Politics has always brought out the best and worst in people, particularly politicians running for office. In the 19th century, political campaigning in the United States meant stumping from town-to-town. It required riding the rails and trying to raise support for your candidate and your politics. As a way of getting attention and raising support, someone created stick flags.
What is a Stick Flag?
The term “stick flag” applies to a variety of flags. They may be as small as 3 inches. They can be no bigger than 3 feet. The materials may vary. Generally, they are printed flags on:
Glue or tacks hold them in place for the event and sometimes no longer. Stick flags were also hand wavers. This made them excellent for parades – another name is parade flag. Moreover, they were inexpensive to produce. The same qualities made them excellent for all types of events, including political gatherings.
Historic Political Stick Flags
American history has provided several examples of American stick flags. The remnants of political campaigns, they provide an interesting insight into the use of the American Flag. In fact, many political campaigns from the 1840s, and later in the 19th century, feature the American flag overlaid with political slogans or the names of current candidates.
The first instance of this is a stick or parade flag made for the 1840 presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison (1773-1841). His campaign parade flag was folksy reflecting the character the party wished to portray. The flag had political overprints like those that were to follow.
In 1856, the stick flags of John Charles Frémont (1813-1840) and William Dayton (1807-1864) used the American flag as a background for the names of the first Republican candidates. Black ink records their names on this printed cotton flag.
Yet, the peak period of the political stick flags was not in the early 1800s, but between 1880 and 1913. Even Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) in the 1860 campaign followed the practice, as did Teddy Roosevelt. Lincoln’s flag features on the white stripe, the following message
FOR VICE PRESIDENT
THE UNION AND THE CONSTITUTION
Interestingly enough, the letters for Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) appear to be larger than those for Lincoln were. As for Teddy Roosevelt – a 1907 Parade flag of features images of the man himself and his white fleet.
Hand wavers, parade flags or stick flags are very much alive in politics today. Flag companies sell several million a year. The next time a parade or politician comes around, purchase one and wave along with the best of them. Chances are, however, you won’t find the flag covered with a political message.
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