Presidential candidates often use their military service to portray themselves as devoted patriots with experience handling military matters. Though many scholars have studied how candidates craft their biographies, or what they emphasize in their speeches and advertisements, few study how candidates talk about their military service in particular. This IS examines presidential candidates’ campaign speeches, advertisements, other campaign materials, and a variety of secondary literature to build a greater understanding of how presidential candidates utilize their military backgrounds in their campaigns. In particular, this IS reviews the 1896 and 1900 elections between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, the 1952 and 1956 elections between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson II, and the 2004 election between George W. Bush and John Kerry. A study of campaign speeches and advertisements reveals that presidential candidates emphasize their own military service to build a biographical narrative of patriotic service and competence, while their opponents attempt to discredit their military service to neutralize this advantage. The importance of military service is a recurring theme in American presidential campaigns, as presidential candidates emphasize their military service their military service throughout the 20th century. This IS furthers the understanding of how and why candidates place emphasis on their military service by analyzing the strategies that several presidential candidates employed historically.


Holt, Katie

Second Advisor

van Dorn, Bas


History; Political Science


American Politics | Political History | United States History


William McKinley, William Jennings Bryan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, George W. Bush, John Kerry, presidential elections, elections, president, military

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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