Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Dirtiest Campaign Ever

No, it isn't 2008...
by Tom Van Dyke

Some weeks back, I did a post on the election of 1800 between President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, which featured this lovely campaign ad:


At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is: “Shall I continue in allegiance to


Or impiously declare for


In today's American Spectator Online, Robert D, Novak takes a look, in his review of Edward J. Larson's A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign:

AS THE ELECTION of 1800 approached, Federalists commonly stigmatized the rival Republicans (forerunners of today's Democrats) as "Jacobins" to associate them with the French Revolution, and Republicans called Federalists "monarchists" to associate them with England. Thomas Jefferson, the Republican vice president, publicly accused his 1800 presidential rival John Adams, the Federalist president, of "political heresies." The outspoken First Lady Abigail Adams wondered whether God would protect America if it elected Jefferson, "who makes no pretension to the belief of an all wise and supreme governor of the world."

John Adams, who of late has enjoyed a warm and fuzzy renaissance thanks to David McCullough's biography and HBO's docudrama, was not content with mere words. Republican journalists were thrown in prison under terms of Adams's Sedition Act. Connecticut publisher Charles Holt was jailed and his newspaper shut down for much of the 1800 campaign. Pennsylvania printer Thomas Cooper was jailed for six months.

Jefferson hired the scandalmonger James Thomson Callender, who had uncovered sexual and financial improprieties by Federalist Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, to print "vitriolic assaults" on Adams. (Callender, because of a dispute over payments due him, later turned on Jefferson during his presidency and exposed his fathering of a son by the slave Sally Hemings. In 1803, Callender's body was found floating in the James River.)

Some interesting stuff about good ol' Aaron Burr's chicanery in there, too, and I raised an eyebrow at this one, after Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 electoral votes apiece:

The deadlock lasted for four days and 33 ballots, and endangered the peaceful transfer of power. When Federalists began to talk of an "interim" appointed president (who would be a Federalist), Jefferson threatened Adams with "resistance by force and incalculable consequences."

Oh, my. Jefferson threatening blood in the streets. Well, we made it through 1800 and 2000 somehow, so I suppose we'll get through 2008, too. As a denouement, Novak adds,

The federal union had averted an early crisis, but not everybody was happy. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband: "'What an inconsistency,' said a lady to me today, 'the bells of Christ Church ringing peals of rejoicing for an infidel president!'"

As it turned out, Jefferson might be seen as more religious than Adams, but that's another story...

1 comment:

Brad Hart said...

Yeah...the election of 1800 was a heated one, but I don't know if I would consider it to be the dirtiest ever. What about the elections of 1824 and 28 between J.Q. Adams and "Old Hickory?"