Flashback Friday: Together We Are Divided

This election might be considered the election of “The People Fed Up with the Last Four Years” and “The People Fed Up with America”.

We live in a very divisive society; we are pitted against one another at every turn. Either by the media or our churches. By our friends or our neighbors. Against our colleagues or our superiors. For little funding or to have our voice recognized.

Now, we hear that this election is one of the most divisive of our time. That President Obama is the “Great Divider.”

But really people. This is divisive?

Not quite. Remember that little thing we call the Civil War? How about Vietnam? The New Deal?

So, which elections might upstage our current “divisive” little war the media is playing into our homes each night?

Here’s my list:

5. 1948:  Truman/Dewey/Thurmond

When Harry Truman created the Committee on Civil Rights he assured himself the abandonment of one chunk of his party: The South. Splintering from the Democratic party were the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond as their candidate). Their platform included the following:

We call upon all Democrats and upon all other loyal Americans who are opposed to totalitarianism at home and abroad to unite with us in ignominiously defeating Harry S. Truman, Thomas E. Dewey and every other candidate for public office who would establish a Police Nation in the United States of America.

Sound familiar? Thought it might.

Though the Dixiecrats never amounted to much of a political party, they did remind America that the issues surrounding Civil Rights had not healed since the Civil War. No longer was it assured that a Democratic Presidential candidate would win the “Solid South.”

4. 1868: Grant/Seymour

Known as the first “Bloody-Shirt” Campaign, this was the first election post-Civil War. Both parties raised the banner of the “bloodied shirt” of either the Civil War martyr or hero, and continued a sectional divide. In the case of Horatio Seymour (Democratic candidate) he got hung with the shirt because of an address given to NYC draft rioters in 1863 where he addressed them as “My Friends.” Beyond that, Seymour’s family was called into question; his father had committed suicide and Republicans called Seymour mentally unstable. Grant wasn’t spared the “shirt”, either. He was labelled “Grant the Butcher.” Northerner and Southerner were kept fighting, and the spirit of the Civil War lingered with the “Bloody Shirts.”

3. 1828: Jackson/J.Q. Adams

The animosity during this election was born of the 1824 election which the Jackson campaign called the “Corrupt Bargain.” America was quickly being torn in three: East vs. South vs. The New West.

Today, we have personal attacks on President Obama and Mitt Romney (including everything from their religious views to their origin of birth), however, this pales in comparison to the attacks on Jackson and Adams.

Jackson was labelled as a murderer (his handling of military deserters coming out via the Coffin Handbills), an Indian killer, and unstable (his love of dueling).

The Adams camp learned that Jackson was dating and married his wife Rachel before she was legally divorced from her first husband. The Jackson campaign uncovered the fact that while Adams was serving as Minister to Russia, he’d allowed the Czar to have his way with an American servant girl.

Ultimately, the campaign came down to the question of: Do you want the husband of a whore or a pimp in office?

2. 1796/1800: Adams/Jefferson

Ignoring Washington’s advice to not have political parties, America quickly divided itself into two camps with the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans as the standard bearers.

The elections of 1796 and 1800 pitted two friends against one another. While not the coffin in their friendship, the election would sour it. [The election of 1801 destroyed their friendship, and it wouldn’t be rekindled until 1811 and they would remain friends until their deaths on 4 July 1826… within hours of each other]

These elections began the sectional issues that wouldn’t be resolved until 1865. At play were pro-British/pro-French feelings, Agrarian vs. industrial societal issues, and the power of the Federal Government.

Via pamphlet written by James T. Callender (secretly paid for by Jefferson), Adams was accused of building an army during the Quasi-War with France that would become a tool to oppress the nation. Also in question were the new taxes that Adams had put in place to fund the new army and navy, and deficit spending to fund federal projects.

The biggest complaint against Adams were his Alien and Sedition Acts. The last act, titled “An Act in Addition to the Act Entitled “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States” made it illegal to publish anything false or scandalous about Congress or the President. Nothing like a handy tool to suppress political campaigning. John Callender was prosecuted under this act and spent the remainder of Adams’ presidency in jail.

Jefferson was labeled a deist with pro-French Revolution sympathies who would undermine everything American. Ironically, after Jefferson assumed the Presidency, Callender felt slighted by Jefferson and published information about Jefferson’s illegitimate children with his slave Sally Hemings.

1. 1860: Lincoln/Breckenridge

Civil War. Not much else needs to be said.

There are plenty of other times when America was pulled asunder by politics (1980, 1968, 1936, 1912), but these five elections stand out to me as not only showing how this election is but a blip on the radar of divisiveness, but also how the issues at hand today had been fought over since our nation’s inception.

When the television talking heads try to work you up into a lather over some little issue, try to read beyond this and realize that despite out current political chasm, we’ve weathered worse.


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