At some point, the presidential “campaign biography” gave way to the “campaign autobiography.” 1920 fell between those two eras, with this contemporary article noting the demise of the former though the latter hadn’t yet become the norm.
At least four of these campaign biographies were written by authors of standing. No less a man of letters than Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the campaign life of Franklin Pierce in 1852; William Dean Howells prepared in 1860 a campaign life of Lincoln, and in 1876 a campaign life of Hayes; and in 1888 Lew Wallace [a biography of Benjamin Harrison]. There were a host of others in other elections, [including] E.D. Mansfield’s Scott, W.A. Crafts’ Grant, James S. Brisbin’s Garfield, G.F. Parker’s Cleveland, B. Andrews’s McKinley, [and] R.L. Metcalf’s Bryan.
At some point, that morphed into the modern-day tradition of the campaign autobiography. At what point did this change?
While a few presidents before 1920 had written autobiographies, such as Ulysses S. Grant, they were generally written after their presidency had concluded. John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was released in 1956, four years prior to his successful 1960 presidential run, but that book was about other people rather than himself. (And besides, it was actually primarily written by Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen.)
It appears the autobiography trend may have started when Jimmy Carter released Why Not the Best? in 1975, in preparation for his successful 1976 run, as Carter hoped to boost his then-little-known national profile. Others followed suit: George W. Bush released A Charge to Keep in 1999, in preparation for his successful 2000 run, while Barack Obama released The Audacity of Hope in 2006, in preparation for his successful 2008 run.
In the past few years, though, the trend has become a full-scale onslaught.
Within two years prior to their 2016 runs, Hillary Clinton published Hard Choices, Bernie Sanders published Outsider in the White House, Donald Trump published not one but two books (Time to Get Tough and Crippled America), Ted Cruz published A Time for Truth, Marco Rubio published American Dreams, and Rand Paul published Taking a Stand, among others.
Same thing in 2020. Within two years prior to their 2020 runs, Joe Biden published Promise Me, Dad; Kamala Harris published The Truths We Hold, Bernie Sanders published Where We Go From Here, Elizabeth Warren published This Fight Is Our Fight, Cory Booker published United, Pete Buttigieg published Shortest Way Home, Amy Klobuchar published The Senator Next Door, and Andrew Yang published The War on Normal People.
And without books by presidential candidates, how else could we get such intellectual thought-provoking passages as this one from Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal: “I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”
Changing Fashions in Presidential Campaigns
Published: Sunday, October 10, 1920
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