With all of the primaries going on in the past month, you may have noticed that the presidential candidates are starting to get a little snarky with each other. What you may not know is that mudslinging isn't exactly a new tactic. And I'm not talking as recent as Nixon and Kennedy... nope, the nasty rumors and talk of mistresses and morals go as far back as George Washington.
Jefferson vs. Adams, 1800
In case you're wondering exactly how down-and-dirty these campaigns got, consider the fact that this is the only election in history where a vice president has run against the president he was currently serving under. You can imagine that things were a little tense in the White House in the months leading up to the election. Jefferson hired a writer to pen insults rather than dirty his own hands (at least at first). One of his most creative lines said that Adams was a "hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Adams' Federalists carried things even further, asking voters, "Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames... female chastity violated... children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION." I bet the Federalists would be so very upset to know that Jefferson was immortalized in 1936 as one of America's great presidents on Mount Rushmore. After such a nasty election, Congress passed the Twelfth Amendment, stating that the nominee to get the second-most number of votes would no longer be elected vice president.
Jackson vs. Adams, 1828
Apparently those Adams boys are scrappy fellows. When Andrew Jackson ran against incumbant John Quincy Adams in 1828, it was not pretty. Adams' previous term had not been a very successful one, but he was prepared to sling a little mud anyway. He and his handlers said Jackson had the personality of a dictator, was too uneducated to be president (they claimed he spelled Europe 'Urope'), and hurled all sorts of horrible insults at his wife, Rachel. Rachel had been in an abusive marriage with a man who finally divorced her, but divorce was still quite the scandal at the time. The Federalists called her a "dirty black wench", a "convicted adulteress" and said she was prone to "open and notorious lewdness". On their end, Jackson's people said that Adams had sold his wife's maid as a concubine to the czar of Russia. Jackson won pretty handily - 642,553 votes to Adams' 500,897.
Lincoln vs. Douglas, 1860
Yep, even Abraham Lincoln was dealt his share of crap. But he was pretty good at dealing it too. Although it's normal - and expected - for candidates to stump across the country in any little small town that will have them, but in 1860 it was considered a little tacky. Stephen Douglas chose this tactic anyway, but claimed that he was really just taking a leisurely train ride from D.C. to New York to visit his mom. Lincoln and his supporters took note of the fact that it took him over a month to get there and even put out a "Lost Child" handbill that said he "Left Washington, D.C. some time in July, to go home to his mother... who is very anxious about him. Seen in Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and at a clambake in Rhode Island. Answers to the name Little Giant. Talks a great deal, very loud, always about himself." 'Little Giant' was a potshot at Douglas' height - he was only 5'4". He was also said to be "about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way." Douglas took aim at Lincoln, too, saying he was a "horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman." Another good one? "Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame."
Cleveland vs. Blaine, 1884
Who knew Grover Cleveland was the Bill Clinton of his time? During his campaign, stories of his lecherousness were plentiful. One was verified, though - Cleveland, while still a bachelor, had fathered a child with a widow named Maria Halpin. He fully supported the child. So really, by today's standards, it probably wouldn't be that much of a scandal. No marriages ruined, no paternity tests, no child support issues. Nevertheless, the Republican party, who supported candidate James Blaine, took this and ran with it. They made up the chant, "Ma! Ma! Where's my pa?" and used it to taunt Cleveland. Blaine was no innocent, though. He was accused of shady dealings with the railroad, which was confirmed when a letter was found in which Blaine pretty much confirmed that he knew he was involved in corrupt business - he signed the letter, "My regards to Mrs. Fisher. Burn this letter!" Cleveland's Democrats made up their own chant based on his writings - "Burn this letter! Burn this letter!"
Hoover vs Smith, 1928
Democrat Al Smith lost pretty badly to Republican Herbert Hoover, largely due to one reason: his religion. At the time of the election, the Holland Tunnel in New York was just being finished up. Republicans told everyone that the Catholic Smith had commissioned a secret tunnel 3,500 miles long, from the Holland Tunnel to the Vatican in Rome, and that the Pope would have say in all presidential matters should Smith be elected. It probably didn't help matters that Babe Ruth was a staunch Smith supporter. You think it would work in his favor, but the Babe would show up at events wearing only his undershirt with a mug of beer in one hand. If people opposed his viewpoint, Ruth would simply say, "The hell with you," and be done with them.