Mudslinging Isn't New. Here's the Messy Truth.





You want to talk dirty politics? Oh, we'll talk dirty. We'll talk about . . . 1800!

Thomas Jefferson was attacked by ministers who accused him of being an "infidel" and an "unbeliever." A Federalist cartoon depicted him as a drunken anarchist, and the president of Yale warned that if Jefferson came to power, "we may see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution." A Connecticut newspaper warned that his election would mean "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced" -- though the paper, which is now the Hartford Courant, did apologize some years later.

In 1993. "You turned out to be a good influence on America," the editors wrote. Whoops! Never mind.

John Adams, the sitting president, got hit with his share of slung mud that year. James Callender, a journalist who was in league with Jefferson, told the country that Adams was a rageful, lying, warmongering fellow, a "repulsive pedant" and "gross hypocrite" who behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a "hideous hermaphroditical character." There was also a nasty rumor that Adams had sent his veep to Europe to bring back four mistresses, two for each of them.

Today's handwringers, who are disgusted by the tone of modern political campaigns, might be reassured (or slightly depressed) to learn that we've always been this way. Almost from the birth of the nation, presidential campaigns have been filled with vitriol and deception.

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