Is Political Rhetoric Uglier Than Ever, Ever?

The answer may surprise you.

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Politics, by its very nature, is contentious.  However, over the last few years, it would seem to have ramped up a few thousand notches.  People from both sides of the political divide lament this development.

The thing is, this isn’t new, and it’s not as bad as it has ever been.  Rick Unger of Forbes wrote about a truly ugly political campaign wrought by some revered statesmen:

When it comes to negative campaign advertising and rhetoric, today’s candidates aren’t even in the same league as our own Founding Founders—and the many presidential contenders who have followed—when it comes to playing rough in the game of electoral politics.

It was the election of 1800 where President John Adams and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson—the two highest elected officials in the land and each a pivotal player in the creation of our nation—squared off in a race for the White House and established a tradition of negative campaigning that would cause our current candidates to blush with embarrassment.

Not unlike much of the mud-slinging we experience in modern elections, the dirty work, back in the earliest days of the nation, was often left to surrogates. One such surrogate was the influential President of Yale University, a John Adams supporter, who publically suggested that were Jefferson to become the president, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.”

The concern was amplified by an influential—and highly partisan—Connecticut newspaper’s warning that electing Jefferson would create a nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.”

And that was the soft stuff.

Not to be outdone by the Federalist president’s attacks, Jefferson had a few negative narratives of his own to pitch.

One particularly stinging attack came via one James Callender—an influential journalist of the time whose incendiary pamphlets had been secretly funded by Thomas Jefferson and who had an axe to grind for having been prosecuted and imprisoned by the Adams Administration for violating The Sedition Act.

Callender wrote that Adams was a rageful, lying, warmongering fellow; a “repulsive pedant” and “gross hypocrite” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

Not that anyone should take this as a challenge.


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1 comment

  1. Mike Hellyar Sr Reply

    The pen was most powerful because they had a command of words and the English language that to the mass audience today may not even be readable.