In the midst of all this political rhetoric, I’ve often pondered if this presidential election campaign truly is “the worst of the worst” in our nation’s history.
As human beings, we tend to believe that it just can’t get any worse than the present day. Yet, history has a way of repeating itself and I was surprised to find that scandal has always seemed to follow those who yearn to lead our country.
Anyone remember William Seward? He’s the guy who brokered the Alaskan deal which was known as “Seward’s Folly.” Where would our country be without gorgeous Arctic landscapes, crystal clear rivers, Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch and Sarah Palin? Thank you, Mr. Seward!
Mr. Seward also ran for president on the Republican ticket in 1860. In fact, he had so much support, he took a European vacation to check out some Arabian horses for about eight months. Then this guy from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln stole Seward’s thunder and ended up the nominee. Well, the rest is history. Lincoln did appoint Seward to be his Secretary of State, probably due to his love of travel and all.
How about the tenacious Harold Stassen? The Republican from Minnesota ran for president 12 times. He came in second place in the primary polls a few times beginning in 1944. The last time he threw his hat in the ring was 2000, but by then, it became a running joke on “The Simpsons.”
In the modern day of 24-hour news cycling the same garbage over and over, it’s hard to imagine someone running for president who didn’t like to make public appearances.
But that’s what Alf Landon did in 1936. Well, it’s what he didn’t do that made him one of the most notorious presidential campaigners in our nation’s history.
The oil tycoon and Kansas governor was a recluse who managed to balance his state’s budget during the Great Depression. Guess how many public appearances Alf made during his campaign against Franklin Roosevelt. How about zero, which explains why he lost his own state and Roosevelt won in a landslide.
Can you imagine a president named Alf? Can you imagine never seeing one of the candidates? Sounds like heaven at this point in the election year.
How low can one political candidate go? How about blaming them for your wife’s death? That’s what Andrew Jackson did when he battled John Quincy Adams for the second time in 1828. Adams weaseled his way into office thanks to Henry Clay in 1824, which set the stage for a good old-fashioned boot-stomping, finger-pointing slug fest in 1828.
According to LiveScience.com, “before the 1828 election even got started, Adams was accused of soliciting an American girl to a Russian Czar. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was called a ‘convicted adulteress,’ because she had, years earlier, married Jackson before finalizing her divorce to her previous husband. Rachel died after Jackson won the election, but before his inauguration; at her funeral, Jackson blamed his opponents’ bigamy accusations.
“May God Almighty forgive her murderers, as I know she forgave them,” Jackson said. “I never can.”
I wonder how these issues would have been presented in the modern day debates. Can you imagine trying to fire back after that mud-slinging using only newspapers instead of Twitter wars at 2 a.m.? How did they manage back then! Those quills must have been on fire.
Also, imagine running against a dead guy. That’s what happened to President Ulysses S. Grant when he ran for a second term. His opponent, Horace Greeley, kicked the bucket before all the votes were counted.
All this presidential campaign history sure makes Howard Dean’s infamous rally cry or “Dean Scream” seem trivial, doesn’t it? Campaign gaffes have plagued presidential candidates such as James G. Blaine’s slur against Irish-Americans in the 1880s and George Wallace’s segregation in the late 1960s.
While I know there are a lot of us out here thinking this presidential campaign has to be the worst of all time, needless to say, there’s a lot of history behind us to show that, well, that’s not the case.
It could get much, much worse.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. Vote for Pedro.