I’d like to share some thoughts regarding the guest column, “Unruly,” in the Oct. 6 edition of NWA Democrat-Gazette.
The idea of vicious, mudslinging election campaigns is nothing new to our republic. We’ve been going down that road since the early days of the Founders.
In 1800, a newspaper editor who supported Thomas Jefferson said that John Adams “had the hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters predicted Jefferson’s election would bring “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest being openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.”
And Martha Washington wasn’t exactly a fan of Thomas Jefferson. A guest at Mount Vernon in 1802 wrote that “she spoke of the election of Mr. Jefferson, whom she considered as one of the most detestable of mankind, as the greatest misfortune our country had ever experienced.”
In 1804, Aaron Burr, then vice president, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. At least we haven’t had many armed duels recently.
In the 1884 presidential campaign, accusations of racial interbreeding (then believed to be profoundly immoral) were made against President Andrew Jackson. Opposition supporters said his mother was a prostitute and his father was a “mulatto.”
While New York governor, Grover Cleveland was discovered to be paying for a child he reportedly had with a woman to whom he wasn’t married. His opponents came up with: “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” To which Cleveland’s supporters responded: “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” and “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.”
These are only a few examples. So yes, our elections have certainly been unruly (or worse) in the past, and clearly deserve that term today. What’s different today is the extreme level of partisanship. In the past, after all the mudslinging and name calling, and after the elections have resolved who will be serving in the government, both sides were usually able to compromise and make concessions, so a deal could eventually be struck. Today, if you talk about concessions and compromise, you’re considered a traitor. It’s that extreme partisanship, in and out of government, that’s destroying the country. Now: How do we fix it? Or should we?