There is an opinion that “politics was rarely as dirty as it was in the election of 1800.” It is related to the bitter rivalry among the candidates. However, as time moved on, America has observed other dishonorable fights for the presidency. The election of 2016 is an example of modern dirty politics since the candidates running for President used a variety of ways to denigrate their rivals. This essay will explain why the election of 1800 is considered “dirty,” and how the actions of the statesmen of that time are compared with that of contemporary politicians.
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The Election of 1800
The election of 1800 did not just determine who was going to rule the country for the next four years. At that time, the USA had to choose the path of its further development. The main rivals running for President were Tomas Jefferson and John Adams. Jefferson represented the Democratic-Republicans, who wanted the USA to be an agrarian republic. Adams was a representative of the Federalists, whose vision of the American future was a stable central government with a prosperous manufacturing sector. Their adherence to the different views led to the bitter contest during the election. Jefferson and his party feared that if Adams won the election, he would try to reverse the outcomes of the American Revolution and re-establish the British dominance over the country. Adams, in his turn, was afraid of the Democratic-Republicans’ sympathy with the French revolutionists and thought that Jefferson would draw America into the conflict after his election. Thus, both sides had strong reasons for fighting for their victory. They thought it was justified to use any means of political struggle to win the election because they tried to protect their country.
Although candidates running for President were not supposed to conduct an electoral campaign at that time, Jefferson’s and Adams’s supporters began to promote their favorites in different ways, but special attention was given to the press. One of the most famous works of that period was written by James Callender and called The Prospect Before Us. Larson writes about it that “although it exposed no private scandals, the 183-page pamphlet restated the standard Republican charges against Adams’s intemperate behavior and imprudent policies.”1 This pamphlet was indented to vilify Adams and encourage voters to elect Jefferson: “Take your choice … between Adams, war, and beggary, and Jefferson, peace, and competency!”2 Furthermore, during the election, Adams was said to have a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”3 Thus, the rivals pointed at not only substantial flaws in the political programs of their opponents but also their personal drawbacks to win over the voters.
However, the crucial moment of their electoral rivalry was the publication of a letter by Alexander Hamilton. He wrote a 54-pages pamphlet “attacking his fellow Federalist’s character and judgment and ridiculing his handling of foreign affairs.”4 This letter decided the outcome of the election since Hamilton attacked the member of his own party. Certainly, Jefferson was also subject to vilification by his rival’s supporters. For example, once newspapers lied that he was dead, so it was impossible to vote for him. However, Jefferson’s advocates were likely to be more convincing since he won the election.
The Similarities between the Elections of 1800 and 2016
Perhaps, Jefferson and Adams were the first Americans to start dirty politics during electoral campaigns. The election of 2016 seems to follow the precedent established in 1800. This time, the rivals were Donald Trump, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. Their campaigns were quite similar to the events happening during the election of 1800. Both Trump and Clinton brought forward unpleasant arguments to convince the voters that their opponent was unworthy of the position. Moreover, Trump seldom criticized his rival’s political program; instead, he focused on her negative personality traits.5 For example, he called Clinton a “nasty woman” and engaged some people in hacking her e-mails. Clinton, in her turn, claimed her opponent to be inexperienced for the position of President and a womanizer. Thus, Jefferson and Adams exchanged offensive statements about each other’s personalities, and Trump and Clinton did the same thing during the electoral campaign.
Furthermore, there is a parallel between Alexander Hamilton’s letter about Adams and the Never Trump Movement, established during the election of 2016. This movement was launched by some Republicans who wanted to prevent their representative from assuming office because they considered him not acceptable for the position. Never Trump Movement bears a resemblance to Hamilton’s pamphlet because, in both cases, candidates for President are opposed by people from their own party.
To sum up, it is doubtful that politics is seldom as dirty as it was in 1800. Certainly, that election involved bitter rivalry because the country’s fate was at stake. However, it was not the only political procedure, which may be called “dirty.” The election of 2016 is another example showing the actions that people are ready to take in order to achieve a victory.
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- Corbett, Scott P., Volker Janssen, John M. Lund, Todd Pfannestiel, and Paul Vickery. U.S. History. Houston: Rice University, 2017.
- Larson, Edward J. A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.
- Lucas, Jennifer C., Christopher J. Galdieri, and Tauna Starbuck Sisco, eds. Conventional Wisdom, Parties, and Broken Barriers in the 2016 Election. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017.
- Edward J. Larson, A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007), 125.
- Larson, A Magnificent Catastrophe, 125.
- Jennifer C. Lucas, Christopher J. Galdieri, and Tauna Starbuck Sisco, eds., Conventional Wisdom, Parties, and Broken Barriers in the 2016 Election (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017), 101.
- Scott P. Corbett et al., U.S. History (Houston: Rice University, 2017), 229.
- Lucas, Galdieri, and Sisco, eds., Conventional Wisdom, Parties, and Broken Barriers in the 2016 Election, 101.