We love to gripe about today’s negative campaigns, but presidential elections have always been dirty, dating back to the 18th century.
It all began in 1796, when Alexander Hamilton, writing under the pen name “Phocion,” attacked Thomas Jefferson on the pages in Gazette of the United States, a federalist paper in Philadelphia. Newspapers then were the Super PACs of today; the charges were not specifically endorsed by candidates, but certainly not refuted by them either.
In this case, “Phocion” claimed that Jefferson was having a love affair with one of his slaves (which, of course, turned out to be true). Phocion went on to call Jefferson a coward and extol the virtues of one Mr. Alexander Hamilton, which is kind of like Don Diego de la Vega giving glowing reviews to Zorro.
In that same election, Adams supporters also claimed that Jefferson’s election would result in a civil war, that he would free the slaves, and that he was an atheist. As for his supporters, they were “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amid filth and vermin.” In other words, Adams’s supporters thought that Jefferson partisans were part of the 47 percent.
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