A grand American tradition: The smear

It's not what you heard in grade school history, of course, but it is somehow consoling to note how unbelievably vile politicians were early in the nation's history.

You probably don't remember "The Public Character and Conduct of John Adams," a letter written by Alexander Hamilton at the height of the 1800 presidential campaign.

There are "great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the Office of Chief Magistrate," the Hamilton letter said of Adams. And that was the nice part.

Erratic. Egotistic. Petty. Mean. Hot-tempered. That's all there too.

Aaron Burr got his hands on the letter, which was private, gave it to the press, and eventually everyone heard about it.

Not a man to let a slight go without response, Adams called Hamilton "an intriguant … a man devoid of every principle. A bastard."

The passage of time didn't help much. Andrew Jackson's enemies accused him of adultery, cockfighting, gambling, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying and murder.

His mother, it was said, was a prostitute brought to the United States by British soldiers. She married a mulatto man, the story went, and Jackson was the first of several children.

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