Negative Politics 1800 Style

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Reason TV reminds us that there is nothing new in regard to negative politics.  The most vitriolic election in US history was probably, as the above video indicates,  the election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

The above video is for my co-blogger Paul, not the biggest fan, to put it mildly, of the Third President of the United States.  Jefferson and Adams were accused of every vice imaginable except, perhaps, of cannibalism.   If  television had been available in 1800 the attack ads would have been sulphurous.

We Americans may rightly complain of the low tone of many of our election campaigns, but we cannot deny they have been part of the way we as a people have conducted politics from the very beginning of our experiment in democracy.  One may deplore negative politics, but I suspect that it is part and parcel of the electoral process and that attempting to drive it from politics through legislation, something that I think would be impossible in any case as well as unconstitutional,  would be the classic example of the cure being worse than the disease due to the diminution of freedom it would entail.

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  1. The only real difference is the media available for disseminating information, especially tv and the internet – that and our population is about 75x bigger today than in 1800, so more people = more rancor to spread around.

  2. I know Don has seen this… the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL, has a video display of what TV campaign commercials might have looked like in 1860 had they existed. The late Tim Russert appeared in these clips originally (don’t know whether he still does). Needless to say they contain a lot of over the top attacks among each of the four (count ’em, four) major candidates — Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and John Bell.

  3. I love those Elaine and I sit through them each year when I am down at the Museum. If they are ever posted on Youtube, I’ll have them up on TAC in heartbeat.

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