The 2016 presidential election seems to be the most divisive and nastiest in U.S. history.
“I didn’t even watch the debate,” said voter AJ Groome.
“It’s a shame,” said another voter.
But while the partisan strife seems so bad this time around, the Connecticut State Library is trying to put voters at ease with a history lesson.
History professor Matt Warshauer is giving people perspective. He says ruthless and tiresome campaigning is almost as old as the union, and was far worse in the early 1800s.
“They’re doing the same thing we see happening now. They’re digging for every single piece of dirt,” said Dr. Warshauer.
For instance, President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson were once good friends and helped America claim independence.
However, during the election of 1800, party politics split the dynamic duo.
Thomas Jefferson’s campaign eventually compared Adams to a hermaphrodite and claimed he had sex with four women during an overseas trip. “Sex sells then, and sex sells now,” said Dr. Warshauer.
As for attacks against Jefferson, a Connecticut newspaper said that “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced" if he were to be elected. Word even spread that Jefferson was dead!
“We all live in a very sensationalist society and we all love the sensation,” said Dr. Warshauer.
If you were interested, Thomas Jefferson won the bout.
The sensation continued with the 1828 race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, which is considered one of the darkest elections in U.S. history.
Adams, Harvard educated and the son of a president, was labeled an elitist, corrupt, and a pimp. It was also reported during the campaign that he had premarital sex with his future wife.
For Jackson, who made his name in the military, the charges were more malicious: he was labeled a murderer, a drunk and someone who couldn’t even spell.
“These stories flood throughout America,” said, Dr. Warshauer.
Adams' campaign even called Jackson’s dead mother a prostitute. Jackson's wife was also accused of being in multiple marriages at once and was teased for being short and overweight. Jackson’s wife, a very religious woman, was humiliated and died before Jackson took office.
For that election, Jackson eventually claimed victory.
“It's a very sad component of this election that's so mean-spirited,” said Dr. Warshauer.
Dr. Warshauer tells these stories to remind people that democracy is an experiment and the founders knew it would get messy, especially when there's sharp division in the country.
However, Dr. Warshauer says they didn't expect citizens to give up, which is why he’s encouraging voters to always be present and know their history.
“The moment people lose virtue, the moment they become ignorant and corrupt, our republic is done,” said, Dr. Warshauer.