Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

American Politics: A History of Invective, Chicanery, and Mudslinging


The 2016 presidential campaign season has been exceptionally entertaining of late—not to mention disgusting, enraging, and outright maddening. So when I ran across this article that I originally posted in this space on October 31, 2012 (and we thought that campaign was appalling!), I decided it was just too applicable not to post again, with a couple of minor updates. I apologize for the rerun, but since several years have passed I hope it entertains you again as much as it did me!

Every presidential campaign season I ruminate on the history of American politics, and since the current primary race is so, um, interesting—and we haven’t even gotten to the main event yet—I thought this would be a timely and lively topic to revisit. We hear a lot of complaints about personal attack ads and dirty tricks, especially from the politicians who are themselves most guilty of using them. But you don’t have to do much digging to discover that political chicanery is a time-honored American tradition that has been exercised with glee since America was still a collection of British colonies on the course toward revolution. So let’s take a quick tour of some of the more egregious examples from our nation’s history.

Political parties didn’t exist in this country until we were well on the way to revolution. At that point, the division between those who supported the British and those who opposed them spawned the Loyalists, or Tories, and the Patriots, or Whigs. There was no such thing as neutrality between the two points of view. Anyone who didn’t support one side was automatically consigned to the opposition. Where Patriots held sway, mobs often forced Loyalists out of their homes, denying them legal counsel and trial. Loyalists might be jailed, have their property confiscated, their citizenship revoked, and even be exiled. Where Loyalists held power, Patriots suffered similar treatment. At times someone of the wrong political persuasion was even tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Mobs played a big part in colonial politics, particularly in Boston, where Dr. Joseph Warren helped to refine mob rule into an art form. But mobs were a force to be reckoned with throughout the colonies. In June 1775, one placed the home of New Hampshire’s last royal governor, John Wentworth, under siege, demanding he turn over his guest, John Fenton, who had urged acceptance of the latest British proposals to avert the crisis. When Fenton understandably refused to comply, the crowd wheeled a cannon in front of the mansion and beat on the walls with clubs until the hapless offender finally gave himself up. Fearing for his and his family’s safety, that night the governor fled with his wife and young child to the fort in Portsmouth harbor, ending decades of British rule in that colony. Nothing like the direct approach to changing your government!

From America's earliest days as a democracy, name-calling and character assassination has been a highly popular tactic, such as when Davy Crockett accused Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s corsets. In 1828, when John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson vied for president, Jackson’s campaign nicknamed Adams The Pimp, based on a rumor that as the American ambassador to Russia he had forced a young woman into an affair with a Russian nobleman. Adams’ supporters responded by circulating a pamphlet claiming that Jackson's mother had been a prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers, and that Jackson was the offspring of her marriage to a mulatto!

The name-calling in the 1800 presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, however, takes the prize for no-holds-barred mudslinging. Some of the charges and counter-charges are cited in this hilarious YouTube video. You might want to also check out some of the others that show up on the sidebar for additional entertainment. And you thought our modern politics was bad!

In 1840, American politician Thomas Elder wrote to a friend that “Passion and prejudice properly aroused and directed do about as well as principle and reason in any party contest.” Every campaign season we see the proof of that claim.

So what do you think about the current presidential election? Has the political scene improved any since this article was posted in 2012 or has it degraded even further? What are your main (nonpartisan only!) gripes about American political campaigns? What, if anything, can be done to change things?
~~~
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers, an author, editor, and publisher, and a lifelong student of history. Her novel Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won ForeWord Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.

3 comments:

  1. A great reminder, Joan.

    "What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun."
    Ecclesiastes 1:9

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