With the Trump-Clinton presidential campaign over and Thanksgiving fast approaching, there’s one thought that’s been echoing in my consciousness over the last few days: “I’m glad that election is done.”
Our country just went through a vicious presidential campaign, and no matter your politics, you witnessed the barrage of arrows and rocks that were sent flying from one camp to the other for months: the venom, the anger, the lies, juvenile and thoughtless comments, and leaked insights into the behind-the-scenes sludge of one of our nation’s major political parties. Throw in a mountain of legal, even criminal, issues, and man, it was U-G-L-Y.
Yet, it was also amazing… in a way that had many of us asking, “How in the Wide World of Sports did we end up here?”
Has it ever been this bad?
Honestly, I don’t know that the 2016 campaign will ever be surpassed for the sheer number of headshakes, groans, exclamatory sentences and forehead slaps from the American public. But, if you want some perspective – and I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse – consider the presidential campaign of 1828, recognized by many historians as the dirtiest campaign ever run. It featured Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and John Quincy Adams, son of the 2nd US president, John Adams. However, to fully appreciate how nasty things were, we need to start with the 1824 presidential election that included the same two gentlemen.
Andrew Jackson was a self-made man, a military hero who grew up poor and orphaned in the rural South. At 15, Jackson was reportedly kidnapped, beaten by British soldiers and left to fend for himself in South Carolina. He never learned to spell.
Jackson promoted himself as a man of the people, a stark contrast from John Quincy Adams, who by the time he was 15, had traveled throughout Europe, spoke several languages and actually worked as a translator in the court of Catherine the Great, the Russian Empress.
In the election, Jackson won the popular vote, but with four candidates in the election, including influential congressman Henry Clay, no man garnered enough electoral votes to win the presidency. The winner would be decided by the House of Representatives. It was then, in what Jackson supporters called the “Corrupt Bargain,” that Clay gave his full support to Adams – in exchange for the Secretary of State job in the new Adams administration.
President John Quincy Adams took the oath of office on March 5, 1825. Andrew Jackson spent the next three years laying the groundwork for his campaign against the incumbent president. His “talking points” in the next election included the following:
*Adams’ support of federal programs included protective tariffs to safeguard American industry. The Jackson camp accused him of corruption and federal overreach as the tariffs were viewed as penalties on the South, used to prop up northern industry. The tariffs on iron, hemp and flax were labeled as the “Tariff of Abominations.”
*Adams worked as America’s ambassador to Russia. The Jackson camp spread the rumor that Adams provided the Russian czar with the sexual services of an American woman. They claimed that Adams was a pimp.
*Adams was accused of gambling – including a buying a pool table for the White House that he purchased with taxpayer money.
The President Adams team also came fully loaded:
*Jackson had a volatile temper. He killed a man in a duel in 1806, and during the War of 1812, Jackson ordered the execution of six militiamen who were accused of desertion. An Adams supporter produced a poster with six black coffins, implying that Jackson had murdered the men.
*Adams turned Jackson’s military success against him by accusing Jackson of disobeying direct orders when he fought and won in Spanish Florida in 1819. The action by Jackson was positioned as the invasion of a foreign country.
*In the War of 1812 in New Orleans, Jackson declared martial law and his rule was seen as harsh, particularly so as it occurred after the war was over.
*Jackson’s wife Rachel had been married before meeting him, but the Adams team insinuated that Rachel’s divorce had not been finalized at the time she married Old Hickory, and that the two of them were living in sin. The Washington Daily National Journal, known to support Adams, published a pamphlet that stated Jackson had beaten Rachel’s husband and had stolen his wife.
*Another Adams newspaper wrote “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!”
Ultimately, Jackson won the 1828 campaign with 178 electoral votes to Adams’ 83. But the campaign took its toll on Rachel Jackson who became ill and died only days before Jackson was to begin his presidency. He firmly believed that his beloved wife was killed by the accusations of adultery and bigamy from the Adams camp. On inauguration day, Jackson refused the traditional visit with the outgoing president.
So… maybe the 2016 election was not the worst. Just be thankful that it’s over. And as Secretary Clinton suggested in her concession speech, “we owe Donald Trump an open mind and a chance to lead.”
Hopefully, that sentiment from her and other public figures will help heal the campaign wounds for many Americans.
At least until the bloodbath begins again four years from now.
A Public Service Announcement: Send a declaration now via certified mail to your Thanksgiving guests: no political conversation until after the pumpkin pie. That way, if everyone storms out, at least there won’t be a mound of leftovers.