(WATCH) Dirty Politics

As we press into the presidential campaign, it turns out today’s political figures got nothing on our forefathers and their contemporaries. Lisa Fletcher reports from the library of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. 

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

It’s been called the ugliest debate in American history.

Hillary Clinton: “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Donald Trump: “Because you would be in jail.”

This presidential debate — featuring a Republican nominee riding a populist wave and a Democratic challenger, who many came to see as an elitist — might have happened back in 2016, but historians will say the personal attacks and the mudslinging are the evolution of political tactics used in the 1828 presidential election, pitting Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams.

Jessica Pilkington: This is called Old House at Peace field.

Jessica Pilkington is an historian and draws her perspective as curator of Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.

This sprawling property, now tucked into a suburban Boston neighborhood, is the birthplace of sixth U.S. president John Quincy Adams and his father, the second U.S. president, John Adams.

The estate also contains an impressive collection of John Quincy Adams’ books.

Jessica Pilkington: Welcome to the Stone Library.

Lisa: Wow.

Pilkington: This houses all of John Quincy Adams’ books. And if you can think of a topic of book, there’s probably a copy of it in this building.

Lisa Fletcher: I want to talk about the 1828 election.

Pilkington: The election of 1828 is really a mudslinging election. Neither Andrew Jackson or John Quincy Adams themselves really campaign, but they have people doing it for them. Andrew Jackson was married to a woman named Rachel. When he married her, she was not legally divorced from her previous husband. And so you’re seeing people who support John Adams saying, “You can’t vote for Andrew Jackson; he’s a bigamist.”

Lisa: And that was amplified then on the campaign trail?

Pilkington: Yes. John Quincy Adams’ wife, who was born in the United Kingdom, so that was another thing that was used against John Quincy Adams — “your foreign-born wife” — so soon after the American Revolution.

Another political strategy Pilkington says was first popularized in the 1828 campaign was to make your opponent seem out-of-touch with voters. Jackson’s supporters seized such an opportunity.

Pilkington: John Quincy Adams believed that we should have observatories and watch the skies. And he, in a speech, called them lighthouses of the skies. Which I think is a pretty phrase, but is latched onto as, “See how out-of-touch this man is, a lighthouse of the sky.” John Quincy Adams loses, and he loses in a landslide. These tactics for Jackson work.

Lisa Fletcher: It’s so easy to draw parallels.

Pilkington: Yeah. It’s not a straight line. Lots of twists and turns along the way. But I think particularly in these attacks, that’s one thing that kind of held on.

Standing the test of time, like the Adams Stone Library — just not as becoming.

For Full Measure, I’m Lisa Fletcher in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Watch story here.

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