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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Given the vitriol of the 2004 debacle, otherwise called an election, it is useful to remind ourselves that little is new. I read America Afire by Bernard Weisberg a couple of years ago, and most recently Adams v Jefferson by John Ferling. Both document the campaign of 1800 that resulted in the election being thrown into the House of Representatives. The campaign was ugly. War service of the candidates was an issue then as now, with opponents reminding the electorate (white property owners only then) that Thomas Jefferson had sat out the revolution at home in Monticello. Thomas Jefferson had hired James Callender, a British immigrant to write anti-Adams essays. "Calumny dripped from Callender's pen." Jefferson bankrolled many anti-Adams journalists. He unsparingly "flayed Washington," who, he claimed, had wanted to be a dictator, called Hamilton the "Judas Iscariot of our country," and called Adams a war mongerer and "poor old man who is in his dotage." The Federalists under Adams were no better. Callender was arrested and charged under the Alien and Sedition Acts -- and we thought the USA Patriot Act was bad -- passed during the Adams' administration. Callender later turned on Jefferson when he was not awarded a plum political post in addition ot his monetary rewards. He then went on the dig up the story of Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemmings, a charge that seems now not to have been true, the DNA evidence being somewhat inconclusive given the number of other Jefferson males in the area although I suppose the jury is still out in some minds. (see a summary here.) But I digress, the only point being that campaigns in the early 18th century were often more bitter than those today.
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