October 27, 2008

So you think this election is dirty, eh?

The mudslinging has been building for months. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns have hunkered down in their trenches and have thrown dirt and mud and bits of glass by the handfuls.

"Terrorist lover!"
"Bush Jr.!"

And so on and so forth. Dirty, dirty, politics.

At times, we may be tempted to ruminate over the good ol' days when politics was more of a gentleman's game where the two candidates could set aside their differences when not soliciting voters out on the campaign trail.

Oh, wait. That's never really happened before. Politics has always been a dirty business.

Case in point: the election of 1828. John Quincy Adams vs. Andrew Jackson. (Gotta love historical dirt!)

The dirtiness of the 1828 election actually started four years earlier in the previous presidential election. In the election of 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency by what is now called "The Corrupt Bargain" because the House of Representatives had to step in and determine the outcome of the vote. Those in Jackson's camp cried afoul when the Speaker of the House Henry Clay gave the victory to Adams---and not to their beloved Old Hickory. Once Adams faced re-election four years later, Andrew Jackson was ready to fight.

So on one side of the ring we have John Quincy Adams. Son of the second president of the United States. Long-time member of Congress. Former ambassador to Russia. And on the other side of the ring we have Andrew Jackson. A populist. A military man known for his hot temper. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans.

Even though the two candidates differed sharply on the important issues of their day, the ensuing campaign resorted to personality attacks and vicious rumor-mongering that defined the epitome of dirty politics.

The Adams camp had plenty of material to choose from in their derision of Old Hickory. They focused mainly on Jackson's incendiary temper and how he killed a man during a duel and how he ordered the execution of militiamen accused of desertion. Perhaps the lowest blow though was when the Adams campaign unleashed a personal attack on Jackson's wife, which called into question the legitimacy of their marriage and accused her of bigamy.

The Jackson camp was quick and ready to fire back. They mocked Adams as an elitist. They alleged he had bought a billiards table for the White House and had charged the government for the purchase. (How shocking!) And yet, these were merely petty charges compared to what came next. Jackson supporters started a rumor saying how Adams purchased a prostitute for the Russian czar during his tenure as an ambassador. Of course, the attack was wholly unsubstantiated, but the Jackson campaign delighted in the rumor-mongering---even to the point of calling the president a "pimp." (Adams was so offended by the accusation that he refused to write in his diary from August 1828 until the end of the election.)

Eventually, Jackson went on to defeat Adams in the election of 1828 and secured his spot as president. But his victory was bittersweet. His wife Rachel died shortly before his inauguration and Jackson blamed his political opponents for contributing to her death.

When Jackson arrived in Washington, he refused to pay the customary courtesy call where he paid a visit to the outgoing president. Later on, Adams retaliated by refusing to attend Old Hickory's inauguration. The 1828 campaign stayed bitter and nasty to the end.

And so, if you're sick and tired of this election... If you're counting down the days until November 4th... If you're restraining yourself from punching Sarah Palin (or Joe Biden) in the face...

Take heart, my friends. Be grateful you didn't live in 1828.


  1. I heard about that on NPR. Is that where you did?

  2. Actually, I heard about the 1828election on a show on the History Channel called "The Presidents."

    Yep...I am a nerd. It's one of my favorite documentaries!

  3. Your history lessons are my favorite of your posts. After your novel (which I, too, would like to read!) you should write a history book. Your writing style is so engaging that you could easily make history fun for those who always say they think history is boring. I recently read 1776 (have you read that?) and loved it! Anyhow, thanks for the history lesson.

    I, personally, can't WAIT for this election to be over. I'm not jumping out of my seat for either candidate. There are things in their platforms and campaigns that I like and dislike about each, so I'm just excited for whomever to be elected already and have the country to move on from there. I am (begrudgingly) voting for McCain (mostly because of his experience in foreign policy), but do side with Obama on healthcare and education. I don't know, I'm not crazy about either, so at this point I'm happy for it to soon be over. I'd like to hear about something else!

  4. Thank you, Caroline, for once again bringing everything back into perspective. I love your history lessons!!

  5. I love this little history lesson! Thanks for sharing. :)

    For the record, I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson. Oh, and I hope Sarah Palin goes back to Alaska and never makes it to national politics again. :)