Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24th: Michigan Log Cabin Day

Guest post by Esti Brennan, Social Media Intern

[Unknown Artist, "Log Cabin With Horses and Tree Stumps." Clements Library Graphics Division, Prints--Original Drawings, P-1604.9]

Currently, Michigan is the only state to have an official holiday recognizing the log cabin, residence of choice for centuries of discerning settlers on various United States frontiers. Though many types of log cabins have existed in Europe and the Americas, the iconic image of a rough-hewn cabin in the woods persists in the popular imagination. This is undoubtedly in part due to the famous children's toy Lincoln Logs, introduced by John Lloyd Wright (son of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright), who saw the creative potential of the simple building style.

Several American presidents were born in log cabins--most famously Abraham Lincoln, whose name was attached to the aforementioned toy--and, though he was not one of them, Whig president William Henry Harrison ran his 1840 campaign on the image of a log cabin, signifying humble origins and a hardworking, patriotic spirit. The Clements Library collections hold a number of items commemorating this campaign. Notably, there are a number of versions of the Log Cabin Song Book, a collection of political and patriotic songs related to Harrison's campaign.

[Samuel D. Taylor, The Log Cabin Song-Book (New York, Log Cabin Office, 1840).]

Harrison's run for president is known for being one of the earliest active political campaigns in the nation's history. He traded heavily on the "log cabin and hard cider" image that had originally been meant as a slur on his age and attitudes, and successfully managed to style himself as a rugged man of the people, despite coming from a fairly affluent background.

["Log Cabin Rally!" (Broadside, 1840).]

A broadside advertisement for a Michigan Whig rally reading,
"This even'g. The Whigs of Detroit are requested to meet at the Log Cabin THIS EVENING at half past seven o'clock. The freemen of Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina are calling upon the Whigs of Michigan to follow their glorious example. To do so, fellow citizens, we must be active. The meeting to-night is not only to congratulate each other at the victories achieved in the past, but to prepare for an equally glorious victory in the future. Turn out, then Freemen of Detroit! Let EVERY MAN be at his post. Detroit, Friday August 28, 1840. By Order of the Committee."
Though Harrison's presidency lasted only a little over a month--he died of pneumonia most likely contracted during his extremely lengthy inaugural address--the image of the log cabin continued to gain popularity as a symbol of the American frontier and pioneer spirit, both as a cultural icon and a political symbol.

Happy Log Cabin Day!

Further reading in the Clements Library:

A.B. Norton, The Great Revolution of 1840: Reminiscences of the Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign (Mount Vernon, O. : A.B. Norton & Co., 1888).

John C. Montgomery. Montgomery's Tippecanoe almanac for the year 1841: containing a short history of the life and services of General William Henry Harrison... (Philadelphia, 1840).

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