Special Collections

Political Buttons

Political Debate Writ Small: The Art and Rhetoric of the Political Button

From the Gerald E. Talbot Collection, African American Collection of Maine

Make Maine Go

Non-Violence Slogan and Ecology

Chauvinism: Women's Political Space

African American Group Questions

The History of the American Political Button, Then and Now
According to political historians, the use of political buttons developed out of the presidency of George Washington. Instead of campaign slogans, these early buttons served the purpose of commemorating Washington’s inauguration. Common inscriptions found on these Washington-era buttons included: “Long Live the President,” “Unity, Prosperity & Independence,” and “Remember March Fourth, 1789.” The pin-backed political button, as seen today, came out in the late nineteenth century.  The period from 1896 to the 1920s has been called the “golden age of political buttons,” because millions were produced.  Currently, political buttons are enjoying a resurgence of interest.  There are many types of buttons in this exhibition, such as: picture buttons, name buttons, slogan and issue buttons, mottoes and manifestoes buttons, and inaugural buttons. Buttons are put out by the national committees of the major political parties, and others are produced by regional organizations, or third-party candidates.  The buttons in the Gerald E. Talbot Collection are both regional and national examples of slogans that address political, social, economic, gendered, cultural, racial, environmental, and ecological issues.

How to use this exhibition:
This exhibition contains pictures of buttons along with interpretive text and questions about the buttons, their content and their context. The numbered superscripts match the buttons to their textual explanations, while the letters pose questions to ponder either in group discussion or for individual consideration. You may page down through the exhibition, or click on one of the yellow buttons to go directly to any of the six sections of the exhibition.

MAKE MAINE GO: Maine Regional Interests

Maine Regional Interest buttons

 

1. I make the difference.
Button for the importance of individual initiative in collective political action.

2. Maine Democrats Care
Emotive political slogan that argues that Maine Democrats care for their constituency. The implication is that Republican candidates neglect their voter’s interests. 

3. We’re All In This Together
Button for generic collective political responsibility.

4. RE-ELECT TALBOT STATE LEGISLATURE “You'll Love Yourself For It ”
Gerald E. Talbot was a Democratic Party leader, civil rights leader, and legislator who helped found the African American Collection of Maine at the University of Southern Maine.

5. MUSKIE for PRESIDENT
 Edmund Muskie was a Maine Democrat. He served in the Maine House of Representatives, was elected Governor of Maine and to the U.S. Senate, served as U.S. Secretary of State, and campaigned for the presidency. 

6. TRUST MUSKIE
Emotive slogan that asserts confidence in Muskie as a political leader.

7. DON’T BLAME ME I VOTED FOR JOE
Joseph Brennan served in both the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate. In 1996, Republican Susan Collins defeated Brennan in the U.S. Senate election.

8. GOVERNOR Joe Brennan YOUR VOTE WORKED
Brennan served as Governor from 1979 to 1987. This button proclaims voter efficacy: that is, that the political process works by empowering voters.

9. MAKE MAINE GO
A general appeal that seeks to advance Maine’s interests.  Consider: what do you think makes Maine go?

10. GIVE A DAMN
A call for a deep concern and emotional commitment for political engagement.

11. CURTIS CARES
Kenneth M. Curtis was Maine governor from 1967 to 1974 and, according to this button, he had consideration for his constituency.

12. VOTE or you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself
A button that declares individual political responsibility.

13. VOTE FOR YOURSELF WAKINE TANOUS FOR GOVENOR
Tanous was a Millinocket State Senator. This button affirms that Tanous will stand for the interests of his constituents. It also intimates that Tanous is just like the voter: a very appealing notion to many Americans who feel disengaged from the political process.

14. Believe Muskie.
Emotive slogan calling for voter trust in Muskie.

15. IT’S IN OUR HANDS
Idiomatic slogan for collective political responsibility.

Points to ponder:

A. How is emotive or affective language used in slogans to persuade voters?

B. How do these slogans promote solidarity and individual or collective political action?

C. Discuss how the candidates are referred to in these buttons.

D. Discuss the issues that are being addressed, if any.

E. Discuss when these issues took place. Are these issues still relevant?

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NON-VIOLENCE IS OUR STRENGTH: The Non-Violent Tradition in American Activism Emblazoned on Buttons 

Non-Violence buttons

1. VETERANS FOR PEACE, Inc. Portland, Maine Second Annual Convention 1987
Veterans For Peace was founded in 1985 to create positive political pressure for peaceful American-international cooperation on world issues. A national, state, and local organization, members meet at regional and city conferences to discuss current affairs.  For example, Veterans For Peace have met to denounce the Iraq war, the USA Patriot Act, and the war on terror as unconstitutional. Currently, the Veterans Truth Project relates the stories of soldiers returning from the Iraq war to help re-connect veterans to their local communities.

2. STUDENTS FOR MONKS
Many American students, during the Vietnam War, supported the non-violent war-protests of Vietnamese monks.

3. NON-VIOLENCE IS OUR STRENGTH
Cesar Chavez was a labor organizer who led many peaceful labor strikes (and personal hunger strikes) to call attention to migrant workers's wages, pesticide laden grapes, and worker safety.

4. Gus Hall President / Jarvis Tyner Vice-Pres. Peace, Jobs, Freedom vote Communist
The American Communist Party supports workers and the environment, and the responsible use of capital. It had its American founding in 1910, but the party declined in the face of political persecutions during the 1950’s. However, the party is currently gaining some popular sympathy, especially since it supports allworking class people against all forms of national oppression.

5. Free the Shah’s Political Prisoners Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran
In 1976, Iranian exiles, with the help of New York intellectuals and graduate students, formed the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran. The committee, along with Amnesty International and The International League for Human Rights, put pressure on the Shah’s regime to improve human rights in Iran.

6. U.S. BASES OUT OF THE PHILIPINES!  
Since 1947 the U.S. had operated military training bases in the Philippines under a Military Bases Agreement. In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the bases treaty, and ordered the U.S. to convert its bases to civilian use.  Subsequently, the U.S. and the Philippines have developed their economic and commercial relations in lieu of military aid. However, the U.S. and the Philippines still maintain a Mutual Defense Treaty.   

7. FREEDOM AND PEACE PARTY
Founded in 1967, the Peace and Freedom Party is a feminist and socialist political party that advocates the protection of the environment from pollution and nuclear waste. It also opposed the Vietnam War, advocated free universal access to education and health care. Though founded as a national party, it was reconstituted as a Californian party.

Points to ponder:

F. Veterans For Peace has recently called for Iraq war funds to be re-directed to rebuilding those communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  Do you agree with their proposal?

G. How is the Communist Party viewed in America today?

H. Compare the past students for monks button to the current situation in Burma and the 2007 slogan: free Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi is the popular Buddhist leader currently under house arrest in Burma. Buddhist monks in Burma have recently led large peaceful demonstrations in opposition to the non-democratically elected regime in Burma.

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SLOGAN AND ECOLOGY: Maine, Regional, and National

Slogan and Ecology buttons

1. ECOLOGY NOW
The ecological movement was arguably born with Rachel Carson's work of non-fiction: Silent Spring. The American and global ecology movement emerged at the end of the sixties as a social movement that was concerned with man-made ecological crisis. For example, there was and is a great deal of concern over nuclear weapons and nuclear power, acid rain, ozone depletion, deforestation, and currently, climate change.

2. NO NUKES FOR ME.
Opposition to nuclear power and testing usually cites nuclear accidents, such as the (1979) Three Mile Island accident and the (1986) Chernobyl disaster as evidence of the inherent danger of nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement began after World War Two with a public outcry and sympathy for those maimed or killed in the nuclear devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The (1968) Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is taken to be a milestone for anti-nuclear activists.   

3. THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE IS THE CANDIDATE MAINE FREEZE VOTER
Dr. Randall Caroline Forsberg, a disarmament and peace activist, founded the nuclear freeze (or free) campaign and led a massive demonstration against nuclear weapons in 1982.  The Freeze campaign sought to "freeze and reverse the nuclear arms race," and it was a grassroots effort to get nuclear free initiatives onto the ballot. Local Freeze leaders, like Randall Forsberg, Pam Solo, and Randy Kehler, helped to elect national Representative Patricia Schroeder and Senator Ted Kennedy, who introduced Freeze measures into Congress.  

4. Gerald Talbot MAINE DEMOCRAT
The Black-capped Chickadee, Maine's state bird is pictured. By using the state bird as a visual slogan, Talbot identifies himself with Maine’s state and ecological issues, such as building more box nests for the state bird. 

5. BRING JUSTICE TO AMERICA’S FIELDS IN 76
The United Farm Workers of America (UFW) labor union initiated several strikes in the seventies to call attention to workers rights and wage increases.  During a successful grape strike, strikers used the principles of non-violence championed by Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

6. VOTE
In addition to the bald eagle being the national bird of the United States of America, it is also a symbol of the environmental protection movement, as the eagle is cited as a successful example of species protective legislation.

7. BREAD NOT BOMBS
A peaceful American grass roots organization that distributes free food (and bread) to housing projects, daycare centers, and battered women’s shelters. Bread Not Bombs combines access to free food with nuclear-free activism, homeless rights, and the rights of disenfranchised citizens to organize. 

8. Udall
Mark Udall is a Colorado Democrat in favor of state and national environmental protection. As a state legislator, he introduced several bills designed to advance renewable energy in Colorado. He is featured here because of his association with environmental imagery in his campaign.

Points to ponder:

I. Take a look at the ecological buttons such as: Ecology Now. In what ways did and does this slogan signify a change in American politics? (Consider the American Conservation movement and politicians's responses to global warming).

J. Discuss why Gerald Talbot hitches nature imagery to his campaign (he is associated with the Maine state bird, the Black-capped Chickadee).

K. What are some current slogans from the American environmental movement? (Think of Greenpeace or the Nature Conservancy’s Last Great Places campaign).

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SLOGAN AND CHAUVINISM: Women’s Political Space

Slogan and Chauvinism buttons

1. A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN HER UNION
Rejecting the cult of domesticity as women’s moral and social sphere of influence, this slogan re-interprets the sexist logic that states, “woman’s place is in her home,” by locating a union as a woman’s place of work and influence.

2. ONE MILLION WOMEN FOR CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN FOR U.S. SENATE
Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun is an American politician who stood for Illinois in the United States Senate from 1932 to 1999. She was the first African American woman elected to the United States Senate and, for a time, she was on the billing for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. This button bespeaks the mobilization of women voters for women candidates.

3. VOTE DEMOCRATIC IN ’78 ELECT WOMEN
This button equates the Democratic Party (and democracy in general) with women and women’s political work.      

4. CATALYST FOR CHANGE SHIRLEY CHISHOLM FOR PRESIDENT
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) was an American politician, educator and author. She became the first African American woman elected to Congress. She was known for her work in education, as well as her support of women in politics, along with her strong opposition to the Vietnam War and weapons development. In 1972, she put African American issues in the national spotlight through her brief candidacy for President of the United States.

5. WOMAN’S PLACE IS EVERY PLACE
This gender equality slogan re-interprets the sexist logic that states, “woman’s place is in her home” by positing women’s movement and work as unrestricted and open. 

6. ANOTHER MAN AGAINST VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
A number of pro-feminist men are involved in political activism, most often in the areas of women's rights and violence against women. Pro-feminism refers to support of the cause of feminism without implying that the supporter is a member of the feminist movement. The term is most often used in reference to men who are actively supportive of feminism and of efforts to bring about gender equality.

7. GOD CREATED WOMAN IN HER OWN IMAGE
A feminist re-interpretation of the sexist biblical logic that states that “God made man in his own image.” In fact, according to this slogan, women are independent, self-inspired and self-made.

8. AARON LEVINE THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB…IN 74
Levine was a political candidate. This slogan interprets a successful candidacy along gendered lines: that is, political candidates are assumed to be male.  
 
9. Marcotte Your Guy For Congress
Congressional hopeful. An example of gendered politics, this button implies a chummy link between the voter and voting for male candidates.

10. JANE WYMAN WAS RIGHT
This anti-Reagan button, a reference to Wyman's divorce of Ronald Reagan prior to his political career, implies that Reagan is an unsuitable match for both Wyman and, more broadly, for American voters.

11. UNITED NATIONS 1975 INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S YEAR
After the UN declaration of the 1975 Women’s Year, the UN created the Convention on the “Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (CEDAW), which states that the elimination of discrimination against women and the promotion of equality between men and women are major goals of the United Nations.

Points to ponder:

L. What are some differences between the chauvinistic slogans (that assert that a candidate must be the right man) and the women’s political slogans?

M. How is masculinity used as a slogan?

N. How do you think women’s solidarity affects political change?  Compare Chisholm’s campaign to Hillary Clinton’s 2007 campaign slogan: "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead."
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WE STILL HAVE A DREAM: African American Political Slogans

 African American Political Buttons

1. Write in DICK GREGORY PRESDIENT PEACE and FREEDOM
Dick Gregory, humorist and political activist, ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which developed separate interests from the Peace and Freedom Party.  Gregory used his high profile status to travel to Tehran in 1980 to intercede for peace, and to campaign against apartheid in South Africa.   

2. END RACISM AND SEXISM YWCA
The YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) conflates sexism and racism as morally reprehensible. The association seeks to empower women, much as the YMCA seeks to empower men, through social services, exercise, education, and outreach. 

3. RUN JESSE RUN!
Reference to and encouragement for Jesse Jackson’s bid for presidency in 1984 and 1988.

4. No to Racism from Boston to South Africa nscar
NSCAR (National Society of the Children of the American Revolution) minted this button to publicly declare that racism is unpatriotic, especially in the patriotic hub of Boston. Consider: why do you think this button uses Boston and South Africa to triangulate an end to racism?

5. WE STILL HAVE A DREAM MARCH ON WASHINGTON 20th Anniversary 1963-1983 August 27
Commemoration of the 1963 march for civil rights in Washington D.C.

6. HOPE ’88 VOTE NOV. 8
Jesse Jackson campaigned for the presidency of
the United States in 1984 and 1988 with his newly created “Rainbow Coalition,” an organization founded on the principle that disaffected minorities had been ignored by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Points to ponder:

O. How does Barak Obama’s campaign slogan compare to Jesse Jackson’s slogans?

P. The 2007 Official Barak Obama Slogan is: Hope, Action, Change. The following are slogans and quotations from the 2008 Obama campaign: “In the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it” and “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s a United States of America” (often appearing on shirts, coffee mugs, etc.).

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Group Questions to consider:

Q. Do you think that there is a correlation between an individual's tendency to wear political buttons and their propensity to vote?
R. What are other forms of expressive voting, such as political hairdos and front yard political signs?
S. Particular events and political issues inspire political buttons and slogans. What are present examples of political slogans and buttons? 

Vote for yourself:
 
T. Make your own hobbies into a slogan. Or, using a do-it-yourself button maker, students can devise their own slogans and design and construct their own political buttons.

Curated by Johnathan Calavitta

Works consulted:
 
Copeland, Cassandra Chemene. An Empirical Analysis of Expressive Voting. Auburn: Auburn UP, 1999.

Garraty, John. Dictionary of American Biography. Ann Arbor: UP Ann Arbor, 1994.

Plano, Jack. The American Political Dictionary. Ann Arbor: UP Michigan, 1997.

Palmer, Jesse, and Allen Dyal. "Button up your social studies classroom." Social Studies 13.2 (1996): 52-60.  

Sabato, Larry, and Howard R. Ernst. Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections. New York: Facts On File, 2006.

Shankle, George E. American Mottoes and Slogans. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

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