|26 STAR AMERICAN PARADE FLAG, MADE FOR THE 1844 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF HENRY CLAY AND THEODORE FREYLINGHUYSEN, WITH CLAY’S PORTRAIT SET WITHIN AN OAK LEAF & GEAR COG MEDALLION AND THE RARE PRESENCE OF COATTAIL CANDIDATES STOCKTON & HOUSTON
|Frame Size (H x L):
|39" x 66.5"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|27.25" x 54.5"
|This bold and whimsical textile can easily be argued to be the most graphic of all known American flags made during the 19th century for political campaign use. In fact, this assertion could be expanded to include all versions of the Stars & Stripes. Made for the 1844 presidential campaign of Whig Party candidates Henry Clay and Theodore Frelinghuysen, it was made to be tacked to a staff and waved at parades or rallies. Printed on plain weave cotton, the flag is extremely large among its known counterparts. The design was conceived at the very beginning of the era of printed flags, with its 26 stars representing the earliest known star count on printed designs.*
Clay’s imposing portrait appears in the center of beautiful, royal blue canton, friendly but with an almost haunting, maniacal overtone. Achieved with a copper plate, this and the surrounding border of oak leaves and acorns are extremely detailed. The wreath and portrait image make this unusually fanciful among portrait style flags, as does the wheel clog border. Beyond this is a wreath of 22 stars, with a flanking star in each corner that completes the fantastic medallion device.
The surnames of the candidates are printed in the same, brilliant blue within the 4th and 6th stripes. Several flags are known in this style, but what makes this particular example far more unusual are the additional names that follow in the 8th and 10th stripes. These represent successful Delaware Whig Party candidates Thomas Stockton (gubernatorial) and John Wallace Houston (congressional). Presidential campaign flags that feature coattail candidates are extraordinarily rare. Their presence here is not only desirable for its scarcity, but the associated graphic impact. Note how the combination of the names, and the field of stripes, with their notedly exaggerated length, add substantial visual effect.
The presentation of this flag is only matched by a variant of the same design, produced for a political faction called the Native American Party, which didn’t put forth a presidential candidate and generally supported Clay’s candidacy. A very similar design was also produced for Democrat opponents James Polk & George Dallas, though not as elongated or quite as striking. Possibly produced by a different flag-maker, there is actually a Clay version of it, extraordinarily similar to the flag that is the subject of this narrative, shorter, with different shades of blue and red, and with a portrait that has very slight differences.
Michigan joined the Union as the 26th state on January 26th, 1837. The 26 star flag became official on July 4th of that year and remained so until July 3rd, 1845. The earliest known parade flags have either 26 or 13 stars and were made within this 8-year period. The only earlier parade flag that can be dated to a specific year are those produced for the 1840 campaign of Whig President William Henry Harrison, who died just 30 days after he entered office.
Clay’s platform focused on the creation of a national currency, promotion of agriculture, and protection of American industry through such devices as protective tariffs. The gear in the canton represents the importance of the advancement of America into the industrial age and less reliance on foreign goods. As it turned out, this issue was not as important to Americans as westward expansion, which was the platform of the successful presidential candidate, James Polk.
It is interesting to note that the 1844 election was the first in which an incumbent president, John Tyler, sought nomination and didn’t get it, which made Polk the Democrat’s dark horse nominee. It is also interesting that Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon Church in 1847, ran as a third candidate. No flags or textiles are known to exist from the Smith campaign.
Biographical Information on Clay and Frelinghuysen:
Henry Clay was born in Virginia on April 12th, 1777, about 2 months before the Stars & Stripes was adopted as the American national flag (June 14th). He studied law at Richmond and moved to Kentucky to practice. In 1806, Clay became a U.S. Senator, even though he was actually younger than 30 years old, the minimum age by constitutional law. This was the beginning of a nearly uninterrupted 46-year term in the House and Senate, where he served as both Speaker and Chairman, respectively. He also served as Secretary of State for John Quincy Adams. Clay ran unsuccessfully for the presidency three times. He ran as a Democratic Republican in 1824, then as a National Republican in 1832, and as a Whig in 1844. He afterwards returned to the Senate, which he served until his death in 1852.
Theodore Frelinghuysen was born in Franklin, NJ in 1787. Before he ran for vice president, he was an attorney, then a U.S. Senator serving New Jersey, then Mayor of Newark, then Chancellor of New York University. In 1850 he became President of Rutgers College, and remained in that position until his death in 1862. His grandson was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
* Although we no longer had 13 states, the 13 star count was also used on printed flags during the same period.
Mounting: The textile has been mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.
The textile has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, that was washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: In the bottom, fly end corner it would appear that a rectangular piece of the last red stripe and a portion of the white stripe above was intentionally clipped. This was placed back in position and stabilized during the mounting process. There is minor to soiling, with a couple of areas of modest to moderate staining towards the fly end, beyond and adjacent to the text. There is minor fading in the red stripes. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use. The flag is in an exceptional state of preservation for the period and presents beautifully.
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