[Ads-l] Campaign trail

Steven Losie stevenlosie at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 1 19:27:36 UTC 2023

I was recently reminded of the old-fashioned term "hustings" and was
interested in knowing when a term like "campaign trail" supplanted it.

Surprisingly, the OED does not have an entry for "campaign trail" and the
DARE does not, either. Merriam-Webster wrote a blog post about it, though,
and the 1884 attestation they found still appears to be the earliest:

[begin quote]
Then says he to me, very suddenly, 'say Sam, I've been on the campaign
trail all day and am dead broke; can't you ask me in to take something
[end quote]
Source: Galveston (TX) Daily News, October 29, 1884, p.6, col.1
Database: Newspapers.com

Here are the next four earliest I could find:

[begin quote]
We somehow, feel a profound pity for the speakers who camp on the campaign
trail of J.D. Botkin, candidate for congressman-at-large.
[end quote]
Source: Salina (Kansas) Herald, Oct 2, 1896, p.4, col.1
Database: Newspapers.com

[begin quote]
The public press owes a higher duty to the public than the mere following
of campaign trails which have been marked out by the machine politicians.
[end quote]
Source: The Butte (Montana) Miner, Feb 27, 1897, p.4, col.1
Database: Newspapers.com

[begin quote]
The Hon. Joseph Martin insisted before the election that justice would be
done on Vancouver Island. That is the identical statement of fact that the
powers that be on the Island are afraid of; hence the rows of
constitutional, alien and other herrings across the campaign trail.
[end quote]
Source: Victoria (BC) Daily Times, Feb 8, 1899, p.4, col.4
Database: Newspapers.com

[begin quote]
The Kieferians have tried to throw the former Mayor Doran off the city
campaign trail by grooming him for the nomination for the lower house of
the legislature[...]
[end quote]
Source: The Saint Paul (MN) Globe, Feb 23, 1900, p.8, col.5
Database: Newspapers.com

The 1902 U.S. federal election cycle is the last one in which I can find no
mention of the term. From the 1904 election cycle on, "campaign trail" is
found uninterrupted, appearing more and more frequently every two years. By
the time of the 1912 U.S. presidential election, it seemed to be fairly

One particularly exemplary instance of the phrase's early usage is found in
this 1903 citation:

[begin quote]
Recognizing the weight of Jimmy's opinion, we call upon the Republican
juvenile ticket to get out on the campaign trail, scour the country, kiss
the babies, let themselves be seen.
[end quote]
Source: The Chadron (Nebraska) Times, Aug 27, 1903, p.1, col.4
Database: Newspapers.com

There is a twelve-year gap between the first attestation in 1884 and the
second in 1896, as far as I could find. However, there are several
proximate usages that suggest the phrase was known and perhaps being used
in that period:

[begin quote]
[...]if Mr. Bidlake starts out on a campaign he will remain on the trail
until the game is captured.
[end quote]
Source: Bismarck (ND) Weekly Tribune, January 28, 1887, p.2., col.6
Database: Chronicling America

[begin quote]
He [Mr. Westerfield] is a candidate for re-election to the Senate from this
county, and wants people to think he is looking for a higher office, so
that they will not trouble him while he lays his plans for re-election. His
paper, the _Leech_, says it will be camping on Hardin's trail the next
campaign. If this is the case Mr. Hardin had better look out, for Mr.
Westerfield camped on a trail last Fall and helped defeat every man on the
Democratic ticket.
[end quote]
Source: Lyon County Times (Silver City, NV), June 18, 1887, p.2, col.1
Database: Chronicling America

[begin quote]
The Grand Island Times suggests that if Frank Hurd, the free trade
democrat, is sent west to speak for the Mills bill, W.H. Gibson, a youth of
twelve presidential campaigns be put on his trail. A very good suggestion.
We have heard Gibson several times, and a speech from him is always a rich
treat — for republicans.
[end quote]
Source: The Columbus Journal (Columbus, Nebraska), September 5, 1888, p.2,
Database: Chronicling America

[begin quote]
Campaign Notes.


J.B. Timmony is also booked for Cache county, and Frankie will think that
chain lightning has struck him when "Tim" strikes his trail.
[end quote]
Source: Salt Lake City Herald, November 2, 1893, p.6, col.1
Database: Chronicling America

Interestingly, Google N-Grams indicates that "campaign trail" did not
overtake "hustings" in the American English corpus until the mid-1970s,
which seems rather late to me.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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