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The vitriol in the election campaign is nothing new

The vitriol in the election campaign is nothing new

Because of instant satellite communications, many people feel bombarded with “TMI” – too much information, especially about wars on the other side of the sky, the rising death toll and suffering children.

Despite gang wars, drug deaths near their homes, and questions about how to get their children to school, Americans today are trying to stay optimistic and just keep going despite the news, praying for the tortured innocents in war zones and asking for help for the “good guys,” who we really hope are actually good guys.

For me, supporting Ukraine with prayers and encouragement is a no-brainer. It costs me nothing since I no longer commute to Washington and I don’t have to worry about offending Senator So-and-so.

I am dismayed at the dissolution of sensible campaigns for public office. Character? – Out with it. Honesty? – For fools. Cooperation in the interests of the governed? – If they are a minority, shoot them first and ask questions later.

Aside from the civil war, the US media is currently spreading lies and hatred that can only be surpassed by previous duels of honor and lies that defamed the opposing candidate’s family and morals.

This happened a few hundred years ago between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams during their election campaign for the presidency of the new United States.

In 1830, in a very young nation, there were newspapers and no internet to amplify the rhetoric, but questions of conscience in governance are as important today as they were in the 1810s.

Jackson despised Adams; Adams’ father, the famous John Adams of the Declaration of Independence era, disliked Jackson’s harsh, combative judicial style and tirades. Jackson was convinced that his first election campaign had been stolen and that he had been robbed of his high office.

Over the next four years, he began loudly and in print to hurl mud at his opponent, the incumbent President of the United States, who in turn hurled mud back at him.

Poor Rachel Jackson was the vulnerable victim: gossip was not taboo for families. When Adams’ tenure in the White House ended, he refused to “receive” the new victor who had pushed him out the door. This meant that no tea, coffee, or biscuits awaited the new President Jackson, nor a welcome mat, not even to honor him in his grief.

Jackson’s beloved wife Rachel had just died of heart failure, destroyed by vicious rumors. She had been a gentle, kind soul and beautiful in her youth, and after a brief, unhappy marriage to her first husband, she mistakenly entrusted him with the divorce papers.

Perhaps out of spite, he never did. Rachel’s subsequent marriage on the frontier to the enamored general was later called invalid, adultery, and worse. Her character was publicly ridiculed in an era when shame could destroy women.

She was deeply hurt and died of grief, but to Jackson it was murder. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans had been powerless to prevent his wife’s suffering; once you are in public life you are fair game, in Rachel Jackson’s time no less than in ours… hostile gossip campaigns can be orchestrated, and if shame can kill a person, then it was the end for the sensitive Rachel.

Fast forward… disadvantaged minorities in Jackson’s time were the Cherokee Native Americans, who had lived on their land for thousands of years. Now the new president, with his hardline attitude, insisted that they leave it and replace it with white settlers. The tribe took its claim to ownership to the Supreme Court and won:

The judges decided that it was morally wrong to drive peaceful people from their homes and livelihoods, and it was. Ha! President Jackson sent troops to drive the Indians from their homes and didn’t bat an eyelid. “Hm! The Chief Justice has given his verdict. Now let him enforce it!” The court had the upper hand; Jackson saw only potential owners of new territories. There was no competition.

Members of my own family came with mules, wagons and axes and cleared 600 acres of what is now Winston County. Rightly or wrongly, we have been here ever since. Other family members back east owned slaves. One great-great-grandfather rode with the Confederate cavalry throughout the Civil War.

During this time, morality was uncertain, depending on which side brought in the heavy guns. Those of us, like myself, who still love history need to take a deep breath and look at its dark side. The benevolent justice of the white man has often proven to be neither one nor the other.

Linda Berry is a Northsider.