Wednesday, October 20, 2004

This Election Vitriolic? We Ain't Seen Nothin'!

Yes, everyone is fiercely partisan over the upcoming elections. Well, at least we care is the way I see it. No matter what shenanigans the media and political parties come up with, they don't hold a candle to the sorts of things that have happened in our country's history. Thanks to Tom for this illuminating passage about smear campaigns when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were candidates for president.
One New York paper assured its readers that a Jefferson victory would mean civil war. Hordes of frenchmen and Irishmen, "the refuse of Europe," would flood the country and threaten the life of "all who love order, peace, virtue, and religion." It was said Jefferson had swindled clients as a young lawyer. The old smear of cowardice during his time as governor of Virginia was revived. But most amplified were charges of atheism. Not only was Jefferson a godless man, but one who mocked the Christian faith. In New England word went out that family Bibles would have to be hidden away for safekeeping, were he elected ...

Stories were spread of personal immorality. It was now that a whispering campaign began to the effect that all southern slave masters were known to cohabit with slave women and that the Sage of Monticello was no exception.

Adams was inevitably excoraited as a monarchist, more British than American, and therefore a bad man. He was ridiculed as old, addled, and toothless. Timothy Pickering spread the rumor that to secure his reelection Adams had struck a corrupt bargain with the Republicans. According to another story, this secret arrangement was with Jefferson himself -- Adams was to throw the election Jefferson's way and serve as Jefferson's vice president.

If Jefferson carried on with slave women, Adams, according to one story in circulation, had ordered Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four pretty mistresses to divide between them. When the story reached Adams, he was highly amused. "I do declare upon my honor," he wrote William Tudor, "if this is true General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two."

Most vicious were the charges that Adams was insane.

(John Adams by David McCullough)

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