Admittedly, American presidential elections are a mishmash of mudslinging contests, orchestrated character assassination, pulling out age-old skeletons from the closet, smear campaigns and lastly, public interest taking a patient far-cornered seat. Now, that the 2016 American election is on the horizon, it would be viable to draw parallels from history’s most profiled and meticulously documented elections to date.
Compiled below are historic incidents in US presidential elections; oddly enough, certain patterns and themes are recurring herein, as you will notice:
1. Presidential Campaign Escalates to a Deathly Duel
The result of 1800 election compelled the United States to revise its own constitution. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were pitted against each other.
Prior to the 12th amendment, 2 votes each were reserved for Electoral College associates. The candidates with the highest votes won, the runner-up earned vice presidency.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were tied with 73 votes (John Adams with 65 votes). To break the tie, Congress sought Alexander Hamilton, who had least of interest with the 3 candidates at hand. Hamilton campaigned for Thomas Jefferson, thinking Aaron Burr was a self-centered prick (sounds familiar?).
In conclusion, Thomas Jefferson was announced as the victor of the election and Aaron Burr as the runner-up (vice president) in 1801.
The Deadly Duel
The seeds of hatred had been germinating between Aaron Burr and Alexender Hamilton for 3 years. In a duel, Burr shot Hamilton dead.
2. The Rising Politician
President John F. Kennedy set 3 major precedents on becoming the American president in 1960. He was the first Catholic president, born in the 20th century and the youngest person to hold a presidential seat, simultaneously.
Pitting an invisible senator (Kennedy) against a twice serving American vice-president (Nixon) was the 4th precedent. The 5th precedent set was the birth of televised American presidential debates from thereon.
Nixon had recently been hospitalized. He refused to wear makeup, which served to increase his thin, sickly appearance. He had a 5 o’clock shadow. He wore a gray suit that blended into the background. His appearance left much to be desired, historians would note.
On screen, Nixon looked sick and wore a gray suit. Kennedy looked crisp and wore a blue suit.
Showdown: Nixon vs. Kennedy
The 70-million American viewers felt Kennedy won the debate, while those tuned in to the radio felt Nixon won.
Kennedy won by a slight margin of 119,000 votes against Nixon. Kennedy won the election with a mishmash of both his televised debate and holding a get-out-jail trump card for Martin Luther. It changed the election campaign totally as he roped in African Americans within his fold.
Only 16 years later, was another presidential debate televised after Nixon-Kennedy standoff.
3. Truman Truly Truncates Himself
American President Harry Truman was defeated before the elections even began. Thomas Dewey owned him, period.
In 2 decades, both houses belonged to the Republicans, a precedent on its own.
As per opinion polls, 1 in 3 American approved Truman in the presidency.
Henry Wallace was enraged at the foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union and announced his candidacy for contesting in the next elections.
A Shocking Twist of Fate
With everything going against him, Southern Democrats jumped the sinking ship due to his stand on civil rights, electing Strom Thurmond and creating States Rights Party. More so, polls taken released data that Dewey defeated Truman by 5% points. Harry Truman predicted his own defeat. He was awoken from his slumber by agency agents to inform him of his victory.
Making a meal of itself was The Chicago Daily; it published its morning newspaper with its iconic headline: Dewey defeats Truman, banking on polls. It also called Truman a nincompoop.
4. Prison-based Presidential Campaign
As the battle enraged between 2 major newspaper publishing houses, whereas James Cox defeated Warren G. Harding comprehensively with a victory in 37 states out of 48.
Eugene Debs was a liberal politician, standing for the Socialist Party in 1900, 1904, 1908 and then again in 1912 (persistent, isn’t he?). He gained 900,000 votes in 2012.
Strangely enough, he stood for the 5th time, this time, from the prison.
Arrested for being a Humanitarian
Incarcerated for all the wrong reasons; he was previously arrested for railroad strike in 1894, in 1981, he gave an anti-war speech, where he lampooned the elitist attitude of government for sending working class to wage wars. His slogan: Yours not to reason why. Yours just to do and die.
Arrested under espionage law, he received a generous 10-year sentence (Snowden/ Assange?). Riots erupted known as May Day riots of 1919, due to which he was shifted to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. He ran his campaign from prison and rallied up 900,000 votes again, but was defeated by Harding.
On Christmas, Harding commuted his jail sentence.
5. The Summer of Corruption
Talk about oddities coming out of the woodwork. The 4 candidates were all from Democratic/ Republican parties, whereas Federalist Party was on the brink of extinction.
The popular statesman and war hero, Andrew Jackson, earned 99 Electoral College votes and 39,000 ballots. John Adams earned 84 votes.
As no presidential nominee earned majority votes, Congress settled the deadlock in its own way. Andrew Jackson was slated to be the president, Clay was axed. As Clay’s supporters threw weight behind John Adams, he won the majority of the votes from Illinois, Maryland and Louisiana, which were Andrew’s home states.
Andrew Jackson was disgruntled with the final outcome, accusing Clay and Adams of a corrupt bargain. He resigned from his Senate seat and promised to hack 1828 elections. Creating his party, Democrats, Jackson bested Adams in 1828 elections.
6. A Nation Standing at Crossroads
In the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln defeated John Breckinridge by a landslide, the election witnessing the highest turnout of Americans till today. More importantly, it split the American nation and the Democratic Party into 2 camps.
In 1857, the Supreme Court’s decision legalized slavery in the entire American landscape, this could change everything. Republicans were against the institution of slavery, yet wasn’t intending to push towards scrapping off slavery in states which legalized it. The Democratic Party was a conflicted mess at that point with respect to slavery.
Seeds of Secession are Sown
The Democratic Party represented 2 presidential hopefuls, Senator Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge. As per the Electoral College, Lincoln won just 40% of public votes but swept Oregon, California and North. Douglas followed up 2nd, taking only Missouri and New Jersey. Breckinridge swept Maryland, Delaware and South.
Subsequent to the elections, South Carolina seceded, along with 6 states from southern America. The Confederate States of America formed in 1861, with Jefferson Davis as its president. 4 more states joined the Confederacy after a South Carolina militia coup.
7. Presidential Vetting goes South
Senator George McGovern decided to select Senator Thomas Eagleton to stand up as his running mate, in hopes to ramp up catholic votes. Many high-profile Democrats had declined to be running mates. However, Eagleton was less intensely vetted compared to Paul Ryan or Sarah Palin. His dirty secret: He suffered from intense depression, was hospitalized thrice and had received electroshock therapy twice. McGovern soon enough observed that his asset was becoming a liability.
Spill the Beans
In a news conference, McGovern decided to reveal his medical history of the press, informing them only McGovern knew about the medical affair. He later withdrew from the official campaign run.
Richard Nixon desecrated his competition (McGovern) with a landslide victory. It became a cautionary tale for future would-be presidents to choose their running mates more carefully next time.
8. Epic Presidential Mudslinging Contest
The Daisy ad is a product of this era, as it portrayed Republican Barry Goldwater as hardly the right man to be given access to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The ad to this day is tantamount to radioactive mudslinging.
The stage was set in 1964, as blacks charged against selective brutality by police (sounds familiar?), 1964 was the year of Civil Rights Act, which was protested by southern whites. This election would impact the future elections.
A Wild Card Enters
George Wallace raced against Goldwater and Johnson. Being a segregationist, he managed to win 30% and 40% votes in Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland respectively. He gave both his opponents sleepless nights since he shored up support in non-southern states and could sink Goldwater by standing from a third-party ticket.
Goldwater would be seen as a racist for years to come as he voted against Civil Rights Act.
Johnson had to make a deal with Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and segregationists, angering southerners by selecting Hubert Humphrey as his presidential running mate.
Lyndon B. Johnson swept an oddly strange election to this day. Goldwater simply won in his home states. However, Republicans still wield political dominance in southern states to this day.
9. Death before an Election
The year 1872 was marked by firsts of its own, as Victoria Woodhull became the first female candidates to stand in elections, Frederick Douglass became the first African American to run for vice president and lastly, Susan Anthony under arrest for illegal voting. But, the real interesting part is coming up next.
Presidential Nominee Wins and Demises
Horace Greeley was a no-hoper from the start against President Ulysses Grant, but a conflict of interests creates waves in Republican Party.
However, Grant was far from known for his tenure in Oval Office compared to his success over Confederacy. Due to this reason, support for Greeley rallied up from some Republicans, resulting in 44% of popular votes, given the fact that he had withdrawn from his presidential campaign to look after his spouse. Greeley also died in 1871, before Electoral College would release its votes. His votes were distributed between Democrats, which were 63/ 66. However, Grant attended his funeral.
10. Presidential Candidate Thrown under the Bus
Republican Rutherford Hayes was defeated by Democrat Samuel Tilden, capturing quarter million popular votes and 19 additional votes in Electoral College.
Democrat Samuel Tilden had beaten Republican Rutherford Hayes. He snared a quarter-million more ballots in the popular vote, and he had 19 more votes in the Electoral College. Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon states were doubting the results of elections, citing fraud. A 15 membered commission was set up comprising of Republicans and Democrats.
The Deal Went Sour
Justice Joseph Bradley was one hard-nosed Republican, ensured the victory of Rutherford Hayes with his efforts. The Democrats viewed this as a defeat, but a backroom deal was brokered as per which federal troops were withdrawn from the South due to Reconstruction.
Hayes was sworn as American president in 1877 and the troops were taken off from the South. The progress of African Americans ended up in smoke, it would take a new century for the civil rights movement to spark again.