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 gubbamint 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 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 effect 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
. ‘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 awfull 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:


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
or impiously declare for

The scurrilous campaign waged by the Federalists and the
religious right ultimately failed, and the election of 1800 set a precedent for
peaceful transfer of power as the American Way. The American people elected
Thomas Jefferson who 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!
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