A dictionary of Americanisms published in the 1850s linked the word "barbecue" to political meetings in the South and West. And a political cartoon published in 1834 titled "The Political Barbecue" had fun with the concept by depicting the president, Andrew Jackson, with the body of a pig, being grilled by his political enemies, including Henry Clay.
Politicians learned that good food drew voters to hear stump speeches, so oxen and pigs were enthusiastically cooked over the coals. A dive into 19th century newspapers reveals some entertaining accounts:
- New York Tribune, October 26, 1842: At an Indianapolis barbecue Henry Clay gave one of his classic orations.
- The Boon's Lick Times, July 20, 1844: An advertisement for a typical small town political barbecue, at which attendees can eat and hear candidates from both parties for 25 cents.
- New York Tribune, October 11, 1856: The young Republican Party held a massive barbecue in Ohio at which six large oxen were roasted and consumed along with "thousands" of "chickens, pigs, pies, etc."
- New York Tribune, July 28, 1860: A lurid description of a Democratic Party barbecue which turned into a wild scene. Food flew, as did fists: "No less than four rough and tumble fights occurred inside the building, and two on the outside."
- New York Tribune, September 13, 1860: Stephen Douglas, running on the Democratic ticket, attended a barbecue in New York City. The newspaper of Horace Greeley, in the Lincoln camp, reveled in deck headlines such as "The Kentucky Ox Devoured" and "Disgusting Details."
Note: After accessing the newspaper links above you can click the "persistent link" at the Library of Congress Chronicling America site to view the entire page of the newspaper. I'd suggest exploring the old newspaper site, as it's endlessly fascinating.
Photograph: Henry Clay, political heavyweight and star attraction at many barbecues/Library of Congress
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