Once a widespread custom throughout our nation, the political pole raising dates from the 1828 presidential campaign of Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, in small towns across America, pole raisings were a quadrennial event – that is, they were held every four years, just before the Presidential election. Everyone came to town for the pole raising, and the event was accompanied by parades with bands and floats, giant barbecues and magnificent oratory.
Andrew Jackson was the first president to enjoy widespread popular support and to incur violent hatred. No voter was neutral in regard to Jackson. With Andrew Jackson, strict party lines were drawn. Though his political party dated to the administration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, it was at the time of Jackson that his followers became known as Democrats. Those who opposed him took the name National Republicans and, later, Whigs.
The Whigs used the “log cabin” as their symbol and began using a poplar tree for their pole raisings. By 1844, the hickory and poplar poles became symbolic of their respective parties and pole raisings became widespread. With the defining of stricter party lines, political meetings became very popular. National, state and local conventions came in the 1830s. Giant barbecues were held, and parades with bands and floats became popular. Political meetings gave the pioneer the opportunity to meet neighbors, hear the latest gossip, fight, eat, wash it all down with distilled products, and hear the party orators. The pole raising signaled the start of these political gatherings.
The very first “pole” was the “Liberty Elm” in Boston, upon which the effigies of the collectors of the hated Stamp Tax were hung in 1765. This elm became a symbol for the rebellious colonists and “artificial” trees – pine poles — began to mark a rallying spot for patriotic meetings in other towns. Leaders replaced the poles as fast as British soldiers repeatedly cut them down.
By the 1920s, with the advent of modern communications and forms of entertainment other than fiery oratory, pole raisings began to disappear.
from website of the Dearborn County, Indiana Democrat Party. They still hold a pole raising, and can you visit them on the web here.