Well there are some who say that this current presidential campaign is shaping up to be a pretty ugly one. And there are others who say that it has already become pretty ugly out there, at least on the Republican side with far too much talk about what the size of a man’s hands might mean. And I suppose I would tend to agree that things have become just a bit too high-schoolish for my taste but, as they say, politics can be a rather nasty business. And if it’s anything that can be said about the campaign of 2016, it’s that it only serves to reinforce that old adage that says, “What was once old is now new again.”
Because as we plod through the 2016 presidential campaign season, in what at times almost seems to be slow motion, we continue to experience what has become an increasing level of hostility and, frankly, it’s getting to the point where I’ve simply started tuning a lot of it out. Hitlery Clinton is under attack as being out of touch, old, dynastic, dishonest, and untrustworthy and rightly so. And let’s not forget the threat of indictment also hanging over her head, although it’s doubtful that the current DEMOCRAT administration is likely to pursue that. But it’s the name calling on our side that has become rather unproductive.
And as is usually the case, it’s every four years that our state-controlled media declares the current election cycle to be the dirtiest in history. And while it is true that negative campaigning continues to win elections, and every campaign does have its share of dirty tricks, the fact is that no modern presidential campaign has yet been able to claim the title of nastiest ever. At least, not yet anyway. Because that title belongs to an election which none of us were around to witness. The ‘honor’ of dirtiest presidential campaign in history goes to the Andrew Jackson/John Quincy Adams contest of 1828.
In providing a little background, it was the previous election of 1824, which was the first time that Jackson and Adams were pitted against each other that actually set the stage for what would become the 1828 slugfest between these two. Jackson was the nominee of the Democratic Republicans, which would come to be shortened to Democrats, as we know the party today. The Democrats of this era were more reminiscent of the modern Republican Party, with a commitment to limited government, individual liberty and states’ rights. Old Hickory, as Jackson was known, was seen as being the choice of the common man.
Now unlike the presidents that had come before Jackson, who were upper class, well-schooled and wealthy, Jackson came from humble means. Poor, Southern, orphaned, and occasionally abused as a child, his up-from-the-bootstraps success as a military hero appealed to the masses. His opponent, John Quincy Adams, was Jackson’s complete polar opposite. The son of the former president and Founding Father John Adams, was privileged, a world traveler, multi-lingual, and scholarly. By the age of 15, he had already worked as a translator in the royal court of Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia.
It seems that Jackson had managed to squeak by Adams in 1824, winning the popular vote, but failing to gather the necessary majority of electoral votes. Jackson had ended up by taking the entire Southwest, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Carolinas, winning a total of 11 out of 24 states. He had garnered 43% of the popular vote and 99 electoral votes. While it was more than any other candidate, it was still not enough for him to declare victory. Therefore, the decision of who would become the next president fell to the House of Representatives.
And it was there, in what Jackson supporters would call the "Corrupt Bargain,” that Henry Clay, an influential congressman (and also a presidential candidate that year), threw his support to Adams, and in return, Clay was named Secretary of State once the Adams administration was in place. Jackson’s camp, of course, cried foul. And thus the groundwork for the nastiest campaign in American history had now been laid. From the start of the John Quincy Adams administration, the Andrew Jackson machine worked behind the scenes lining up support for 1828.
The South was Jackson’s natural base, among the rural, the poor, the “common” people. Jackson needed help in the North, and he found his partner in Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was a New York power broker who served as senator while maintaining control over the New York political machine in Albany. A committed Democratic Republican and fervent opponent of the president, Van Buren felt Adams would concentrate power in the federal government. He threw his influence behind Jackson and with that came significant support in the North.
But Jackson was known to have a number of skeletons in his closet, one that were easy for the Adams camp to exploit in 1828. For one, he had a fierce temper. His violent life included a number of duels, one of which, in 1806, ended with the death of his opponent. For another, General Jackson, during the War of 1812, had ordered the execution of six men in his militia who were accused of desertion. This incident haunted him in the election, when an Adams supporter, a printer named John Binns, produced and disseminated a poster featuring six black coffins, intimating that Jackson had murdered the militiamen.
And in what some I’m sure would call a the echoing the modern-day 2004 election, when military hero John Kerry-Heinz was “swift-boated” by George W. Bush, Jackson’s military successes were turned against him. He was accused of disobeying direct orders when he successfully subdued Spanish Florida in 1819, the equivalent of invading a foreign county. In New Orleans during the War of 1812, his declaration of martial law, and his harsh military rule, became a campaign issue because it had actually happened after the war was over.
Jackson’s marriage was another weapon Adams used in the election. Rachel Jackson had been married, by most accounts unhappily, before meeting Jackson. Rachel divorced her first husband, but the Adams campaign insinuated that her divorce had not gone through at the time she married Jackson. Jackson was accused of adultery and living in sin. Rachel was accused of bigamy. These were no small accusations in 1828. The Washington Daily National Journal, which supported Adams, published a pamphlet claiming that Jackson had fought Rachel’s husband, chased him away and stolen his wife.
However, John Quincy Adams had his own problems. Having been elected as a minority president, he had worked tirelessly to legitimize his administration, supporting federal programs to improve national transportation infrastructure and protective tariffs to safeguard American industry. This left him open to accusations from Democrats of corruption and federal overreach. The South, especially, felt that the tariffs penalized them in order to prop up northern industry. The Jacksonians labeled protective tariffs on iron, hemp and flax as the “Tariff of Abominations.”
Apparently, Adams began his career in public service by working for an American diplomat serving in Russia, eventually becoming America’s ambassador to Russia. And it was the Jackson people who spread the rumor that Adams had provided the Russian czar with the sexual services of an American woman. Adams, or so they claimed, was nothing more than a pimp and his success in Russia was a result of his pimping prowess. Adams was even accused of gambling and of having a pool table in the White House that he supposedly paid for with government money.
As the mud flew back and forth, the campaign got so nasty that Adams completely withdrew from any active participation, feeling that he was above such campaign filth. However, it was one Adams newspaper that went so far as to write, "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!" So it would seem that there was nothing that was to be considered as being out of bounds, even back then.
However, Jackson, on the other hand, was so offended that he became even more involved, instructing his supporters how to respond to accusations from the Adams handlers. Paralleling the 2000 Gore/Bush campaign, Jackson, like George W. Bush, was the candidate voters were more comfortable with, the one they most wanted to sit down, have a beer and shoot the breeze with. Adams recognized this himself. In his diary, even before the election took place, he wrote, "[I]n a popularity contest, in a political contest, no man could stand against the Hero of New Orleans.”
In the end, Jackson won pretty handily in 1828, receiving 56 percent of the vote and 178 electoral votes to Adams' 83. Which brings me to the antics here in 2016. I think we can all agree that those who comprise ‘The Establishment’ have become quite desperate in their drive to stop Trump. But it’s their own fault that we are where we are in this thing. And if the effort to stop Trump has shown us anything, it’s that ‘The Establishment’ holds we voters in rather low regard. Because it would seem that they seek to deny us any attempt at retribution against those who made promises to us in 2014, only to keep none of them. It’s called payback!