A History of Political Mudslinging and Character Assassination


“If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell.”
-Harry S Truman, campaigning for John F. Kennedy, in 1960

The line from “Give ’em Hell Harry” just cracks me up. Could you just imagine a politician today saying these lines? Especially with a Huckabee background? Actually, similar lines have been expressed to this day. Christopher Hitchens reminds us of this in the WSJ of something Madeleine Albright said that there is: “a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” (Translation: Vote Hillary…or else!)

We often hear people bemoan the level of discourse, the “nasty” attack ads, the height of new lows, etc. In truth, we’re carrying on a 208 year-old tradition (In 1789, George Washington ran unapposed; 1792, first political parties formed….4 years later- let the mud fly!) – and I’d say that today we are more civilized, not less….or perhaps, about the same.

Here are other examples:

  • 1800: Jefferson hired a writer named James Callender to attack President Adams. He wrote that John Adams is “a repulsive pedant,” a “gross hypocrite,” and “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensiblity of a woman.”
  • 1876 the opponents of Rutherford B. Hayes spread around a rumor that he had shot his own mother in a fit of rage.
  • A Democratic newspaper told voters that Lincoln should not be elected president because he only changed his socks once every 10 days.
  • 1912: Theodore Roosevelt is shot in the chest while preparing to give a campaign speech, then proceeds to deliver it anyway: “I don t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”
  • 1828: a Republican [actually, it’s predecessor, Whig] pamphlet said Democrat Andrew Jackson was “a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife,” an insult for which he never forgave his opponents.
  • 1844: Democrats call Whig candidate Henry Clay on his “supposed baggage train of gambling, dueling, womanizing and “By the Eternal!” swearing.” Clay lost.
  • 1836: Congressman Davy Crockett accuses candidate Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing women’s clothing: “He is laced up in corsets!”

Hmm…..I guess Giuliani won’t be the first.

Hugh Hewitt: Watching Hillary’s campaign go after Senator Obama, does it tell you what you’re in for if she’s the nominee and you’re the nominee?

Rudy Giuliani: (laughing) I have a pretty good idea. I had a pretty good idea before.

There’s a new book out, called “Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises” by Joseph Cummins. Sounds very entertaining for us political junkies.

You can see a book preview, here.

RT Rider has more, including the famous “Daisy” video ad from Johnson-Goldwater. I bet Democrats would have loved to run it in 2004, replacing “Goldwater” with “Bush”. Oh, waitaminute….Remember the Moveon.org “Bush-Hitler” ad? If you haven’t seen THAT video, you really should. See it here. Some disgusting things should be viewed, to be believed.

And also reprints this from the book: On the Bill Clinton of the 1920’s, Warren G. Harding:

When Republican operatives decided to nominate the fifty-five-year-old Ohio senator, they asked if he had anything hidden in his personal life that would “disqualify” him from winning the presidency. Harding asked for some time to reflect on the question, and he may have pondered that he chewed tobacco, played poker, loved to drink (Prohibition had just been voted in), and was having affairs with not only the wife of one of his friends but also a young woman thirty years his junior, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter. Then he said, nope, nothing to hide, guys — it’s all good.

Ain’t politics fun?

This site has an archive of political cartoons and ads.

Bright Goings On
Cartoonist: Unknown
Source: Fun
Date: November 4, 1864, p. 84

In this cartoon from Fun, a British humor magazine, John Bright shakes hands with President Abraham Lincoln, who appears as a militaristic half-wit stepping on the U.S. Constitution. Bright was a Liberal member of parliament and leading reformer whose Quaker religious beliefs (note his Quaker hat) provoked his intense aversion to slavery. During the American Civil War, he was an outspoken supporter of the Lincoln administration and the Union cause, although his pacifism prevented him from calling for British military intervention on the side of the Union. The fallen man in the cartoon’s background may be Confederate President Jefferson Davis or Uncle Sam.
A Warning
Cartoonist: Unknown
Source: Fun
Date: December 3, 1864, p. 115bf12036401155w.jpg
This ominous cartoon appeared in Fun, the British humor magazine, after Abraham Lincoln’s reelection. The president is depicted as a vengeful warmonger whose prosecution of the Civil War has resulted in extensive loss of life for no apparent gain to the nation.
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Excellent piece. Just one small point, though. That anti-Jackson pamphlet couldn’t have been Republican. It was thirty years before there was a Republican Party.

But I know you put that one in there to test us, right, Wordsmith?

Quite interesting to see how the vile and venom was even worse back then then nowadays.

Great piece Word.

I think that if Obama wishes to silence Bill Clinton, or at least take some of the wind out of his sails, he should close each speech for the next few days with a call to his supporters to reach out to Bill and make sure he’s doing okay by asking “Bill, have you had a good cigar today?”

I already mentioned how the Mormons were used as ammo against the Democratic party.

I have a cartoon bashing Abe Lincoln and the Republicans for wanting a black man as president.

Another cartoon labels Abe and the Republicans as a spendaholic with a hand cranked printing press printing money in the office where the cabinet met. One cabinet member tells a soldier to lock sombody up for defaming the government even though it was just bad words said about the cabinet member.

Great article, very informative and very useful!