WHEN MY OLD HAT WAS NEW.
When my old hat was new (’twas back in sixty-one),
Brave boys went out to battle and with them Harrison,
They fought for union of the States, for abolition, too,
And many boys were brought home dead, when my old hat was new.
When my old hat was new, G. Cleveland was a man,
But he preferred to stay at home, a-playing cards with Dan;
He hired a substitute to fight — that was much safer, too,
And kept one eye on Canada, when my old hat was new.
When my old hat was new, Judge Thurman was at home,
He thought it was a sin to fight — this Roman just from Rome —
Rebellion he considered right, and negro slavery too;
He kissed the hand that struck the flag, when my old hat was new.
When my old hat was new, the friends of liberty
Knew well the merits of young Ben, while fighting at Peach Tree;
Come now, huzza for Harrison, just as we used to do,
When first we heard our country’s call, and my old hat was new.
No tune given, but undoubtedly “When This Old Hat Was New.” a song that, with various lyrics, dates back to the 17th century.
“Sixty-one” was the start of the American Civil War. Harrison did in fact become an officer and was eventually promoted to brigadier general.
Grover Cleveland, the incumbent president and Democratic nominee for re-election, had hired a substitute to take his place in the army during the civil war; he remained to care for and support his mother while his brothers went into the army. Grover was the one who stayed because, as a lawyer, he had the highest income potential. The “Dan” with whom Grover was perhaps playing cards might have been Daniel Manning, chairman of the New York Democratic Committee, who shepherded Cleveland to the Democratic nomination in 1884. As a reward, Cleveland appointed Manning to be Secretary of the Treasury.
Allen Thurman, AKA “The Old Roman,” was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. He didn’t support secession, but he didn’t support a war to return states that had seceded either. He favored compromise and a political solution to the events of ’61 rather than a war. He didn’t support emancipation, and he opposed Negro Suffrage. As a congressman he voted for the Wilmot Proviso which would have banned slavery in the territory gained from Mexico: not because he opposed slavery but because he opposed moving Blacks into the territory, which he felt should be reserved for White settlement. Thurman was “Judge Thurman” because in the 1850s he had been an Ohio Supreme Court justice.
Cleveland did not campaign in 1888, considering that campaigning was beneath the dignity of a president of the United States. Instead he sent out Thurman, who mostly complained about his health and, on two occasions, fainted on stage.
“Young Ben” was Benjamin Harrison. “Peach Tree” was Peach Tree Creek, a battle during the Atlanta campaign. Harrison had been present in command of his regiment, and had acquitted himself well.
In the illustration above, the planks of the Democratic Platform (on the left, descending from the portrait of Thomas Jefferson) read:
What We Stand by.
War Taxes Must Cease
No Treasury Surplus
Taxes Sufficient for Government Expenxe
Equal Rights To All Men
From Majority Rule … No Appeal
A Jealous Care for the Rights of the People
Economy in the Public Expenses
No Rings or Political Favoritism
Honest Payment of Public Debt, and the
Preservation of Our Public Faith
Next time: Cleveland’s Vice