Presidential Campaigns

Presidential Campaigns

Presidential Campaigns

Presidential Campaigns

Synopsis

The publishers get a gold star for their timing in offering this revised historical account of US campaign high jinks from Washington in 1789 to Clinton in 1992. If Bob Dole appears to be slinging some mud this election year, it's nothing in comparison with the invectives thrown at candidates during the 19th century. (Would Dole dare to call Clinton a "carbuncle-faced old drunkard"?) Boller (history, Texas Christian U.) enlivens historical fact by uncovering the anecdotes and media responses which make American politics worth watching for our comedians. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Excerpt

Presidential campaigns have been mean and nasty lately, but the fact is they weren't'very nice in the old days either. What respectable person today would think of calling one of the candidates for the highest office in the land a carbuncled-faced old drunkard? Or a howling atheist? Or a pickpocket, thief, traitor, lecher, syphilitic, gorilla, crook, anarchist, murderer? Yet such charges were regular features of American presidential contests in the 19th century. And high hats as well as lowbrows indulged in the invective.

In 1800 Abigail Adams lamented that the contest between her husband John and Thomas Jefferson that year had exuded enough venom to "ruin and corrupt the minds and morals of the best people in the world." In 1864 Harper's Weekly published a depressingly long list of all the vicious epithets hurled at Abraham Lincoln during his bid for re-election. And in 1884 Lord Bryce, sojourning in the New World, was astonished to find that the Cleveland-Blaine match had come to center on the "copulative habits" of one candidate and the "prevaricative habits" of the other. Bryce was so impressed by the "tempest of invective and calumny which hurtles around the head of a presidential candidate" that he told Britishers they could understand its violence only if they imagined "all the accusations brought against all the 670 seats in the English Parliament" were "concentrated on one man." Historian William S. McFeely is right: campaigns in recent years don't seem so outrageous by comparison.

But presidential campaigns, even at their fiercest, were always more than contests in scurrility. They were also great entertainments. The scurrilousness, in fact, was to some extent part of the fun and the invective at times joyously creative. As early as 1792 the voice of the people, it was said, was "the voice of grog" at election time. From almost the beginning, America's quadrennial confrontation was in part a cir-

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