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

By Bruce L. Felknor | Go to book overview

5
The Ghoul Gambit: Putting the Other Side Beyond the Pale

Since before the fifteenth century, "the pale" has meant the stockade enclosing human settlement, shutting out the barbarians and wild beasts beyond. For almost as long as there have been elections, one way of winning them has been to describe the opponent as beyond the pale: subhuman, alien, dangerous.

What if Thomas Jefferson is elected president? "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will all be openly taught and practiced, . . . the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes" (Editorial, Connecticut Courant ( Hartford), September 15, 1800).

Horace Greeley, running against Grant in 1872, is caricatured by Thomas Nast reaching across the grave of Abraham Lincoln to shake the hand of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth ( "The next in Order--Any Thing! Oh, Any Thing!" 1872).

Guns and swords form the facial features of Theodore Roosevelt: his teeth are bullets; his neckerchief a tattered U.S. Constitution. So the Atlanta Constitution saw the president, seeking reelection in 1904, in an editorial cartoon by L. C. Gregg ( Coyle 1960).

And as for Franklin Roosevelt, that "paranoiac in the White House is destroying the nation, [and] a couple of well-placed bullets would be the best thing for the country" ( Coyle 1960, 372; as much has been said of at least a dozen other presidents).


WAR DEATH TOLL POLITICS

Think of Andrew Jackson as a serial murderer. That was the point of the notorious "Coffin Hand Bill" of 1828, a flier illustrated with drawings of eighteen coffins, each with a mournful caption and each representing a supposedly innocent victim of Old Hickory's wanton cruelty. Most of the decedents were soldiers under Jackson's command who had been court-

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