Saturday, August 23, 2008

Founding Fathers' Dirty Campaign

Do you think modern politics are too dirty? Please take a look at the election of 1800. Or maybe the election of 1828.

CNN has an imported Mental Floss article titled Founding Fathers' dirty campaign. It is by Kerwin Swint.

Swint notes:

Negative campaigning in America was sired by two lifelong friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Back in 1776, the dynamic duo combined powers to help claim America's independence, and they had nothing but love and respect for one another. But by 1800, party politics had so distanced the pair that, for the first and last time in U.S. history, a president found himself running against his vice president.

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.

Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind."

1828 was little better. Swint wrote:

John Adams lived long enough to see his son become president in 1825, but he died before John Quincy Adams lost the presidency to Andrew Jackson in 1828. Fortunately, that meant he didn't have to witness what many historians consider the nastiest contest in American history.

The slurs flew back and forth, with John Quincy Adams being labeled a pimp, and Andrew Jackson's wife getting called a slut.

As the election progressed, editorials in the American newspapers read more like bathroom graffiti than political commentary. One paper reported that "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!"

I think the current presidential election is still rather tame. It will have to degrade quite a bit to reach these historic low points in presidential elections.


BB-Idaho said...

Its not so much what is said, but that there are those that believe it.

The Washington Pugilist said...

Those were dirty elections, but worse than Hayes vs Tilden?

I think the best story out of the election of 1800 is how Jefferson hired James T. Callander to slander Adams in the papers, and then Callander went on to write again and again about Jefferson's romance with Sally Hemmings.

I think it's important to remind people how tame today's elections are though, good word.

Jennie W said...

Oh, definitely, I always tell people that dirty politics are nothing new - they've been slinging mud as long as they've been playing politics!

Scott said...

And don't forget religion, which has been at the forefront of every election until 1933 and took lower tone until the election of JFK, a Catholic, in 1960!