John F. Kennedy gets credit for one of the first presidential campaign commercials in a foreign language — featuring Jackie speaking Spanish to reach Latino voters in 1960. A century earlier, Abraham Lincoln, too, was preoccupied with a key part of the immigrant electorate of his day. He could have placed ads in a German-language newspaper, but he didn’t.
Instead, in 1859, Lincoln bought the weekly Illinois Staats-Anzeiger, and hired editor Theodore Canisius to campaign for him in German communities.
The handwritten $400 contract stipulated that “said paper, in political sentiment, [is] not to depart from the Philadelphia and Illinois Republican platforms” nor to publish “anything opposed to, or designed to injure, the Republican party.”
Canisius kept his side of the bargain, and a month after Lincoln’s election in 1860, the president-elect gave the paper to the editor.
Lincoln’s little-known foray into ethnic media is one of the revelations of the Newseum’s exhibit, “One Nation with News for All,” on the role and power of news outlets created by and for immigrants and minorities. The exhibit was produced in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s “Our American Journey” program on immigration and migration.
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