Surviving the Holidays, the Smear Campaign of 1800, and wacky ole Uncle Ted

Well, the election is over, and the Holidays are fast approaching. Yes, a time for family gatherings, turkey and all the trimmings, and, of course, wacky ole Uncle Ted. He’s really a pretty great guy, but in an election year, he can be hard to take. He’s that fretting partisan terrified of the future of the Republic. He wants his country back. At the worst, he is of the firm opinion that the current President is a Kenyansocialistantichrist. He will declare that the nation has reached a turning point. “Have you gone out and got your gubbins check yet?” he asks. Don’t get him started on Obamacare.
If only, if only, Romney had won!
Take heart. Uncle Ted has been with us for a long time.
It all started with the Presidential campaign of 1800. The Federalists were running John Adams for President against the Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams had been George Washington’s VP and was elected President in 1796. But the non-charismatic and decidedly weak-willed President had plummeted in popularity. The Federalist Party decided the best strategy was to play upon the fears of the people and demonize Thomas Jefferson to get their man Adams reelected. Jefferson was a friend of France and an admirer of the principles of the French Revolution. Due to his affiliations with France, they suggested that he too would affect the type of bloody reign of terror that had occurred there, eventually rising up to a position of unmitigated power as Napoleon Bonaparte had done in the previous year. Jefferson, along with many of the Founding Fathers, was a Deist and belonged to no particular faith. The Federalist press jumped on Jefferson’s liberal views of religion at once, styling him as an immoral atheist who supported the destruction of society and the rise of anarchy. The mud-throwing in the campaign started early – and it started in the church.

The New England clergy launched the vilification of Jefferson, denouncing his “disbelief in the Deluge and his opposition to Bible-reading in the schools.” **(true) On July 4, 1798, Timothy Dwight, a congregational minister and president of Yale delivered a ringing condemnation of Jefferson’s supposed atheism. In a widely reprinted sermon, Dwight, whom critics sarcastically called “His Holiness Pope Timothy,” prophesied the likely consequence of a Jefferson victory. Dwight delivered a speech urging the voters to defeat the Jeffersonians—“the Illuminati, the philosophers, the
atheists, and the deists.” Dwight predicted dire consequences if Jefferson and his party were to be elected to office:

 “We may see the Bible cast into a bonfire, the vessels of the sacramental supper borne by an ass in public procession, and our children, either wheedled or terrified, uniting in chanting mockeries against God.”
 Forrest Church wrote: “The religious divide ran largely along sectional lines. ‘We want no Southern lights in these parts,’ Timothy Dwight’s brother Theodore editorialized in the Connecticut Courant. ‘We have Northern lights – we have gospel light, and political light, sufficient to exterminate Jacobinism. One New York minister wrote: “Though there is nothing in our constitution to restrict our choice, yet the open and warm preference of a manifest enemy to the religion of Christianity, in a Christian nation, would be an awful symptom of the degeneracy of that nation, and a rebellion against God.” The Rev. William Linn of New York proclaimed that “the election of any man avowing the principles of Mr. Jefferson would…destroy religion, introduce immorality and loosen all the bonds of society.” The Connecticut Courant predicted: “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced. (!!) ** (my exclamation points)
 The Gazette of the United States delicately framed the issue as:

THE GRAND QUESTION STATED

At the present solemn moment, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart is ‘Shall I continue in allegiance
TO GOD–AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; or impiously declare for
JEFFERSON–AND NO GOD!’

The scurrilous campaign waged by the Federalists and the religious right ultimately failed, and the election of 1800 set a precedent for a peaceful transfer of power as the American Way. The American people elected Thomas Jefferson proved himself to be one of our greatest presidents.

So, as the Holidays approach, don’t think that the phenomenon that is wacky ole Uncle Ted is anything new. He’s just part of a tradition that’s as old as America itself.  So enjoy your Holidays and give Uncle Ted some love!
Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers themed tours of Historic Charleston including the Old Walled City Tour, the Home and Garden Tour, the Slavery and Freedom Tour, and the Charleston Ghost Walk. Go to www.walledcitytours.com to learn more!
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