Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Stump Has Landed

A crowd of people stand in the summer heat. They wave improvised fans back and forth to stay cool and mill about exchanging pleasantries and local gossip. The politician rises up in their midst atop a simple tree stump. From this familiar platform he speaks to the everyman, giving voice to concerns, using powerful words and gestures to stir, convince, and compel the audience. He delivers his message, holding attention if only for a few moments.

The expression “on the stump” originates with the 19th century America custom for candidates campaigning to make use of what was at hand to raise them above the crowd waiting to hear them speak.  In small rural towns tree stumps or logs were readily at hand and thus became the icon of the daily standard speech politicians gave throughout the long campaign season.  Over time “stump” was added to describe the central speech given by a politician working to stay “on message,” hammering home his or her key points to a new crowd every day.

Our man on the stump!
Dudley Mays Hughes campaigning for Congress in the early 1900s.
Today the politician no longer speaks from the tree stump of rural America, the wagon bed, or the hotel window. The stump is instead a radio broadcast, a cable news show, a website, or social media tool. Technology has changed the style and speed of delivery, but the sentiment remains the same. Modern politicians still mount their platforms and attempt to stir their audience with a compelling message.

The Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies values the enduring tradition of the stump. This icon of American representative democracy graces the floor of the lobby space in our exhibit gallery as a reminder of the dynamic relationship between politics, policy and culture – generated wherever public interest intersects with government. Using this framework of perspectives and experiences, the Russell Library encourages visitors to explore the increasingly diverse people, events, and ideas shaping Georgia’s political landscape.

Since opening the galleries in February, our stump was a stand-in. The wooden circle in the middle of the seal was a plywood place holder, inserted temporarily while we waited for the real stump. The final piece of wood -- a disk taken from a 150-year-old Georgia white oak that lived, thrived, and fell recently in southwest Atlanta -- was given many months to dry under the careful watch of the carpenters at Watson Springs, so that once installed in the floor the chance of it continuing to expand and contract would be relatively small. And after months of waiting, today our stump was installed by Landus Bennett and Richard Shrader of Watson Springs. We thank these fine folks for taking such excellent care of this centerpiece in our gallery space -- it looks fantastic and we can't wait for visitors to step onto the stump and make proclamations!

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