In It To Win It: The 8 Dirtiest Presidential Campaigns

I don’t know about most of you out there, but I can’t wait until the 2012 Presidential Election is over.

While it’s certainly a big deal, which is why each and every one of us should vote, the 24/7 coverage is unbearable. We’ve heard all the candidates promises and heard all of the nasty ad campaigns. In fact, those negative campaign ads are probably what’s the most annoying—and it seems that every election gets nastier and nastier. But, is that actually true? Was there a time when the presidential election was more gentlemanly?

Actually, the presidential election has always been rather vicious. In fact, it may have been worst in the past. But, with the constant and instant updates, it probably seems worse. Whether that’s the case or not is another debate, but regardless, here are eight of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in U.S. political history.

Jefferson vs. Adams (1800)

Back in the early days of the United States, the president and vice president were elected from the two candidates who received the most votes. So, that must have been awkward when President John Adams squared off against VP Thomas Jefferson. The campaign got so nasty the two wouldn’t talk to each other until both were closing in on the final years of their lives.

Some of the highlights, or lowlights if you prefer, was Adams being called a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Meanwhile, Adams asked voters:

“Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames … female chastity violated … children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”

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Adams vs. Jackson (1828)

The election between challenger Andrew Jackson and incumbent John Quincey Adams is considered  one of  the dirtiest campaign ever. Adams accused Jackson of adultery and murder and having the personality of a dictator. Oh yeah, the Federalists also called Jackson’s wife a “dirty black wench” and a “convicted adulteress.”

Jackson in turn called Adams a pimp, charging that Adams sold his wife’s maid as a concubine to the czar of Russia when Adams was an ambassador there.

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Harrison vs. Van Buren (1840)

The election between William Henry Harrison and his opponent, Martin Van Buren, may not have been as nasty as previous campaigns, but it’s mentioned because it was one of the first elections that was completely lacking of issues. Instead, the candidates outright lied about their personal lives, and there was also the emergence of slogans, songs, and trinkets.

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Lincoln vs. Douglas (1860)

Perhaps one of the most well-known and significant elections in history was also pretty dirty. Lincoln put out handbills calling Douglas a “Lost Child,” which stated:

“Left Washington, D.C. some time in July, to go home to his mother … who is very anxious about him. Seen in Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and at a clambake in Rhode Island. Answers to the name Little Giant. Talks a great deal, very loud, always about himself.”

The “Little Giant remark was a reference to Douglas’ height; he was only 5’4″. But, Douglas also had his share of insults. He called Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty, and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman.”

And, there was also this gem:

“Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs and arms and hatchet face ever strung on a single frame.”

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Tilden vs. Hayes (1876)

The election of 1876 didn’t help the nation recover from the corruption during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, won the popular vote, but not a majority in the electoral congress. The deadlock ended after some back room deals that made Rutherford B. Hayes president. He was then referred to as “His Fraudulency.”

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Cleveland vs. Blaine (1884)

The election between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine get downright personal and heated. For example, it was revealed that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child with a widow named Maria Halpin. Republicans used this scandal by chanting “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa?”

However, Blaine had been found of having shady dealings with the railroad and then burned the letters which would have found him guilty. This created the “Burn this letter! Burn this letter!” chants from Democrats.

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Hoover vs. Smith (1928)

Herbert Hoover defeated Al Smith handily, because Hoover used Smith’s religion as leverage. Smith was a Catholic, and Hoover claimed the recently completed Holland Tunnel contained a secret tunnel 3,500 miles long and was commissioned by Smith. The tunnel, Hoover said, went from New York to the Vatican in Rome and would make it possible for the Pope to have a say in all presidential matters.

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Eisenhower vs. Stevenson (1952)

Many people liked, and still like, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or Ike for short. But, that didn’t stop his Republican party from slandering Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 election. Republicans did not only call Stevenson a homosexual, they also warped an accidental shooting in 1912 into Stevenson killed a girl “in a jealous rage.”

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