The Boston Globe: Old-time politics even nastier

October 9, 2012 

For those of you despairing about the nasty tenor of elections today, the ugly partisanship of politics, the polarity of the press: Be happy you weren't around in the 19th century.

The fight between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams got so ugly that Abigail Adams despaired it could have "ruined and corrupted the minds and morals of the best people in the world." Consider these highlights of 19th-century bare-knuckle politics while watching the next debate.

Jefferson v. Adams, 1800: Attack of the Personal Attacks! Remember those founding fathers, so brilliant, so inspirational? They were also mean. Jefferson was accused of being pro-French and running a "Congo harem" out of Monticello. Adams was accused of conspiring to marry his daughter off to the British king's family, in order to establish a royal bloodline.

Andrew Jackson v. John Quincy Adams, 1828: Swift Boats and Birtherism! Jackson was accused of murdering defectors in the War of 1812. Jackson supporters accused Adams of serving as a pimp for the Russian czar.

Abraham Lincoln v. Stephen Douglas, 1860: Our Looks-ist Nation! Lincoln supporters mocked Douglas for being "as tall as he is wide." Lincoln foes, well into his presidency, made fun of him for looking like an ape.

Grover Cleveland vs. James G. Blaine, 1884: Rhyme Battle! Blaine, known for his corruption, had to put up with chants of "James G. Blaine, continental liar from the state of Maine." Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child, leading to chants of "Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa?" When he won, his supporters came up with a response: "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"


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