Can this get much worse?

The Central Times investigates the history of contentious elections.

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Art by: Sanya Rupani

 

 

This year’s presidential election has been one for the history books: the first woman is running against the first man who’s never held a public office.

Aside from the heated exchanges between the candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, tensions have spread to the entire nation. Entire groups of people have been called “rapists” and “deplorable,” leaving many scratching their heads and wondering, “Can this get much worse?”

That was the inspiration behind this story. As the CT staff asked itself that very same question,  David M. Kennedy’s AP U.S. History textbook, “The American Pageant,” was opened, and the staff sought to find the craziest elections in the history of the United States. The list has been condensed to the following elections: 1800, 1828, 1964 and 2016.


The election of 1800


In 1800, John Adams finished his first term as president. During this time, he denied help to France, who was fighting its own revolution. Adams felt this was necessary in order to preserve the union; however, it was against his party platform and thus eliminated any chance of him or the Federalist Party winning a second presidential term.

As a result, Aaron Burr ran against Thomas Jefferson, both as Democratic-Republicans. This contentious battle was filled with lies, slander and libel, all of which culminated in a tie in the race.

“Burr was a political evil genius,” Michael Bochenski, a social studies teacher at Central, said. “He knew lots of secrets and would stop at nothing to get power. He was the most amoral individual you’ll ever meet.”

Since both members of the party were Democratic-Republicans, Burr and Jefferson had to appeal to the Federalists in Congress in order to win the presidency. In order to accomplish this, the candidates resorted to the first campaign that America had ever seen.

Burr jumped at this idea. Jefferson lost major support from Federalists after he was accused of robbing a widow and her kids out of a trust fund, of having fathered illegitimate children with a slave (which was true) and of being an atheist.

The two men ended up tying for the presidential nomination, and Burr was expected to drop out of the race. However, he did not.

“[Burr’s] betrayal sent shocks through the entire political party,” Bochenski said.

Burr’s rift with Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton ended up losing him the race. The two men had a murky past and Hamilton was determined to not let Burr win the presidency. Additionally, the Federalists hoped for a moderate candidate who would listen to their party’s platform. Burr was not a moderate man, and as a result, Jefferson won the election of 1800.

This election is often referred to as the “Revolution of 1800” because it was the first time power was transferred peacefully between parties. Despite a contentious race, America moved on from its rumor-filled election and allowed its new leader to assume power without riots.


The election of 1828


Just like his father, John Quincy Adams served only one term as president. The race following his term in office was ugly, with Quincy Adams running against Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. Jackson’s supporters chanted “Bargain and Corruption” in reference to the “Corrupt Bargain” that lost Jackson the presidency in 1824.

In the election of 1824, Jackson won with 43 percent of the popular vote while Quincy Adams had 30 percent (Crawford, the other candidate, had no chance of winning); since neither man had a majority of votes, the election was thrown to the House. As Speaker of the House, Henry Clay allegedly met with Quincy Adams, who promised to make him Secretary of State if Clay helped Quincy Adams win the presidency. Historically, the position was considered a leg-up to the presidency — Quincy Adams himself was previously the Secretary of State. Clay jumped at the job offer, ensuring Quincy Adams’ victory.

Politics is a reflection [of America’s] divisiveness, not the cause of it.”

— Michael Bochenski

Jackson, furious after the narrow loss, was determined to win the next election. He painted an image of himself as the “common man,” in which Quincy Adams was portrayed as a pompous aristocrat. He adopted the nickname “Old Hickory” to remind people that he, like them, was just a regular farmer. The American people loved Jackson, although Jackson was, ironically, a wealthy landowner just like Quincy Adams.

Quincy Adams bought a chess set for the White House and Jackson thus attacked him by indicating that Quincy Adams only saw the presidential mansion as a “gaming” house. During this election, he also accused Quincy Adams of making too much money and being a pimp for the Russian tsar.

In retaliation, Quincy Adams painted Jackson’s mother as a prostitute, called his wife an adulteress (because she hadn’t officially gotten divorced before marrying Jackson) and even printed out coffin-shaped handbills with lists of people Jackson had killed.

This election was wrought with claims of dishonesty and a lack of moralization. Personal jabs were thrown at each candidate, however Jackson’s “common man” plea eventually won him the Oval Office.

Just like the election of 1800, after votes were drawn and ballots were cast, the American people peacefully transferred power between leaders and resumed their democratic way of life.


The election of 1964


In your heart you know he’s right.

In your guts you know he’s nuts.

These chants were heard throughout election season in 1964. Lyndon B. Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater, and both men were out for blood.

However, Johnson came out victorious through a series of character-slashing and negative campaigning.

Johnson instilled a fear in Goldwater, painting him as a trigger-happy cowboy who wanted war, and lots of it. He even convinced the American people that Goldwater wanted a nuclear Armageddon after Goldwater claimed to fight for freedom regardless of the cost.

In the height of such claims came a revolutionary change for campaigns: television. The first ever negative campaign ad was released during the election of 1964. Only aired once, it featured an image of a little girl dreamily playing with flowers. All of a sudden, a man’s deep voice is heard counting down. As he reaches zero, the scene cuts to a mushroom cloud. The message “Vote for Johnson” is displayed.

For the first time, television had become integrated in the American lifestyle, and American politics did not take long to catch up on this revolutionary trend.

“The media has always been the biggest fight promoter ever,” Bochenski said.

Despite such anger in the election of 1964, the American people eventually did calm down and peacefully accept a new leader.


The election of 2016


Timeline by: Sasha Fenton

This year’s presidential election has been an election of firsts, as both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the traditional presidential candidates.

According to the Washington Post, it has been 64 years since a presidential nominee ran on a major party ticket without any electoral experience. However, Trump is very different from Dwight D. Eisenhower, the other candidate without any electoral experience.

“In my lifetime, I can’t picture anything like [this election],” Central social studies teacher Randall Smith said. “The vitriol of Trump and kind of the roguishness of him, the insecurity and instability that he represented to the party, and to someone with a label of Republican, […] that’s been more unique to [this election].”

Although Trump is stirring up America, he didn’t divide up the Republican party during the national convention. Contrastly, at the Democratic convention in 1924, the party was so divided that they voted 103 times to agree on John Davis as their candidate.

“Donald Trump made it through on the first ballot,” Smith said. “He might be perhaps putting the Republican label in awkward positions, but the party quickly said ‘you won the process fair and square,’ and let him have that.”

Moving to the other side of the aisle, the Democrats faced controversy when Americans claimed that Clinton did not win the nomination fairly.

After the convention, America watched as two angry people fought each other not on policy, but on personal issues.

The result has not been good for either party.

“Never have two candidates in the modern era had such unfavorability with the American people,” Bochenski said.

While many react to this election as the political system breaking down, Bochenski believes it is not about the system.

“Politics is a reflection [of America’s] divisiveness, not the cause of it,” Bochenski said.

Smith agrees.

“Government’s not the problem,” Smith said. “Government is made up of a bunch of people. […] If you want to look at it with a half empty perspective, people are the problem.”


Vitriol hits home


History appears to be wrinkled with aggressive elections. Anger between candidates permeates, spurring citizens to react. At Central, Donna Mohn, a social studies teacher, has taken students to Washington, D.C. to see the last two inaugurations of Barack Obama and will take students once again this year.

In 2008, Mohn had 28 kids attend the inauguration along with four teachers. This year, only six kids are signed up.

“I don’t know if this [drop] is a result of the campaigns,” Mohn said. “That these two candidates instead of inspiring hope, have inspired hatred.”

Government’s not the problem. Government is made up of a bunch of people… If you want to look at it with a half empty perspective, people are the problem.”

— Randy Smith

Mohn has seen the changes between Obama’s two elections and this year’s election.

“[In 2008], we were all walking in one direction, figuratively and literally,” Mohn said. “The energy was unbelievable… Talk about a day of hope.”

She hopes that the 2017 inauguration will have the same ambience, especially because it is so historic. Clinton will be the first female president if she wins, and Trump will be the oldest president as well as the first to have never held a public office.

All six kids going on the trip signed up with no knowledge of who they will see inaugurated, and Mohn feels that is important because their motivations are strictly from being Americans rather than supporting their political party.

“[I bring kids to the inauguration] because it gives kids a chance to not read about history, but to be a part of it,” Mohn said.

She feels that if she did not do this, she would not be doing her job well.

As history has shown, difficult and tense elections are not rare. Every time America transfers power, anger forms. This anger spreads everywhere from Washington, D.C., to Naperville Central.

However, America has, without a doubt, always put aside its differences and transferred power peacefully. The election of 2016 has been a contentious one, but Americans will once again come together to swear in a Donald Trump.