I often wonder why reputable leaders allow nastiness to play significant roles in presidential campaigns. I don’t know about you, but if I see one more nasty campaign ad I’ll just…change the channel. We have become so accustomed to the campaign nastiness that we often just ignore it. It probably won’t surprise you that nasty presidential campaigning has been going on since George Washington decided not to run for a third term in 1796. Here are seven, nasty campaigns.
1796 – John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson. John Adams supporters called Jefferson supporters “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amid filth and vermin.” And Jefferson’s people referred to Adams as “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, and toothless.”
1800 – Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams. During this campaign Jefferson wrote that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensitivity of a woman.” Adams through his supporters called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
It is amazing to me that after two hard-fought and nasty campaigns, Adams and Jefferson remained life-long friends dying on the same day – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826.
1828 – Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams. In this race supporters of Andrew Jackson spread rumors that Adams was a “pimp” for arranging for an American woman to have a relationship with a Russian czar, even though the claims were false. While John Quincy Adams himself refused to mudsling, his supporters weren’t so passive. They published brochures that reminded Americans that Andrew Jackson married an already married adulterous woman. One Adams supporter, Charles Hammond, wrote in the Cincinnati Gazette, “General Jackson’s mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE brought to this country by British soldiers.”
These two candidates grew to hate each other. When Jackson’s wife died within days of Jackson’s victory, he blamed Adams’ vicious campaign practices, exclaiming at her funeral, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can.”
1884 – Grover Cleveland defeated James Blaine. In this election Americans were exposed to some very nasty “cheers” and “rhymes.” Apparently Democrat Grover Cleveland had sired an illegitimate child and his opponents decided a cheer would be in order – “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha!” Of course the Democrats couldn’t stand for that so they developed their own rhyme, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.”
1888 – Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland. In this election, back before there were laws against it, you could buy votes – and Republican supporter Wade Dudley, who was a prosecutor of Democratic election frauds, managed a ‘payment for vote’ scheme that was very widespread in Indiana. Although it is unlikely it affected the outcome of the election, it was said that Harrison knew about it and didn’t squash it. No doubt this behavior contributed to the secret ballot being adopted in all states by the 1892 election.
1960 John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. Speaking at a Democratic dinner in San Antonio, former President Harry Truman told those gathered, “If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell.” Not very presidential.
1964 Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. Lyndon Johnson’s campaign produced what was and remains today one of the most controversial presidential television ads ever produced. The video, which ran only once, I believe, is known as the “Daisy Girl” advertisement. In this television piece a little girl and an atomic bomb image are used to scare Americans into NOT voting for Goldwater because, it implies, he will instigate an atomic bomb war.
Please vote Tuesday and realize what you have seen this year pales when compared to some of the campaigns of our history. And projected leadership in office should be what we vote for – not on what nastiness we might have read or seen.