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Politics 101: Murderers, Drunkards and Draft Dodgers



While Virginians are saturated with campaign flyers, signs, billboards and commercials before the Nov. 6 election, it's worth remembering that the art of the negative campaign is almost as old as the nation itself.

The Virginia Historical Society just announced a new, online-only exhibit of campaign memorabilia from every U.S. presidential election, assembled by Virginia collector Allen A. Frey. To see coins, buttons, banners and even an 1892 ad in the shape of a diaper, go to A few highlights:

1824: In a four-way race, Henry Clay is called a drunkard, Andrew Jackson is accused of murder, John Quincy Adams is painted as an aloof snob, and William Crawford is accused of mismanaging public funds.

1840: A Democratic newspaper article jokes that William Henry Harrison would be happy retiring from the campaign to sit in his log cabin with a barrel of hard cider — an image Harrison's campaign embraces. In turn, the Whigs mock Martin Van Buren as an effete dandy who sips from gold goblets while the people struggle.

1884: Grover Cleveland is accused of being a Civil War draft-dodger who fathered an illegitimate child.

1908: Candidate William Howard Taft's own campaign prints postcards showing Taft as an opossum playing golf, with the caption "It's a Great Game for Us Fat People, Isn't It?" Somehow this helps him win the election.

1944: Candidate Thomas Dewey declares that any negative campaigning about Franklin D. Roosevelt's handling of the war would be unpatriotic. Dewey instead attacks Roosevelt's age and health and prints posters linking his campaign to the Ku Klux Klan.

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