Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dirty Tricks, Mudslinging, and October Surprises

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs
Professor Alex Smith joined us today to share all the details from some of the dirtiest presidential election campaigns in U.S. history. First off was the election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, a pair who started out as best friends but whose friendship was spoiled by their campaigns in 1796 and the results. Until 1804, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be President, and the candidate with the second highest number of votes would become Vice President. So runner-up Thomas Jefferson had to serve as Vice President to his opposition John Adams for four years. People from both parties made outrageous claims about the opposition for the rematch in 1800--the Federalists even went so far as to claim that Thomas Jefferson had died, so a vote for him would be waste. Despite it all, Jefferson won the Presidency.

A few other interesting items:

  • In 1828, supporters of of John Quincy Adams tried to discredit Andrew Jackson by claiming he was illiterate (he did once spell Europe "Urope"). But Jackson, who is famous for saying "It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word," managed to win the election anyway. 
  • The 1876 race between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes was so close that neither party would concede. An electoral commission had to be formed and big surprise, the group of 15 men, 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats, determined Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to be the winner.
  • In the election between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine in 1884, despite the news of Cleveland's supposed illegitimate child, James G. Blaine lost the election due to the unfortunate events of a single day in October. He had failed to denounce the words of a preacher that spoke before him, so it was published that Republicans thought of Democrats only as "rum, Romanism, and rebellion."
  • In the 1908 race between William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft, Taft spent most of his time playing golf while the current President, Teddy Roosevelt, campaigned for him.

If you'd like to read up on Presidential elections, check out the library's books on the subject. Thanks so much to Alex Smith for a fascinating and colorful look at past campaigns.

No comments: