The Rooster: Its Origin as the Emblem of the Democratic Party
by John Fowler Mitchell, Jr., Associate Editor of the Journal of American History
Published in The Journal of American History in 1913.
AT THE CLOSE of a most notable campaign in American history, when a Democratic victory has swept the country from coast to coast, it is fitting that the story of the origin of the party’s emblem-the Rooster-be told in this little volume, for it was in the heart of Indiana, in a pioneer campaign back in 1840 that the proud bird came into its own. To be more exact, the emblem’s birthplace was Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, and its originator Mr. Joseph Chapman, one of her famous sons.
By those who have followed Indiana’s literary history it will be remembered that Greenfield is the birthplace and home of the beloved Hoosier Poet, Mr. James Whitcomb Riley, and we shall see in the development of this story how the poet is indirectly connected with the Chapmans.
Greenfield, in 1840, was scarcely a town,-merely a little settlement of pioneers whose huts, built upon the National Road, basked in the summer sun, with the occasional rumbling of a stage coach and the muffled note of the woodman’s axe to break the monotony of her drowsy simplicity.
In the pioneer communities the tavern was the center of social life and interest, and Greenfield was no exception to the rule. Strange to say, Greenfield’s first tavern, built in I834, by Joseph Chapman, the originator of the Democratic emblem, stands today in a fair state of preservation. Apropos to this, with your pardon, I will add that my great-grandfather, Mr. James B. Hart, purchased the old tavern from Chapman and sold it to the Goodings, who are its present owners.
The tavern was headquarters for the Democracy of this part of Indiana and it was here that the political career of Chapman had its beginning.
Joseph Chapman was an honest, sincere man, gifted with a pleasing personality, a convincing tongue, and a wit remembered to this day for its keenness. His personality expressed itself in every movement at the opening of Hancock County’s history, and the debt this particular section of Indiana owes to Joseph Chapman, had he not given us the Democratic emblem, is indeed great, for he was an efficient county officer, a legislator, an orator and a soldier.
Mr. Chapman was a native of the Buckeye State and lived for several years in Rush County, Indiana, before coming to Hancock County in 1829. He was twice married; first to Miss Jane Curry, by whom he had six children; the second time to Miss Matilda Agnes, by whom he had five children. His first wife is buried in the old cemetery in Greenfield. He was elected Clerk of the County in 1832 and representative in the lower house of the Legislature in 1837, 1839, 1841, 1842, and 1843.
From the very beginning of his political career he was the most optimistic politician then stumping the country and this characteristic was always associated with Chapman. At the beginning of each campaign Chapman claimed every county in the State. He was a spellbinder of note and would, by one of his characteristic speeches, put new life and new hope into a section or community that was overwhelmingly Whig. This sort of thing today would be called boasting, but to the men of the early period it was “crowing.” Especially did the opposing party,- the Whigs,-dub Chapman’s original style of oratory-“crowing.” Despite this fact Chapman’s style was effective; so much so that he was sent into doubtful sections and always succeeded in securing a Democratic victory.
A picturesque and interesting character was this Joseph Chapman, of Greenfield, and a Democrat of the Jacksonian type, a man of the people.
The period of which I write was the famous “Log Cabin and Hard Cider k-ainpaign” of i84o, and it was at this time that the Democrats chose for their . National emblem the Rooster. It was the first National campaign after the panic of 1837 and the Whigs were encouraged by the coming of iiialiv Democrats to their ranks. These Democrats believed that by the changing of the party in power better times would follow. The Democrats had selected Martin Van Buren to lead them in the approaching campaign. The Whigs held their convention il,. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and William Henry Harrison and John Tyler were chosen as their leaders. General Harrison was at one time Governor of Indiana Territory and by his brilliant military victories at Tippecanoe, and other Indian strongholds in Indiana, was a popular military hero in the Hoosier State. No doubt many older men will remember the campaign song of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” The Democrats had been in power several years and the possibility of electing Van Buren was indeed discouraging. However, the depressing situation did not dampen the ardor of Joseph Chapman, who remained as optimistic as of yore.
Joseph Chapman, at this time, was a candidate for representative in the Legislature against Thomas D. Walpole, the most brilliant Whig, in Eastern Indiana, and his personal campaign was one of the most complete in his career.
Early in the campaign the two candidates announced that they would travel together and speak from the same platform, as was customary at that time. Arrangements had been made for a great celebration in the north central part of the State and both candidates were to be there, Mr. Walpole speaking to the people from the standpoint of a Whig and Mr. Chapman advocating Democratic principles.
Mr. Walpole was a man most particular about his personal appearance and alwavs appeared in a well tailored suit and a ruffled shirt. This subjected him to a great deal of public criticism from Chapman, the Democrat, who stvled him “a fop in a ruffled shirt.” The night before this meeting Mr. Chapman -gave his home-spun shirt to the wife of the tavern keeper to be laundered and ready for him the next morning. During the night, unfortunately, the shirt was stolen from the line and the Democratic candidate spent the greater part of the morninin bed. His opponent kindly offered one of his ruffled shirts but Chapman would not think of appearing in such attire. Mr. Walpole insisted, explaining that the neck could be turned under and his coat buttoned over the ruffles. As there was no alternative Chapman fell into the trap.
The Whig candidate spoke first, closing his address with the usual criticism of the Democratic party. Mr. Chapman followed with a denouncement equally as bitter a-ainst the Whigs, also calling the attention to the frailty of a candidate who unfailingly appeared in a ruffled shirt. After Mr. Chapman bad concluded the young attorney, Walpole, stepped again before the people and said he was not in favor of putting a man in office who was an impostor, declaring, “This Democrat has criticised me for wearing a ruffled shirt. Now, gentlemen, behold his ruffled shirt!” at the same time throwing open the front of Chaprnan’s coat. However, we can forgive Walpole for this, a[s] later he left the Whigs and became a Democrat.
Mr. George Pattison at this time was the editor of “The Constitution,” a Democratic newspaper published in Indianapolis. It is quite evident that unencouraging reports of the situation in Hancock County reached his ear and he wrote a letter in June, 1840, to the Postmaster, William Sebastian, one of the leaders of the party in the county. A copy of this letter it has been my good fortune to secure. It is the famous message to Chapman which was at first taken tip as a sort of battle cry by the Democratic press in central Indiana, and like wild fire spread throughout the land. The letter is as follows:
“Indianapolis, June I2, 1840.
“Dear Sir:-l have been informed by a Democrat that in one part of your county thirty Van Buren men have turned for Harrison. Please let me know if such be the fact. Hand this letter to General Milroy. I think such a deplorable state of facts can not exist. If so, I will visit Hancock and address the people relative to the policy of the Democratic party. I have no time to spare, but I will refuse to eat or sleep or rest so long as anything can be done. Do, for heaven’s sake, stir up the Democracy. See Chapman, tell him not to do as he did heretofore. He used to create unnecessary alarms; he must CROW! we have much to crow over. I will insure this county to give a Democratic majority of two hundred votes. Spare no pains. Write instanter.
The letter was read and left on the table in the post office, where it was picked up by Thomas D. Walpole, read and copied. It was published in the Indianapolis Semi-Weekly journal, the leading Whig newspaper of the State, June 16, I840. Its publishers were Douglass & Noel. This paragraph appeared before the letter in the journal as follows:
“TELL CHAPMAN TO CROW”
“If any of the friends of General Harrison have felt at all discouraged as to the result, either in August or in November, we think a perusal of the letter published below will cause all their fears to vanish. The confidence exhibited by the Van Buren party is assumed only for effect and this letter, from the pen of the principal Van Buren editor in this town, is not only characteristic of the source from which it emanated, but will sufficiently illustrate the truth of our remarks. The copy has been handed us for publication by a citizen of Greenfield.”
Then follows Mr. Pattison’s letter to the postmaster as printed above.
It is quite evident that the discovery of the letter by the Whigs created a sensation. Below is another article copied from the “Indianapolis journal” which appeared June i6, 1840, written by a Whig of Greenfield and sent to the paper for publication. The article is as follows:
“Greenfield, June 12, I840. “Mr. Editor: “A letter came to the postoffice in this place this morning, addressed to the Postmaster, by the editor of the ‘Constitution,’ asking for information on the state of our politics, and giving advice which he considers of vital importance to the party in its present sinking condition. A Whig accidentally got hold of the letter and took a copy. It shows, if anything can, their true situation as understood and felt by themselves. It calls in the most desponding language, on the Postmaster at this place to write immediately and let him (the editor of the ‘Constitution’) know if any such a deplorable state of things does really exist as had just been reported to him by a creditable Van Buren citizen of this county. This deplorable state of things is nothing more than this creditable Van Buren citizen had told him that he feared Van and Howard could do nothing in this county, and that within his own knowledge thirty to fifty original Jackson men had left Martin Van Buren and joined the stand of General Harrison. The editor then requests the postmaster to tell Joseph Chapman (the lo-co-fo-co candidate for Representative in this county) for heaven’s sake to CROW, Yes CROW, even if their case appear to be hopeless. He tells him to speak as though he were confident of success. He then, probably by way of illustration and to show what is meant by ‘crowing,’ states that Marion County is safe for a majority of two hundred Van Buren votes. He also calls on the assistant marshal, General Milroy, a petticoat hero, to stir up the Democracy while he is engaged in his official duties of taking the census. This letter shows that the locos are aware of the true condition of affairs and to keep up appearances the hired officeholders and office seekers are informed that they must crow to keep up their fast sinking cause. The editor of the ‘Constitution’ can be furnished with a copy of this letter by addressing the Tippecanoe Club of Greenfield.
“ONE OF THE CLUB.”
A month later another letter appeared in the “Semi-Weekly journal” in its issue Of July 30, 1840. The letter is as follows:
Greenfield, July 13, I840.
“Mr. Moore: “As the Loco-focos keep a CROWER in our county I will take upon me occasionally to let you know how we are getting along, and give statements of facts only. Mr. Chapman has, since he received his peremptory order to crow, been doing all that lies in his power as a CROWER. But as the people are now satisfied that he is only obeying imperative orders, his CROWING passes off with about as great profit to him and his party as would the shearing of a squealing porker to his shearers. He has been crowing very loud lately, hoping thereby to effect something for himself and his party in an election for magistrate in Blue River Township. The election took place on last Saturday and the result was that the vote of Mr. Hackleman (Whig) more than doubled that of Mr. Gallaher, who is a very prominent Van Buren man. Mr. Hackleman received eighty-seven votes and Mr. Gallaher forty-one votes. It is proper to state that Mr. Gallaher has always been very popular in his township. He has always heretofore received almost a unanimous vote. Mr. G. ran for sheriff at the last election and was second highest on the list where four others were running for the same office. At that time, however, the Whigs knew of no CROWING ‘bulletins’ bein- issued, and a great many of them voted for Mr. Gallaher.
“You may rest assured that all will be right in this county at the August and November elections. Mr. Chapman can have no possible hopes of being elected, notwithstanding he has the ‘census taker’ to assist him in crowing. He has resorted to means that no honorable man would, by making unfounded statements, calculated to injure the private character of Mr. Walpole, his opponent. His slanders against Mr. Walpole he attempts to prove, by obtaining a certificate which answers his purpose, from Col. Tague. But this certificate Mr. Walpole rebukes by getting another certificate from Col. Tague (who is a very accommodating old gentleman in the certificate line) which makes exactly a counter statement to the one he gave Chapman. The two certificates show what is phrenologically termed ‘Destructiveness’ more than anything I can now think of, except the story of the two ‘Kilkenny cats.’ The first certificate aims at the destruction of Mr. Walpole’s private character; the second being from the same person and exactly reverse of the first, will be likely to show its destructiveness on the veracity of its good-natured vender, and lastly, like the Kilkenny cats, the two certificates destroy each other, and in this instance do not leave even a greasy spot.
It will be noticed that the idea of “crowing” was the theme against which the Whig political writers centered their attack. Indeed, the Whigs had discovered the uneasiness of their opponents and had also, by the finding of the letter, ascertained the policy outlined by Mr. Pattison-to keep up the fight for appearance’s sake alone.
The word “crowing” fitted Chapman to the letter and the Whigs made the most of it. Strange to say, this idea of gameness, daring, or tenacity, expressed in the order “Crow, Chapman, Crow!” caught the popular fancy of the Democrats; they liked its ring. They were in sympathy with their leader, Mr. Chapman, and the expression “Crow, Chapman, Crow!” was taken by them as complimentary to their leader rather than a term of ridicule, as the Whigs had used it. Notwithstanding this avalanche of criticism, or the handwriting on the wall, of the parties approaching defeat, Joseph Chapman fought on, and while the Democracy went down in defeat in the National election, he was elected Representative to the Indiana Legislature. At the close of the August election in 1840 the “Semi-Weekly journal” of August I3, I840, could not resist the temptation of another thrust and printed the following editorial:
“CROW, CHAPMAN, CROW’!
“A letter written from this place on the 12th of June last to the postmaster at Greenfield, directing Chapman to ‘crow’ and declaring that the party had much to crow over, says,
“‘I will insure this county to give a Democratic majority of 200 votes.’
“Well, it did give upwards of 300 Democratic majority-not indeed for patent Democracy-but for the real Harrison Democracy.”
The campaign of 1840 was the greatest that had ever occurred in the State. At this time the West was gaining recognition in the East, and with it the conviction that this part of the United States was to be a factor in the election. The Whig candidate for President, General William Henry Harrison, was a western man and lived in a small and modest house at North Bend, on the Ohio River, a short distance from the Indiana line. The Democrats in the campaign styled General Harrison the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider Candidate.” His friends took up these terms and made them the party’s battle cry. This year was also the first campaign in which processions, parades and barbecues were introduced as a part of the political campaign work. In every State great processions paraded the streets and country roads, carrying miniature log cabins and barrels of hard cider.
In no State did political excitement run higher than in Indiana. The great meeting of the campaign was held at the Tippecanoe battle ground, where the principal orators of the party addressed the people upon the very spot where their standard bearer a few years back won his brilliant military victory.
The Whigs had in their parades miniature log cabins and barrels of hard cider. Their battle cry of the “Hard Cider and the Log Cabin” no doubt created a desire among Indiana Democrats for a similar cry. When the phrase “Crow, Chapman, Crow!” was introduced they seized upon it and forthwith adopted the characteristic fowl, the Rooster, for their emblem. The Indiana press heralded the phrase and the new-born emblem to the four corners of the State. Gradually it grew in favor and importance, other newspapers in other States copied it, and in a comparatively short time the Rooster was accepted and recognized as the National emblem of the great Democratic party.
June 21, 1841 a new Democratic paper was started in Indianapolis called the “Indiana State Sentinel.” It was published every Wednesday by C. A. and J. P. Chapman. These gentlemen were not related to Joseph Chapman. The first number of the paper, at the head of the first page, contained a picture of the Rooster and the phrase “Crow, Chapman, Crow!” This same head was carried for a number of years thereafter. On the editorial page of Volume I, No. i, a mention was made of the letter incident.
In another chapter I have related briefly the story of Mr. Chapman’s later campaigns and of his associates who in after years brought fame to their home city. It goes without saying, however, that he became a most popular man and prominent in the Legislature during the following three or four years, where he was heralded as the “Crowing Joe Chapman of Hancock.”
In October, 1847, Joseph Chapman enlisted with a company organized in Greenfield for the Mexican War, and in the service of his country turned his back upon his friends, his home and family, never to see them again. His letters home were most characteristic, especially those sent to his wife.
As he fought, we fancy his mind often returned to his home, and no doubt to the “Hard Cider Campaign” of 1840. He soon dropped from the pages of history, for he fell in battle and sleeps today in an unmarked soldier’s grave on a tropical battlefield of the Mexican plains. A little band of comrades laid him to rest and sent back this message to Greenfield: “Crowing Joe Chapman fell today in his last campaign.”
PART TWO – CHAPMAN AND HIS HOME FOLKS
After Mr. Van Buren’s defeat he made a tour of the West, in 1843, following the route of the National or Cumberland Road, which is the main thoroughfare in Greenfield. His visit to Greenfield was a great occasion and the Democrats made extensive preparations for his entertainment. The journey from the East was made by stage and almost all of the stage drivers were Whigs.
During President Van Buren’s administration he had vetoed a bill for an appropriation for the improvement of the National Road. The West was greatly displeased at this action for the road in many places was almost impassable. The stage-drivers had planned to give the Ex-President an opportunity to count the mud holes along the road. Near Greenfield there was a steep hill and at a signal the driver pulled his horses to the side and the famous traveler was thrown into the mud. When Mr. Van Buren arrived in Greenfield he was in a deplorable condition and new clothes had to be provided.
Later in the day a public reception was held in the front room of the Chapman tavern. Mr. Joseph Chapman took great pleasure in introducing his young son, Martin Van Buren Chapman, to the Ex-President. This same Martin Van Buren Chapman later became a teacher in the Greenfield Academy and is responsible for a large portion of the early training of Mr. James Whitcomb Riley, who was his pupil. In another part of this book a letter from Mr. Chapman is reproduced.
Captain Reuben A. Riley, father of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet, and Joseph Chapman, in 1844 announced their candidacy for Representative in the Legislature. David S. Gooding and George Henry also came forward for the same office. Mr. Henry was elected. Later, however, Mr. Riley and Mr. Gooding were elected to represent Hancock County in the Legislature.
David S. Gooding was a well known character in Eastern Indiana history. After long service in his State and county he was appointed United States Marshal of the District of Columbia under President Johnson. These men were very close friends and judge Gooding at that time was influential in National affairs. It is to Judge Gooding that the credit belongs for the preservation of this story of the Rooster. I copy below a letter written by judge Gooding to Martin Van Buren Chapman, who, in a previous letter, had asked for correct information regarding his father’s connection with the Democratic emblem:
“Greenfield, March 10, 1886. “M. V. Chapman, Esq.
“Dear Sir:-In answer to your request to be correctly informed as to the connection of your father, Hon. Joseph Chapman, with the origin of ‘Crow, Chapman, Crow!’ I can say that I am quite sure that the following statement is substantially correct, to-wit: In May, June or July, 1840, Hon. Thomas D. Walpole was the Whig candidate and Hon. Joseph Chapman was the Democratic candidate for Representative in the Legislature, and during the canvass Chapman seemed to be growing despondent, whereupon George Pattison, the editor of the ‘Constitution,’ a Democratic paper published in Indianapolis, wrote a letter addressed to William Sebastian, then the Democratic Postmaster at Greenfield, Indiana, in which he was requested to encourage Chapman in the contest and in which letter about these words occurred: ‘Tell Chapman to Crow.’ The letter was opened and laid on the table and while so lying Walpole came into the postoffice room; he was reported to have read and copied the letter. At all events the letter was soon thereafter published in the ‘Indianapolis journal.’ If the files of the journal for the year i84o have been preserved the letter can be found therein at some date between April, and August, There may possibly be some slight inaccuracy herein, but nothing material. I am, etc.,
“DAVID S. GOODING.”
Mr. Gooding, in 1859, formed a company to establish a newspaper in Greenfield. My grandfather, Mr. William Mitchell, was associated with Mr. Gooding in this enterprise. The paper was called “The Hancock Democrat,” with Mr. Gooding as its first editor. However, Mr. Gooding’s connection with the paper was of short duration, as Mr. Mitchell, early in its history, became sole owner and editor. The paper never changed hands and is today published by my father, Mr. John F. Mitchell.
I wish the space of this little book would permit of the telling of some of the campaigns through which this paper has passed , but as I am simply tracing the origin of the Democratic emblem I am denied that privilege.
However, I shall state that during the War of the Rebellion the paper was seized by the Government and its presses used in printing muster-rolls and other army orders. Two issues of the paper did not appear on this account and are the only ones missing from the files. Many of the earlier poems of Mr. James Whitcomb Riley first found their way into type in the columns of this paper.
The story of the “Rooster” was a favorite theme of my grandfather and whenever it was possible to use a cut of the proud bird in his newspaper it was reverently incorporated. He purchased in Cincinnati a mounted rooster during the Tilden campaign and this old bird has been used in parades during every campaign since. It is now preserved in a glass case and is no doubt the oldest rooster in the county.
It might be of interest to many to read the following letter from Martin Van Buren Chapman to my father; I therefore present it. Mr. Chapman enclosed a clipping in his letter from the “St. Louis Republic” of April 8, 1907, printed under the head of “Answers to Correspondents,” which gives a wrong statement regarding the subject of the sketch. The clipping reads as follows:
“The emblem of the Democratic party at the time of President Jackson’s administration was the hickory pole and broom. About the year I840 there was a Democrat living in Indiana named Chapman who was known in all his neighborhood for his gift of crowing like a rooster. One story is that in reply to a desponding letter of Chapman about the political situation in the presidential election of 1840, in which William Henry Harrison was the candidate against Van Buren, a friend wrote an encouraging letter ending with the words, ‘Crow, Chapman, Crow!’
“Another account makes the letter pass between two friends and ending with the words, ‘Tell Chapman to Crow.’ The letter, whichever it was, was published and the phrase spread. In 1842 and 1844, after Democratic victories in those years, the Rooster came into general use as the emblem of Democratic victory.”
Mr. Chapman’s letter is as follows:
“Ada, Okla., April 12, 1907
“John F. Mitchell, Editor Hancock Democrat, Greenfield, Ind.
“Dear Friend and Pupil:-I am located in this city and have been for seven or eight vears. I am now 73 years of age and in fairly good health. My brother, W. W. Chapman, is in Allen, Texas, now 7I. Mrs. Caroline Chapman, widow of William Chapman, lives here at the age of Si. T. J. Alley (Tom), who has for ten years been exploring the Holv Land, paid me a visit from Jerusalem, Palestine. He is past So. Doubtless you remember all of these parties as from Greenfield or Hancock County.
“I send you a clipping from the St. Louis Republic concerning the origin of the Rooster as an emblem of the Democratic party. The question has been raised often, and again and again answered that Joseph Chapman, of Greenfield, by his great efficiency in imitating the crowing of a rooster, started the scheme rolling. This is error, as my father never crowed like a rooster. I visited Greenfield in i886 or 1887, I think, and during my visit judge Gooding gave a statement to me in writing as to the origin of ‘Crow, Chapman, Crow!’ and told me to consult the files of the Indiana State journal, of April, May, or June, 1i84o, and the original letter that gave rise to the matter would be found. T sent Willie Mitchell, a newsboy of the Democrat, to consult the files, and Gooding’s letter and the journal’s statement were published in the Hancock Democrat while William Mitchell was still living.
“Now, in the interest of historic accuracy I request you to examine your files and reproduce the article in question that a matter of historical importance (politically) be corrected and set at rest.
“I would appreciate a copy of the Democrat if the item appears.
“M. V. CHAPMAN.”