Don’t blame Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for the ugly tone of the 2012 presidential race. Blame John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They started it.
The election of 1800 was the first time candidates campaigned on partisan platforms, and it’s been that way ever since. To paint the current atmosphere as especially poisonous, as a Washington Post writer called it, or as the worst ever, as John McCain suggested, is to forget 212 years of U.S. history.
Most scholars continue to rank 1800 as the dirtiest campaign ever, followed by the Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams contest of 1828 and the 1860 campaign that led to Abraham Lincoln’s election.
The candidates disagreed on almost everything ranging from the role of government in citizens’ lives to the role of the United States in the world. Sound familiar?
“The period leading up to the election of 1800 became a witches’ brew of personalities, innuendo, ideology and rumor,” writes The Lehrman Institute’s Richard J. Behn.
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