in these words:

     “Don’t hesitate to enter any house from which a flag is flying.  We wish to give our visitors long cabin fare and plenty of it.  Enter any house from which the flag flies for a free dinner.”

     When he had eulogized the speakers, for in addition to Gen. Harrison there were addresses by the inimitable Tom Corwin, by Gov. Metcalf, of Kentucky, loved and admired in all the territory and familiarly called “Stone Hammer,” and by Robert C. Schenck, the reporter made the simple statement that “It was a never-to-be-forgotten day.”

     In all probability he wrote it to fill space.  Or it may have been like reporters before and since his day—he couldn’t resist the use of a phrase more thread-bare than convincing.  Yet he used that phrase on that occasion with a truthfulness that can not now, after a lapse of 90 long years, be questioned.  In every way and from every angle it was indeed “A never-to-be-forgotten day.”