Friday, October 30, 2020

"Clear the Track" for the Original Republican Elephant - the Republican Elephant Revisited


Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog recently posted an article about the history of the Republican Elephant,[i] finding several boot-and-shoe advertising elephants in a Republican newspaper in 1860, and use as a symbol of the Republican Party, at least within southeastern Pennsylvania, from as early as 1864. A series of political Cartoons by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly beginning in 1874 is believed to have brought the image of the Republican Elephant come into general use.  

But within hours of posting the article, while looking for places to share it online, I ran across an earlier use of an elephant in an advertisement for a pro-Lincoln rally, published August 9, 1860, pushing the earliest use of a Republican Elephant back four more years. 


 We are Coming!

Clear the Track!

A Political Earthquake!

The Prairies on Fire for Lincoln!

See, “The True Origin of the Republican Elephant,” Michael Zak, Grand Old Partisan blog on

Although I did not run across any other mention of it while preparing my earlier post, it has apparently been noticed in the past.

First recorded use of the elephant as a Republican symbol occurred Aug. 9, 1860, in the Illinois State Journal.  A Political rally for Lincoln was announced by a dynamic elephant wearing boots and running full speed.  A sign on his blanket said “Clear the Track” and headlines beneath cried “A Political Earthquake” and “The Prairies on Fire for Lincoln.”

The Miami Herald, January 22, 1968, page 17.

In subsequent searches prompted by this earlier example, I found one more, similar example, from several weeks later.  It appeared in a newspaper in Bedford, Pennsylvania, which lies in southern Pennsylvania, about 150 miles west of Reading and Lancaster, where the elephant would later be used as a symbol of the Republican Party, beginning in 1864, a decade before Nast’s cartoon reached a wider audience in 1874.

 Look Out for The

Clear the Track!

Lincoln is Coming!

Bedford Inquirer (Bedford, Pennsylvania), October 12, 1860, page 2.

Although these two early examples add a new chapter to the history of the Republican Elephants, they do not erase the significance of its use in southeastern Pennsylvania from 1864 to 1874.  These early examples do not necessarily reflect the conscious use of the elephant as a symbol for the Republican Party.  They may have been simply independent, one-off examples of Republicans using a convenient stock advertising image to advertise their rallies.  Between these two early examples and Nast’s cartoon of 1874, all of the other examples of early Republican Elephants are from Reading, Lancaster and Philadelphia, in southeastern Pennsylvania.  There is no indication that the two earliest uses directly or immediately resulted in the party, or anyone else, adopting the elephant as a Republican symbol.

The two earliest pro-Lincoln elephants were not the first elephants in Republican newspapers.  Identical elephants had appeared regularly in a Lincoln campaign paper, The Rail Splitter, in Chicago throughout the summer and fall of 1860; not as a symbol of the party, but as advertisements for boots and shoes.[ii]

It may be possible that these early elephant advertisements in a pro-Lincoln newspaper came to represent, in the minds of the readers, the Republican Party.  However, there is no direct evidence that this was the case.  The argument would be stronger if the image at issue originated in that newspaper, but it existed independently as an advertising image at least a month before its first appearance in the first issue of the Rail Splitter in June of 1860, and in a different city. 

The elephant appeared in an advertisement for what was apparently a grocery store or general store, not a boot and shoe store as more commonly associated with the image through the following decades (as detailed in my previous post).


Clear the Track for the Elephant!

For Koch’s Corner!

To Get Cheap Goods.

Holmes County Farmer (Millersburg, Ohio), May 17, 1860, page 3.

Of particular interest in the ad, as it relates to later political usage, is the appearance of the expression, “Clear the Track.”  In my earlier post, I described the expression as a “pro-Republican, political catch-phrase” from the period, as it was used in association with many of the early Republican elephant images in Reading and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  But its use in a grocery store advertisement, with the same elephant, years earlier suggest that it was something more.

“Clear the Track” appears to have been a common pre-race announcement at the racetrack.  It was later adapted for use in reporting on political races, political slogans and advertising for any number of products.


“Clear the Track” - Racetrack

“Clear the track” is an expression that dates to at least 1820.  The dominant sense seems to have been as an expression from horseracing.  It appears to have been shouted before a race to clear the track of people, in a day when racetracks were not the enclosed, secure arenas they are today.

In an 1818 book about the behavior of alcoholics, a man on a horse, emboldened by liquor, fancies himself the “best Tacky on turf” cries, “Clear the track! Clear the track d—n you, clear the track.” 

A poem about cheating at the race track, published in 1820, describes the action at the start of a race.

   But now the starting trumpet peal’d,

And shouts arose along the field –

   “Riders are mounted – ho! Fall back –

Hell and Potomack! Clear the track!” 


The Raleigh Minerva (Raleigh, North Carolina), May 28, 1820, page 4.

A similar scene was described in an account of a horserace held in Natchez, Mississippi about a decade later, reprinted in a newspaper in a city better known for horseracing, Lexington, Kentucky.

To horse! To horse! The judges cried,

Riders are up the throng replied . . . . 

Now the bustling scene commenced, the Stewards’ voices were heard on every side, clear the track! Clear the track! Cross over to the other side –drive off that dog! Shoot the dog! (poor dog,) it was not his day, the dog days are over.

Kentucky Reporter (Lexington, Kentucky), January 21, 1829, page 4.

And an account of a horse race in Kentucky, originally published in 1836, recounts several phrases used before the start of the race; the first one is “Clear the track” and the last is still familiar to even casual fans of horse racing today.

I was deafened with loud cries of “Clear the track!” “Stand back!” “Get off the fence!” “The riders are mounted!” “They are coming!” “Now they are off!”

“A Quarter Race in Kentucky,” by a North Alabamian (originally published in The Spirit of the Times (New York), 1836), Colonel Thorpe’s Scenes in Arkansaw, Phildelphia, T. B. Peterson & Brothers, 1856, page 18.

Political Races

Horseracing imagery was applied to politics as early as 1829.  An article from Kentucky, which then, as now, was a horseracing Mecca, names the candidates and signals the start of the race. 

There is one candidate out to supply the place of Maj. Moore, we allude to Mr. Pope, and there are two others Mr. Senator Daviess and Mr. B. F. Pleasants, who from present appearances will be before the people.  Mr. Pleasants is popular and well known throughout the district, and he will not lose, in point of talent, in comparison with Mr. Pope himself.  Clear the track.

The Olive Branch and Danville Advertiser (Danville, Kentucky), March 21, 1829, page 3.

The Presidential election year of 1840 brought more examples of “Clear the Track” in political advertising.  The campaign for President was a horserace between two major candidates, the Whig Party’s Benjamin Harrison (“Tippecanoe” of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” fame) and the incumbent President, a Locofoco Democrat, Martin Van Buren.

Clear the track, then, for Harrison and Van Buren. Let us have a fair race and no interference.

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), August 20, 1840, page 2.

With the Presidential candidates set, lesser candidates fought it out in local races held at various times before the Presidential election in the first week of November.  One article about the race elevated the horserace metaphor to high art.

Races! Races!! Races!!!

Hip! Hip!! Hip!!!

All the stables are full and running over now with young Medocs, and Colliers, and Uncases, and the Lord only knows what, and more coming. . . .  The whole attention of the public is devoted to “fillies, dams, and $50 on the --- filly against the field.”  Gen. Harrison and Van Buren have retired from the turf till after the races.  It is all race nags, “best three in five – I’ll take that bet – clear the track,” &c. &c. . . .

Boon’s Lick Times (Fayette, Missouri), September 12, 1840, page 3.

By the time the Presidential campaign of 1844 rolled around, the imagery of the expression, for the most part, had shifted, from clearing the track for a race among several horses, to clearing the track to make way for a particular candidate.  The shift appears to have been prompted by a more general use of the expression outside of racing, and the lyrics of a new hit song, which was adapted as a popular campaign song for the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, a Senator from Kentucky.

“Clear the Track” – Get Out of the Way

Outside of horseracing, the expression “clear the track” was used in the relatively new technology of railroads, and was adapted by anyone else trying to make a path for themselves or some particular thing.

Davy Crocket used the expression to clear a shooting path for a shooting contest.  To get a clear shot at his target board during a shooting contest held with a large crowd, he said, “Damn it, clear the track, and put up my board.”[iii]

In 1838, Officer Thornton of the Philadelphia Police Department cleared a drunken man from the railroad tracks.

Charles Brown (the Browns are getting to be as wicked as the Smiths) raised the steam so high that he fancied himself one of the locomotives; finding a difficulty in walking home, he laid down on the railroad in Dock street, and began to kick out his heels. “Clear the track!” shouted Charles.  Thornton came and cleared it, by lugging him off to the office. Fined.

Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), November 14, 1838, page 2.

The expression appeared in an ode (well, actually a sonnet) to a Locomotive, published in 1840.

Sonnet to a Locomotive.


Phiz! Whiz! A fiery subject for the muse!

   I pity Shakespeare, and I pity Milton!

They ransacked heaven and earth, but never thought

To what perfection steam was to be brought;

   For if they had ‘tis clear they ne’er would lose

A theme such glorious musing could be built on.

   Phiz! Clear the track! How the trees fly behind us!

And how the locomotive flies before us!

   If Robert Fulton could rise up and find us

Speeding at this rate, how he would encore us!

   Phiz! Whiz! Thou fiery steed! Thou iron horse!

Great space exterminator! Thus in votive,

   Though simple rhyme, I honor thy huge force,

Thou steaming, screaming, Nashville locomotive!



Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), July 18, 1840, page 2.

Children sledding down the middle of a busy street would yell, “clear the track.”

“Clear the Track.” “Clear the track!” he shouts, as he adjusts himself upon his miniature sleigh, gathering up his garments, and striking his heel into the packed snow, preparatory to a swift course down the long street.  “Clear the track!” he shouts again, as he starts on his arrowy flight.

Buffalo Courier, Feb 11, 1856, page 1.

The expression was even used in defense of the hoop skirt, an iconic hallmark ante-bellum America.

Last, but by no means the least, a correspondent sends us a wrathy article on hoops, and demands that we shall wage upon them a war of extermination.  O knight of rashness!  We withhold the name of the correspondent in mercy to him, while we proceed to say in vindication of the article which so excites his wrath, that we suppose hoops to a woman to sustain a similar relation to that of the cow-catcher to the locomotive.  They certainly have a tendency to “clear the track.”

The Advocate (Buffalo, New York), November 25, 1858, page 1.

“Clear the Track” – Advertising Slogan

The expression found its way into advertising as early as 1840.

The expression was used in advertising as early as 1840.

Regency mud traps, and trappers,

Clear the coop, and clear the track;                       

(Old Tip’s in the field,) And the Campbell’s are coming in;

First rate – no mistake.


5,000 Milk Pans and Tin Pails, of all descriptions, for sale at the Old Tin Factory.


2,000 Tin Cups, suitable for Hard Cider, Log Cabins, and tented fields – with a full and complete assortment of Plain and Japanned Tin Ware. . . .


George Hubbard & Co.

 Commercial Advertiser and Journal (Buffalo, New York), April 10, 1840, page 2.

 Spirit of the Age (Woodstock, Vermont), October 28, 1842, page 3.

Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph (Pomeroy, Ohio), August 5, 1852, page 4.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio), August 31, 1852, page 2.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 7, 1852, page 3.

 Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York), August 8, 1856, page 2.


“Clear the Track” – Political Slogan

This secondary sense of “clear the track” (as a warning to get out of the way) found its way into political rhetoric as early as 1839.

“Clear the Track for Paul Black” for Sherriff.

Lancaster Intelligencer, August 20, 1839, page 3.

What will our friend Col. Thomas J. Green of Warren county, and Judge Shattuck, of Carroll, say to this?  Are they willing to have their claims postponed, to make room for Judge Guion? We imagine it will be a difficult task for federal leaders to clear the track so unceremoniously.

The Old Soldier (Jackson, Mississippi), September 15, 1840, page 3.

Make Way – Clear the Track! Here Comes the Federal Reform. The federal ‘coons [(the Racoon was the symbol of the Whig Party)] in Congress have created a debt of $12,000,000!         

The Ohio Democrat (Canal Dover, Ohio), September 2, 1841, page 3.

“Clear the track for Democratic Oneida!” shouts a Utica correspondent; she takes the Democratic Banner! Majority 1602!”

New York Tribune, November 17, 1841, page 2.

William Slade must go to Congress again.  Horace Everett, can’t get into them boots, no how – he must go to congress again. . . . Scour up your Jarvis collars so that all may know whose dogs you are, and go it with another hard-cider rush! Nothing like Steam! Go ahead! W-h-i-s-h! w-h-I s-h-h! whish! Whish! Whoo-eep! Whoo-eep! Whoo-eep! Whoo-e-e-e-e-p-p! whoo-e-e-e-p-eep! Eep! E-e-e-e-p-p-p! clear the track!!!

Spirit of the Age (Woodstock, Vermont), March 25, 1842, page 2.

The expression was also used metaphorically, to describe the United States’ growth into a world power.

Drive on your horses! My hearers – the spirit of the age is, drive ahead, if you upset your wagon and spill your milk – keep up with the popular crowd, and leave the old slow, careful coaches in the lurch.  “Get out of the way, old Dan Tucker!” is all the go now-a-days, musically, morally and mechanically speaking. . . . Emperors, kings, princes, and potentates! Get out of the way, for we are coming with our fast horses! Clear the tack for Young America!

“Short Patent Sermon,” Elbridge Gerry Paige (“Dow Jr.”), The Luzerne Union (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), December 8, 1847, page 1 (From the Sunday Mercury, later republished as part of Dow’s Patent Sermons (1857)).

This last example is particularly interesting in explaining the sudden rise in popularity of “Clear the Track” as a campaign slogan in 1844.  It resulted from using the expression in campaign song lyrics, sung to the tune of the popular song, “Ole Dan Tucker,” which first caught the attention of the public in about 1842.  “Clear the Track” fit with the tune, because the chorus of the original repeats a similar expression (“Get out de way”) three times, and because “Dan Tucker” was a near rhyme for Clay’s home state of “Kentucky.”

Get out de way, Get out de way, Get out de way now, Ole Dan Tucker you’re too late to come to supper.

The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as sung by the Virginai Minstrels, adapted for the Piano Forte by Thos. Comer, No. 1. “Ole Dan Tucker,” Boston, Geo. P. Reed, 1843.

The theme of getting out of the way, or clearing the track, was fitting because of the recent history of the Whig Party and its candidates getting out of one another’s way.  The Whig candidate, Benjamin Harrison, was elected President in 1840, but died shortly after assuming office.  His successor, President John Tyler, however, was at odds with Whig leadership through most of his term in office, so they looked for a loyal Whig candidate to carry the mantle in 1844.  They found one in Henry Clay, a Senator from Kentucky.


The National Clay Melodist, a Collection of Popular and Patriotic Songs, 2nd Edition, Boston, B. Adams, 1844, frontispiece.

Comments made in 1842 suggests that Clay had first stepped aside for Harrison in 1840 (“Coon Convention” refers to the Whig Convention, the Raccoon being the symbol of the Whigs).  Tyler would give way to Clay in 1844.

In 1840, Mr. Clay had to clear the track for Old Tippecanoe – it having been decided by a grand Coon Convention, that he was too well known, and would not do to bet on.

Mecklenburg Jeffersonian (Charlotte, North Carolina), December 27, 1842, page 3.


Mr. Clay’s withdrawal from the Senate appears to have been a preconcerted signal of attack by that portion of the Whig press favorable to his elevation to the Presidency, and by his adherents throughout the Union upon the administration of John Tyler.  The administration of Mr. Tyler is to be effectually broken down, in order, as is alleged, that Mr. Clay may have a clear track for the campaign of 1844.

Madisonian (Washington DC), May 31, 1842, page 8.

By early 1844, the expression was part of a campaign slogan used by the Clay campaign.  “Old Kentucky” refers to Henry Clay.

The Whig Standard (Washington DC), February 17, 1844, page 2.

The slogan was borrowed from a campaign song entitled, “The Moon was Shining Silver Bright,” sung to the tune of “Ole Dan Tucker.”

The National Clay Melodist, a Collection of Popular and Patriotic Songs, 2nd Edition, Boston, B. Adams, 1844, page 29.


The Ashland Text Book, Third Edition, Boston, Redding & Co., 1844, page 63.

A Whig-friendly newspaper compared the Locofoco Democrats’ electoral chances with the steps of a new dance, the Polka, which was first introduced that year.  They were said to have danced the Polka at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore in 1844, but it is unclear whether they did in fact dance the dance, or whether it was merely a pun on the name of their candidate, James K. Polk, of Tennessee.

It should be known that the movement of the Polka is ‘one step forward and two backwards.’  Our friends of the Loco Foco party are to dance this new fandango in November next, to the tune of ‘Old Dan Tucker.’

Get out the way – you’re all unlucky,

Clear the track for Old Kentucky!

N. Y. American.

The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina), July 2, 1844, page 2.

Perhaps due to the popularity of the song, “Clear the Track” appears to have been primarily used as a Whig campaign slogan that year, although the Locofoco Democrats also employed the expression. 

When such men as the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Capt. Stockton of New-Jersey, Gulian C. Verplanck of New-York, and hosts of others, avow their preference for the Democratic nominees, there can be but little doubt which way the current runs. 

Then huzza for Polk and Dallas. The steam is up; clear the track for the Loco-motive!                                                                                          

Sentinel and Democrat (Burlington, Vermont), July 3, 1844, page 3.     

“Clear the Track” remained a popular campaign slogan throughout the following decades, for Whigs, Democrats, and later (after the dissolution of the Whig Party over internal disputes over the expansion of slavery into new territories) by the Republicans.

George R. Parburt, Esq., the Democratic nominee for Congress from Geneva, New York, wrote the following lines in 1848, imagining the “working man” as an onrushing steam-powered locomotive.

Clear the Track for the Working Man!


Clear the track for the working man –

   The steam is up – the bell is ringing;

Truth’s locomotive in the van,

   Is free the elective franchise flinging!

See – the long train of human rights

   Through dark opperession’s nobly dashing;

See – on Democracy’s fair heights

   Blest freedom’s sun light round it flashing!

      The working man’s the noble man, etc.


Detroit Free Press, October 26, 1848, page 2.

A campaign song for the “Locofoco” Democratic candidate for President in 1852, Franklin Pierce, retained the onrushing train imagery.  It appeared in the campaign newspaper called, Young Hickory, which was Pierce’s nickname, modeled after Andrew Jackson’s better known nickname, “Old Hickory.”

Clear the Track.

Air – “Old Dan Tucker.”

Clear the track! The bells are ringing!

Don’t you hear the “Locos” singing?

A Loco train is now at hand,

Well freighted with a jovial band.

Then clear the track! The bells are ringing,

Clear the track! The bells are ringing,

Clear the track! The bells are ringing,

Don’t you hear the “Locos” singing.


Young Hickory (Buffalo, New York), August 26, 1852, page 1.

John C. Fremont ran for President on the first Republican ticket in 1856.

John C. Fremont’s Coming.

Tune – “Old Dan Tucker.”

Come, let’s sing a song quite jolly

For an end to reign of folly;

Frank Pierce’s jig is nearly up,

Tho’ bitterly he’s filled our cup.

Clear the track!

Clear the track!

Clear the track!


Songs for Freemen: A Collection of Campaign and Patriotic Songs for the People, Utica, New York, H. H. Hawley, 1856, page 44.

An undated volume of “Ethiopian Songs” includes a song which, while written in period dialect with words that shock or offend today, may ironically apply the same locomotive metaphor to the Underground Railroad.  One reading of the lyrics is as a reference to slaves fleeing north on the Underground Railroad, which has known by that name since at least as early as 1842.

Abolitionism. . . . “Twenty six Slaves in one week. – Sam. Weller is requeste4d to tell the slave-holders that we passed twenty-six prime slaves to the land of freedom last week, and several more this week thus far.  Don’t know what the end of the week will foot up. – All went by “the underground railroad.”

Vermont Telegraph (Brandon, Vermont), October 5, 1842, page 3.

The lyrics may also be a reference to the unstoppable abolition movement, generally.  “Bullgine” is a period expression referring to a locomotive engine.


Oh here’s a song that never was sung

By any n[-word] old or young,

An if you all will listen to me,

I’ll sing about some n[-words] that’s free.


So clar de track de bullgines coming,

Clar de track de bullgines coming,

Clar de track de bullgines coming,

See de n[-words] how dey’re running. . . .


Misses Tucker an ole Joe,

To take a ride one day did go,

An Daniel Tucker thought he’d shine,

Along wid de gal in de cabbage line.


So clar de track, &c.


N[-word] Melodies; Being the Only Entire and Complete Work of Ethiopian Songs Extant, New York, Nafis & Cornish, undated [1842-1850][iv], page 119.

The Republican Party latched onto the “Clear the Track” slogan in 1860.  When someone combined the slogan with a stock advertising image of an elephant wearing boots to advertise rallies in support of Abraham Lincoln in August and October of 1860, they replaced the traditional imagery of an onrushing train with an onrushing elephant. 

Four years later, Republican newspapers and political clubs in southeastern Pennsylvania would adopt the Republican Elephant wearing boots as a recurring symbol of Republican politics.  A decade later, Thomas Nast’s cartoon would help establish the elephant as a permanent symbol of the Republican Politics. 

It couldn’t be stopped.

“Clear the Track!”

[For a history of the Republican Elephant, beginning with the continuous use in Lancaster, Reading and Philadelphia in southeastern Pennsylvania, see my earlier post, An Elephant in Boots – a Well-Shod History of the Republican Elephant.]

Father Abraham (Reading, Pennsylvania), Volume 1, Number 9, September 27, 1864, page 2.

Reading Times, December 8, 1876, page 1.





[ii] See Footnote 3, “An Elephant in Boots – a Well-Shod History of the Republican Elephant,”

[iii] Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, of West Tennessee, New Edition, New York, J. & J. Harper, 1833, page 122 (“’D—n it, clear the track, and put up my board,’ was shouted from the lips of Crocket, and I discovered old Betsy poised aloft in the air.”).

[iv] The catalogue record of the book, housed at Emory University and made available online at, gives the date as “between 1842 and 1849,” which agrees with the years in which the New York publishing house Nafis & Cornish was in business, as suggested by references to the company in newspaper records.  The predecessor of the Baptist publishing firm, Sheldon & Company, bought out the interests of a company called, “Cornish, Lamport & Co., successors of the old firm of Nafis & Cornish” in 1853 or 1854.  The Biblical Recorder (Raleigh, North Carolina), March 22, 1866, page 4.  Earliest reference to Nafis & Cornish on is in the New York Tribune, May 13, 1843, page 4; the latest reference is from the New York Tribune, September 10, 1850, page 3. The earliest reference to the successor firm, Cornish, Lamport & Co., is from the New York Tribune, November 16, 1850, page 1.

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