Political Mischief: Smear, Sabotage, and Reform in U.S. Elections

By Bruce L. Felknor | Go to book overview

2
The Election Campaign: Marketing Politics

In the first days of the American republic, presidential politics was remarkably pure and simple: George Washington was the obvious and unanimous choice for the presidency of a grateful republic. In 1789 the new nation did not have a national anthem; however, the people improvised one to the tune of God Save the King: "God Save Great Washington."

Then, in the course of his two administrations, grumblings and suspicions arose, and even he was seen as pro-British, anti-French, and yearning for an American throne. So the first U.S. president, and the only one ever elected unanimously, also became the first victim of the envy-ridden lies, half-truths, and accusations that would traduce each of his successors.

Despite his later detractors, Washington had needed no advocates to plead his case in the thirteen states. But the instant he decided not to accept a third term, he precipitated his eight-year-old republic into the world's first open election campaign for the chief magistracy of a country that might one day span a continent.


THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

Two slates sought to succeed Washington in 1796. Vice President John Adams and the South Carolina Federalist Thomas Pinckney were pitted against the Democratic Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The country was sharply divided, and each slate had hosts of friends and enemies. The candidates were almost entirely silent, but their partisans were busy. Each side had its spokesmen and detractors.


The Selling of Adams and Jefferson 1796

In other words, both positive and negative campaigning were intrinsic elements of the first bona fide American presidential election campaign. In

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