Since Halloween has passed, the storm is waning and the election is the next scary event on the schedule, I thought it might be appropriate to have a look at the history of elections, voting, and the complaints, real and made up, that they engender. It’s a long, and thoroughly reprehensible tale, even when confined to just American politics. But here we go.
When the country was founded, in most states, only white men with sufficient property or other wealth were permitted to vote. Freed African-American men could vote in four states. But unpropertied white men, almost all women, and all other people of color were denied the vote. By the 1860s, laws had changed and most white men were allowed to vote, whether or not they owned property. But there they drew the line. To prevent other changes, things like literacy tests, poll taxes, history and grammar questions and even religious tests were used in some places, and so most white women, people of color, and Native Americans still could not vote.
In the beginning the constitution was not much help. It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 along with several constitutional amendments to work out what kinds of things could– and couldn’t keep you from voting. The 14th amendment, added in 1868, said you could vote if you were a citizen born or naturalized and lived here. The 15th, added in 1870, said you couldn’t be excluded by “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” When women couldn’t be persuaded by torture, jail, beatings and some deaths to stop insisting on their right to vote, the 19th amendment was added in 1920 to say people could no longer be excluded “On account of sex” – Native Americans were added in 1924. It took until 1961 for residents of Washington, DC to be allowed to vote in presidential elections. The voting rights act of 1965 took further steps to protect the rights of minorities and the poor.
That’s the story of the law. But according to custom, in George Washington’s time it was considered acceptable to persuade voters by getting them drunk and “encouraging” them to vote for your side.
In the 1800 race between Jefferson and John Adams, the Connecticut Courant reported that if Jefferson won, “murder, rape, robbery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” Reportedly New Englanders hid their Bibles for fear that the infidel Jefferson would declare them illegal if elected. In 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams called Andrew Jackson a murderer and a cannibal. They accused Mrs. Jackson of being a whore.
Politics became personal very fast. In the 1828 election, a Republican pamphlet said Democrat Andrew Jackson was “a gambler, a cock-fight, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife,” an insult for which he never forgave his opponents.
Both Presidents Garfield and Cleveland’s campaigns were plagued by the mysterious appearance of letters, later found to be forged, implicating them in nefarious practices. Garfield prevailed. Cleveland lost his reelection bid
After the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, Tuck hired an elderly woman who put on a Nixon button and embraced the candidate in front of TV cameras. She said, “Don’t worry, son! He beat you last night, but you’ll get him next time.”
And he kept at it.
In 1968, Tuck utilized Republican nominee Nixon’s campaign slogan against him; he hired a very pregnant African-American woman to wander around a Nixon rally in a predominantly white area, wearing a T-shirt that said, “Nixon’s the One!”
In addition to the Swift Boat Veterans (SBV) ads that attacked John Kerry’s military record with TV spots playing in key cities in the 2004 presidential campaign, actress Jane Fonda, disliked for her ’60s Vietnam War stance, Photoshopped into a 1971 photograph with John Kerry and the bogus picture circulated widely – and anonymously.
But as far as sheer humor goes, Dick Tuck has never been beaten.
Although he was never able to attain public office himself, he kept his humor intact. The one time he ran, he lost. And when asked for a comment about his loss he replied. “The people have spoken, the bastards.”
Not a bad line to keep around in case it’s needed after next Tuesday’s vote.