If My Guy Doesn’t Win

Published:November 6, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

It’s Election Day and we’re all tired of the negative campaigning. As such, it has become almost a tradition for bloggers and journalists to quote one of the most famously negative rants against a candidate in American history. It ran in the September 15, 1800, edition of the Connecticut Courant, and the author—identified only as Burleigh—announced that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president,

Neighbours will become the enemies of neighbours, brothers of brothers, fathers of their sons, and sons of their fathers. Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest, will be openly taught and practised, the air will be rent with cries of distress, the soil soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes. Where is the heart which can contemplate such a seene, without shivering with horror!

While this sounds ridiculous to our ears, in 1800 the violence of the French Revolution seemed to hang over America like a dark cloud, and Jefferson’s sympathy for the Jacobite revolutionaries worried his foes. Burleigh continued:

Jacobins, in all countries, are destitute of morality and religion. our own are as depraved, and they only want an opportunity, to be as cruel and abandoned, as those of France. When our government is gone, this opportunity will be found, and we must then prepare for the same miseries, which France has experienced. Those miseries consist not only in the introduction of general national depravity, and a total overthrow of integrity, justice, benevolence, friendship, and affection and substituting dishonesty, injustice, cruelty, revenge, and hatred. In such a community, parental ties, filial duty, conjugal tenderness and fidelity, and social intercourse, are condemned, ridiculed, and destroyed.

Except, perhaps, for how directly it is stated, this argument is not so much different from the kinds of things we hear today.

For the entire front page of the September 15th Courant, click on the link [pdf].

IMAGE: Lamartine in front of the Hôtel de Ville (i.e. City Hall), Paris, on February 25, 1848, refusing the red flag, painted by Félix Philippoteaux; nameplate of Connecticut Courant, September 15, 1800. Alert readers will accuse me of inserting an anachronistic image of French violence—i.e., from the nineteenth, instead of the eighteenth, century, and they would be correct. But it’s a gorgeous painting, isn’t it?