Tuesday’s presidential election may well be the most contentious one in history. The fight for the Oval Office with President Donald Trump seeking re-election and former Vice President Joe Biden trying to unseat him has produced some of the harshest campaign rhetoric ever by both sides.
Having said that, it is safe to say that through the decades of American history there have been several other bitter, brawling presidential elections.
In 1828, John Quincy Adams ran for re-election and was opposed by Andrew Jackson, military hero of the War of 1812. The Adams campaign drudged up accusations against Jackson of ordering the executions of six militiamen during fighting in Alabama. But that wasn’t the worst.
Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was dragged into the fray because of her previous marriage. Apparently, the divorce with her first husband had not been finalized when Jackson married her, and you can imagine the insults and name-calling that were prevalent during the campaign. Actually, years before, when Jackson and Rachel found out about the problem, the divorce was completed and they were married again in a “legal” ceremony. But that didn’t make any difference to the Adams proponents. In the end, Jackson was elected, but unfortunately Rachel died before he was inaugurated.
The fact of Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote over Trump but losing in the Electoral College in the 2016 election that caused such turmoil is not the first time such a result occurred. In the election of 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, a former governor of Ohio, lost the popular vote by nearly 300,000 votes to Samuel J. Tilden, but won in the Electoral College by one vote. Following the tabulation, a huge fight ensued that lasted for several months. After much haggling, accusations and maneuvering, a commission was appointed to resolve the controversy. It finally decided in Hayes’ favor.
That same situation occurred again in 1888. Grover Cleveland was running for re-election and was opposed by Benjamin Harrison, grandson of former president William Henry Harrison. Cleveland won the popular vote by about 100,000 but lost in the Electoral College 182 to 219. As if fate was playing a part, Harrison was a one-termer, losing in 1892 to the same man, Cleveland, he had defeated four years before.
Religion reared its head in an ugly way in the election of 1928. The nation was still enjoying the good times of the “Roaring Twenties” as Herbert Hoover and Alfred E. Smith faced off against each other for the presidency. Smith was Catholic, and a vicious campaign ensued with rumors that if he were elected, the Catholic Church would take over control of the U.S. government. In the end, the religious issue made little difference since Hoover won by a landslide.
Thirty-two years later in the 1960 election, the Catholic Church issue came up again as John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, opposed Richard Nixon, vice president with Dwight Eisenhower. This time, however, the result was different. Even though accusations swirled that if Kennedy was elected, the Pope would run the country, it had little impact on the outcome and Kennedy won the White House. As a footnote, with a Catholic president, that church had no more influence or power in the American government that if a Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian had been elected.
It seems that with this year’s election, the heat has been turned up to a fever pitch. Maybe it’s because of 2020 being such a horrible year dealing with COVID-19 or the destruction of many big cities by racial protests and ensuing riots and looting. Or maybe it’s a harbinger of things to come with campaigns becoming more and more bitter with the ever-widening chasm between philosophies of the two major political parties.
Whatever the reason, it does not bode well for the future of the nation. A great man once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln was referring to the United States prior to the Civil War, but his warning still applies today.
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