Thursday, October 21, 2004

How Nasty are the Presidential Campaigns of 2004?

How do the campaigns of 2004 compare with the shenanigans of campaigns past?

An excerpt from a recent piece in the WSJ:

"Early elections (of Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) were usually sedate if far from unanimous affairs. John Quincy Adams' election in 1824 was a landmark because it accelerated the move toward choosing electors by popular vote. Out of 356,038 votes cast, Andrew Jackson emerged the clear leader with 153,544, Adams being 40,000 votes behind. Jackson also had the most electoral college votes, 99 to 84, with 78 for other candidates. But under the 12th Amendment, if no candidate got a majority of the college, the election went to the House, which picked the winner from the top three, voting by state. This put the choice effectively into the hands of Henry Clay, the all-powerful Speaker, who gave it to Adams, on the secret condition Adams made him secretary of state. Jackson denounced the election as 'a corrupt bargain,' and there was a growing feeling that future presidents must be chosen by the voters. Hence the re-run in 1828, in which Jackson again stood against Adams, was also of great significance since it was the first popular one in U.S. history.

"It inaugurated the habit of long campaigns, since Tennessee nominated Jackson for president as early as Spring 1825, more than three years before the vote. The 1828 election saw the first 'leak' and the first campaign posters. As Jackson was known as Old Hickory by his troops -- it was 'the hardest wood in creation' -- Old Hickory clubs were formed all over the county, Hickory Trees were planted in towns, and Hickory Poles erected in villages. (Campaign badges and waistcoats had already been introduced in 1824.)

"Adams' supporters retaliated by the campaign poster known as the Coffin Handbill, listing 18 murders Jackson was supposed to have committed. Those who claim the current election is the dirtiest know little about 1828. An English visitor, shown a school in New England (where Adams was paramount), put questions to the class, including 'Who killed Abel?' A child promptly replied 'General Jackson, Ma'am.' An Adams pamphlet accused Jackson of 'trafficking in human flesh,' another accused his wife of being a bigamist and adulterer. After seeing it, she took to her bed and died shortly after the election. To his dying day Jackson believed his political enemies had murdered her. On his side, pamphlets accused Adams of fornication, procuring American virgins for the Tsar while serving as ambassador in Russia, and being an alcoholic and sabbath-breaker. A White House inventory listing a billiard-table and a chess-set led to the accusation that Adams had introduced "gambling furniture." (His most curious presidential habit, of taking a daily swim in the Potomac stark naked, went unnoticed.)

"Jackson won the popular vote in this first razzmatazz election, 647,276 to 508,064, and the College by a clear majority. His inauguration was followed by a saturnalia in which thousands of his supporters invaded the White House and engaged in a drinking spree. The Spoils System (a new term) was inaugurated by the ejection of Adams' men from public offices, a process called The Massacre of the Innocents..."

Pretty staid compared with today, wouldn't you say? Read the rest here.

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