I Do Declare: Election hostility is a matter of “it has always been thus”

You would think this year’s election was the most contentious, most divisive, most acrimonious of any election.

You would be wrong.

I did a little digging and found out that, when it comes to elections, rancor and spite is the order of the day.

To give you a bit of perspective – and hopefully help you regain your equilibrium – here are a few samples of previous U.S. presidential elections:

  • The 1800 presidential campaign between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams got heated up quickly. When Adams called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow,” Jefferson retaliated by hiring a sleazy journalist names James Callender to smear John Adams in the press. Callender wrote that Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character” and spread the false story that Adams wanted to start a war with France. Jefferson ended up winning. Adams left before Jefferson’s inauguration. Though the two eventually patched things up (and wrote inspiring letters to one another), they wouldn’t speak to each other for 12 years.
  • George Washington spent his entire campaign budget on booze. True story. In 1758, when he was running for the Virginia House of Burgesses (the first legislative assembly of elected representatives in North America), he bought 160 gallons of liquor to serve to voters on election day. (Some say this wasn’t his fault. Apparently the custom of buying votes with booze was an English tradition brought over to the colonies.) Later, when he was running for his second term, Washington declared that someone running for president should not be too eager to seek it. Despite his earlier booze-vote-buying, he declared that campaigning was vulgar and undignified and that “the office should seek the man” rather than the other way round.
  • Now and then, one party will accuse the other of pulling voters from death records. The election of 1872 went one better when incumbent Ulysses S. Grant ran against a corpse. Grant’s opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the election was finalized. Grant won anyway, so there wasn’t as much controversy as there might have been had Greeley won. And because he cast it when he was still alive, Greeley’s vote did count.
  • When incumbent John Quincy Adams was challenged by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election, the campaigning got personal. Jackson accused Quincy Adams of being a pimp for the Russian czar while serving as American ambassador. Quincy Adams in turn called Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a prostitute. Jackson ended up winning, but he refused to pay the customary visit to the outgoing presidential when he came to Washington, and Quincy Adams refused to attend Jackson’s inauguration.
  • The election of 1892 was the first time a voting machine was used. It was actually invented years earlier, but candidates resisted using it because it precluded their ability to gain votes through wheeling and dealing.

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