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[Detail] United States Capitol [ca 1846]

Political Portraits

Many galleries displayed images of politicians to entice the public to visit and to sit for a portrait. Searches on terms such as Democrat, Whig, and Republican yield portraits of some of the major figures from the U.S. political parties. Images of Democratic presidents such as Andrew Jackson and James Polk might be compared to ideological adversaries such as Henry Clay, a Whig senator and 1844 presidential candidate, and the 1848 Whig candidate President Zachary Taylor with his cabinet. Republican Abraham Lincoln is also represented in portraits as a clean-shaven senator and as a familiar presidential figure. Additional searches on terms such as senator, congressman, and governor also produce a number of local politicians from the different parties.

  • Do you think that these portraits reflect the ideological differences between politicians or do they present a standard image?
  • To what degree is each person's uniqueness represented in these portraits?
  • How do these portraits compare to the occupational portraits and other images in the collection?
  • What do you think the comparison implies about the role of politicians in American society?
  • How are politicians represented in today's media? How does their representation compare to other "celebrities" who frequently appear in the media?
  • What is the value of a photograph of a historic figure to researchers?