Marion Harland recalls some election tunes from 1844

Posted on July 31, 2015 by


Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

While I spend considerable time sifting through early literature produced about the antebellum Shenandoah Valley (produced both from within and without the Valley) I’ve also found a favorite author outside the Valley who doesn’t provide perspective on Valley life… but on antebellum life in Virginia. Marion Harland (Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune), in fact, tells more about life in rural Virginia (actually, she tells a good deal about her earliest childhood memories in Powhatan County… which was after she was born in Amelia County, and before her family moved to Richmond), but her accounts are rich with descriptions of life in that time.

I ran across the following jingle from the presidential campaign of 1844 (source: Marion Harland’s Autobiography; The Story of a Long Life)…

One specimen of the ballads that flooded the land in the fateful 1844 will give some idea of the tenor of all”

Tune: “Old Dan Tucker”

Now, hold on a sec… I think some readers might be at a disadvantage, and aren’t acquainted with the Dan Tucker song. I had the good fortune in my youth, to hear my grandfather (born in “19-odd-3”) sing portions of the tune (with the lyrics you are about to hear in the YouTube clip), so I’m familiar with it. But before we proceed with Ms. Harland’s story, I figure I should introduce you to Old Dan Tucker so you know how the election jingle of 1844 should go.

I should note that the tune you just heard is one of many variations. Over the years, the tune remained consistent, but the lyrics have changed… indeed, significantly. I don’t want this to be a distraction from the post, but for a history of the song please see this link to the Wikipedia entry. I think it’s worthwhile to consider the fact that the tune had just found popularity in 1843, so, with the 1844 election, it was quickly and easily adapted.

Alright… now that you have the tune in your head… please proceed:

“The moon was shining silver bright, the stars with glory crowned the night,
High on a limb that ‘same old Coon’ was singing to himself this tune:


“Get out of the way, you’re all unlucky; clear the track for Ole Kentucky!

“Now in a sad predicament the Lokies are for President;
They have six horses in the pasture, and don’t know which can run the faster.

“The Wagon-Horse from Pennsylvany, the Dutchmen think he’s the best of any;
But he must drag in heavy stages his Federal notions and low wages.

“They proudly bring upon the course an old and broken down war-horse;
They shout and sing: ‘Oh! rumpsey dumsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumsey!’

“And here is Cass, though not a dunce, will run both sides of the track at once;
To win the race will all things copy, be sometimes pig and sometimes puppy.

“The fiery Southern horse, Calhoun, who hates a Fox and fears a Coon,
To toe the scratch will not be able, for Matty keeps him in the stable.

“And here is Matty, never idle, a tricky horse that slips his bridle;
In forty-four we’ll show him soon the little Fox can’t fool the Coon.

“The balky horse they call John Tyler, we’ll head him soon or burst his boiler;
His cursed ‘grippe’ has seized us all, which Doctor Clay will cure next fall.

“The people’s fav’rite, Henry Clay, is now the ‘fashion’ of the day;
And let the track be dry or mucky, we’ll stake our pile on Ole Kentucky.

“Get out of the way, he’s swift and lucky; clear the track for Ole Kentucky!”

(The chorus of each preceding verse is, “Get out of the way, you’re all unlucky,” etc. The “Fox” is Martin Van Buren, or “Matty.” The “Coon” is Clay. The “Wagon-Horse from Pennsylvany” is James Buchanan.)

Another ballad, sung that day under the trees at the back of the Court House, began after this wise:

“What has caused this great commotion
Our ranks betray?
It is the ball a-rolling on
To clear the way
For Harry Clay.
And with him we’ll beat your Polk! Polk! Polk!
And his motley crew of folk.
O! with him we’ll beat your Polk.”

To my excited imagination it was simple fact, not a flight of fancy, that Powhatan should be alluded to that day as “your historic county – a mere wave in the vast Union –

“That ever shall be
Divided as billows, yet one as the sea.”

“A wave, fellow-citizens, that has caught the irresistible impulse of wind and tide bearing us on to the most glorious victory America has ever seen.”

Ah’s me! That was how both parties talked and felt with regard to the Union seventeen years before the very name became odious to those who had been ready to die in defence of it.

*Some might have a better memory of “Mr. Edwards” (Isaiah Edwards) singing “Old Dan Tucker” in the television series, “Little House on the Prairie”: