October 23, 2012

The Politics of Politics — Part Un

"What are you fighting about—you two?
  Why, my eyes are grey, and his are blue."
- taken from Poor Humphrey's Almanack, 1829

The above image maps out the position of the Dueler's assistants, or "seconds", and is from The Only Approved Guide Through All the Stages of a Quarrel (click).

I'd be a liar if I didn't mention how heavily politics have been weighing on my mind lately. Naturally, it happens every election year, but this election feels heavier to me—more dire with a lot more at-stake. I've been in a battle between my quiet, creative spirit and my heavy, pick-apart rock 'em, sock 'em inner analyst. No, these are not mutually exclusive, but perhaps a little more balance is in order. Is this part of parenthood? Am I simply getting older? Did my parents worry this much in the 60's? These thoughts all run through my head. I've been blaming the media (easy) as well as my self-induced connectedness. Sadly, if I'm going to get through the next month with my sanity intact, then I think it's best if I either tune out, or figure out a way to calm myself down. So, I'll choose the latter. 

In this pursuit of calm understanding and a large dose of levity, I decided to do a little digging. I came up with a few items that lightened my load and made me realize that once again—everything old is (somewhat) new again. Whether you're voting for that guy, or the other guy, let's take a moment and simply appreciate that perhaps we have evolved a bit as a society. Yes, there is slander and that guy is of course totally lying (!). We have our opinions, yet we may exercise our right to share them with our vote come election day. Enough said— back to the levity.

The first article I came across was really fascinating. Titled, American Politics at Ten Paces (click) it begins with the detailed account of the rivalry between Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh, soon after Gwinnett had signed the Declaration of Independence. The rivalry began with words, and McIntosh claimed that Gwinnett was, "a scoundrel and a lying rascal". Harsher words were never spoken, and Gwinnett's honor was now on the line. Naturally, he's left with no other option but an early morning duel. Sadly, this did not end well for Mr. Gwinnett. Further along in the article, it states, "Dueling and politics became intermingled for another, less well-known reason: a surprisingly large number of combatants walked away unscathed. Only one in five duelists was killed (one study has estimated the death rate at only one in 14). The pistols of the day were not “rifled,” so they proved quite inaccurate even at close range. In addition, many seconds managed to negotiate a settlement before the duel took place." (direct quote). Aha! I see that the 2nd Amendment made a little more sense back in its day, and again—there were very specific rules to dueling, and the practice lasted much longer than I imagined. Remember the notorious hothead, Alexander Hamilton? He suffered the same demise some twenty-seven years later. 

Th Jefferson

With cross words and dueling matches being de rigueur, things really changed in the election of 1800. A bitter partisan battle (sounding familiar?) between Federalist John Adams and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson resulted in what Jefferson called, "The Revolution of 1800". To sum it up, Jefferson became the third President, and proved victory without bloodshed and the birth of a two-party Nation. Because of the deadlock between Jefferson and running mate Burr, the 12th Amendment was created.

Moving along, I see that the Political Apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Above we had Adams Sr. (2nd President) and coming down the pipeline is the "Quincyer" Adams Jr. (6th President). The original Father/Son Presidential Team.

Things especially heat up when we get to the long campaign between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams (as well as Clay and Crawford). This was the first election in history to use campaign buttons, slogans, posters, matchboxes and flasks so extensively. So, here we are in the year 1824 and it appears that Jackson won both the Popular and Electoral Votes (meaning, he won the Plurality), however, he did not win the Majority Vote. Sadly for Jackson, the vote went to the House of Representatives. His (now former) running mate, Henry Clay, was also the Speaker of the House, and therefore was able to vote for someone whose politics were more in-line with his. That would be John Q. Adams. Jackson and his supporters accused Clay of doing exactly what he (Clay) did, now coining this, "The Corrupt Bargain". Adams, being a Federalist like his Father, did his best to appeal to the public, but most of his programs were fairly unpopular with the people and Congress, and many were angry at him for "stealing" the election. The second of his tariffs passed was referred to as, "The Tariff of Abominations". Not to be deterred, he ran for Presidency against Jackson again in 1828.

Above is a picture of the very rare, "Monumental Inscriptions" (click). This letterpress printed broadside was the first in a salvo of "coffin handbills" fired off by the Adams forces during this next election. It skewers Jackson for the allegedly unjust execution of six Tennessee militiamen after leaving their unit near Mobile in the Summer of 1814. Whatever the merits of the accusation, the story caught fire. “Monumental Inscriptions” was soon issued in pamphlet form, and no fewer than 26 other “coffin handbills” appeared during the campaign. All trumpeted the theme of Jackson’s misdeeds, but many expanded the range of accusations and increased the number of his purported victims. However effective as propaganda, the handbills of course failed to turn the tide of the campaign, and Adams lost in a landslide. 

This is all feeling so familiar. 

Moving forward in my research, I come across this lovely little piece of ephemera. While the robo-calls we receive nightly are a fairly new invention, we see that political slander is not. The image below is a brilliant example of—ohsnark!—a perfect political putdown.

This printed card appears to have been printed by Abraham Lincoln, but was actually published and distributed by his opposition in the 1864 Presidential election. It promised that, "after losing the election, he’d return to Illinois to go back to his job of splitting rails and trading horses." Such hubris!

Here we are today. I still have 148 years to go, and I'm already exhausted. Calmer, but am back to wondering if we've actually evolved as a society, or have we simply come up with slicker packaging? I need to ponder this before I go on. Let's call this part 1. Before I sign off, I will thank my lucky stars for the First Amendment, and leave you with this disastrous poster by one Gerald Ford. What was he thinking?! xo Victoria

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