Thursday, October 20, 2016

A history lesson

A really, really annoying whine that I've been reading all year is that politics has somehow descended into  a vulgar state never seen before and that things were better in the good old days. You don't have to be a former history major in college to know that this is  NOT TRUE. When Jefferson and Adams were running for president people were told that Jefferson was an atheist, and an adulterer with the wives of his neighbors, an attempted seducer of his close friend's unwilling wife, a pagan, a man who sold his own slave children by his slave, Sally Hemmings, and that he was a danger to American women and the family. Saying that this was a rough campaign is an understatement. The enslaved concubine story was openly discussed by his enemies and  quietly by his friends for the rest of his life and may have prevented him from speaking up in support of his son-in-law when the younger man proposed banning slavery from Virginia.

When Andrew Jackson ran for president the public was told that he was  bigamist and that his wife, Rachel was a coarse pipe smoking  backwoods harlot who would humiliate the country in front of European visitors to the White House.  John Quincy Adams was accused of gambling (he bought a chess board and a pool table) and of giving his maid to the Tsar of Russia while he was a diplomat there. There were whispers that  James Buchanan's fiancee did not die from illness but committed suicide because of something she learned about Buchanan.  Lincoln was accused of being the son of a black man. In a time when having one drop of black blood could get you sold into slavery or if you were above the Mason Dixon line, cast out from your job, marriage and social connections, this was seriously vicious talk. He was also called an ape, a liar and a dog.  Poor tortured Mary Todd Lincoln was accused of being a spy for the South. She was criticized when she entertained ambassadors during war time and paradoxically she was criticized for not doing anything social after the death of her youngest son and causing Washington to be no fun although the war was still going on. Andrew Johnson was accused of being an alcoholic.

Grover Cleveland was accused of having an illegitimate child and his opponents came up with the famous chant, "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"  Cleveland's supporters responded with, "Gone to the White House. Ha, ha, ha!" Woodrow Wilson was said to have been an adulterer during his university professor days. It was also said that he and his second wife were fornicating before the marriage.  Enemies of Warren G. Harding whispered that he had black ancestry. That claim hung around for many decades and has only been disproved this year with DNA testing.

There were people who tried to fear monger in Protestant USA by stating that Kennedy was going to a devout Catholic. Boy were they wrong! Poor Hubert Humphrey was accused by the Kennedy campaign of being a draft dodger. In truth Humphrey did try to enlist for World War II more than once but was turned down because he had a double hernia, calcified lungs and was color blind.  Does any of this seem nicer than what we've seen and read in recent years?


Politics is a filthy nasty low down business and it was ever thus.



1 comment:

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Lincoln was accused of being the son of a black man. In a time when having one drop of black blood could get you sold into slavery or if you were above the Mason Dixon line, cast out from your job, marriage and social connections, this was seriously vicious talk."

I thought "one drop of black blood" was a later type of racialist legislation, which came into being partly as backhanded Southern revenge for Lincoln+Carpetbaggers+some blacks abusing the victory of 1865.