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Have Elections Always Been So Nasty?

Our estimable forefathers were as bad — maybe worse

In the 1828 election, Andrew Jackson was branded a “slave trader” and “murderer,” while his opponent John Quincy Adams was blasted as a pimp.

If you’re disheartened by the tone of this year’s presidential election, you won’t find refuge in the good old days.
    Historical presidential contests were as bad as — perhaps even worse — than what we’re seeing. In fact, we seem downright civil compared to some of the low-down dirty tricks and harsh rhetoric of prior elections.
    The 1800 election, pitting then vice president Thomas Jefferson against president John Adams, was heated. Jefferson’s team called the president “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
    However, the lie that could have had the biggest impact in that election was Adams’ camp’s declaration that Jefferson was dead. Jefferson won anyway.
    Even Abraham Lincoln was not above political mudslinging. In the 1860 campaign against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s camp took shots at Douglas’ appearance, calling him Little Giant because he was only 5 foot 4 inches, and noting that he was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”
    Perhaps setting the standard for ugliness was the 1828 election, pitting Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Supporters of Adams called Jackson “a slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.”
    His supporters, in turn, went so low as to call Jackson’s dead mother “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers.”
    Jackson’s supporters said that Adams was a pimp, claiming he had provided the Czar of Russia with an American prostitute while Adams was Russian ambassador. Both campaigns took shots at the other’s wives and created lurid stories about their pasts.
    While it would seem that ugly mudslinging is a part of our electoral heritage, I don’t know that we should be heartened by that fact.