When I listen to the insults and accusations on both sides of the Presidential election, I want to throw my hands up in despair. I find myself wishing for an earlier era when politicians were more civil and sane, when the world was stable and people were in agreement.
I thought, “If we could only return to the days of our founding fathers!” I did a little research about those days and was surprised. Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams and Aaron Burr to become our third President in 1800. But, he was not popular. And the campaign looked a lot like today.
If Jefferson were elected, one newspaper warned, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes." Aaron Burr leaked a private letter from Alexander Hamilton that accused Adams of having “great and intrinsic defects in his character.” Jefferson referred to Adams as a “blind, bald, crippled toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
When the votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr were tied in the Electoral College with 73 votes each. Adams received 65. The tie between Jefferson and Burr threw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives. After 35 ballots, Alexander Hamilton persuaded some of Burr’s backers to shift their votes and Jefferson was elected. Aaron Burr later killed Hamilton in a duel.
Jefferson went on to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase that extended the U.S. territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Congress tried to block the purchase, but the vote failed 57-59.
In 1860 Lincoln was elected President with 40% of the popular vote. He was referred to as an “idiot, yahoo, the original gorilla.” Abolitionists abhorred him, calling him “timid, vacillating, and inefficient.” One Ohio Republican claimed Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity.” Southern states were so incensed by his election that they seceded from the Union. The nation was thrown into Civil War.
Today millions visit the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials to pay their respects and remember two of our greatest Presidents.
The past often appears more peaceful and purposeful than the present. We know the outcome. It is “today” that confuses us. We must exercise faith and freedom of choice in the present without knowing what will happen. On November 8 we must choose the next President. But every day we must make choices that shape our lives and the lives of those around us.
We are like those who stood before Joshua at Shechem. After reminding them of God’s repeated providence for their fathers, Joshua challenged them: ‘Choose you this day whom you shall serve. ... As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).