As much as I love my country, certainly as much as I consider it a genuine blessing to be an American citizen, I am not alone in my utter repudiation of the election season. I will grant that it does have a certain element of entertainment to it—we Americans take measured delight in watching the mighty fall, or at least stumble.
Last night gave us the starting gun for the rush of the 2012 elections. Now we spend the next 11 months awash in political rancor and candidate sniping. Sadly, rather than seek a way to bring more respect to the process we seem to embrace it.
There was a time, some 250 years ago (roughly) when the ideal for selecting men for roles in the new federal government was to entreat the public to choose men of great public or community respect and admiration; men did not campaign for these positions, they were chosen by the constituents . . . by we the people.
These words of John Adams are perhaps far more relevant today than in his own time:
What is to become of an independant statesman, one who will bow the knee to no idol, who will worship nothing as a divinity but Truth, Virtue, and his country? I will tell you, he will be regarded more by posterity than those who worship hounds and horses; and although he will not make his own fortune, he will make the fortune of his country.
Does that really need any embellishment?
My underlying thought here was the ramping up of all the negative campaigning we’re about to be inundated with. So I thought I would break out a couple examples from our early history to illustrate that our modern mudslingers are in no way innovative in their sniping.
Thomas Jefferson on Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry was know as quite an orator. It was through one of his passionate speeches that he pursuaded the House of Burgesses to arm a militia in preparation for what was sure to become war with Britain. Before that time, however, Henry had married a wealthy woman and through a dowry acquired 300 acres and six slaves to run a small plantation. To remain solvent enough to run the place he took a few weeks to study law books then applied for a license to practice law.
Thomas Jefferson, genuinely admiring of Henry’s gift for oratorical persuasion, was less than enthused with the man’s legal acumen. “His judgement in other matters,” Jefferson wrote in a letter to fellow Virginian, James Madison, “was inaccurate; in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaricious and rotten hearted. His two greatest passions were the love of money and of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated. What we have to do is devoutly pray for his death.”
Zing! That’s pretty harsh, even by today’s standards. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard it the first time.
John Adams and Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine did much, with his first pamphlet alone —Common Sense— but some of the ideals espoused didn’t sit well with John Adams, John Jay, and other influential founders. Adams, not one to let his pen lay idle, let flow his ink to express his lack of Paine-fandom: “What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass.”
“Crapulous” Man, what a great word!
Paine, having thoroughly lit into the British monarchy in his pamphlet, was certainly unafraid of Adams: “John was not born for immortality,” he wrote in response.
“The spissitude of the black liquor which is spread in such quantities by this writer,” Adams wrote of Paine, “prevents its daubing.” [in it's closest contextual definition here, 'daubing' would likely mean "to paint unskillfully"]
Paine acerbicly retorted, “Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of.”
That’s political bitch slapping, 18th century style. Paine would later be proven something of an early American political prophet. After George Washington’s election as our first formal President of the United States, Adams led the Senate in a lengthy debate over how to properly refer to the man who held the office of president. Washington himself, somewhat exasperated by the lengthy titles suggested by Adams, wisely suggested “Mister President,” thus avoiding any hint of monarchy in the brand new government. Adams wouldn’t fare well despite his truly well-intentioned efforts. The senators thus began referring to him as “His Rotundity.”
Almost makes current mudslinging seem tame by comparison.