Ever since President Donald Trump barreled onto the political scene and “did it his way,” Americans started to wonder, “What has become of our political climate?”
While we may like to think that we've evolved since 1789, it seems the contentious and, at times, violent clash of views may prove that when it comes to politics, Darwin doesn't stand a chance.
A closer look at the first few administrations shows that name-calling, partisan fighting, battles over the Constitution, and even violence aren't an anomaly — they're the norm.
From the beginning of his campaign, Trump rocked the political arena by mocking his opponents. We can't forget about the time he called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” and the entire nation erupted in outrage, or the time she called his supporters “deplorable,” and hasn't been able to live it down.
However, rewind to the birth of our nation and you'll find name-calling is as old as our country itself.
According to historian Ron Chernow, at one point, President James Monroe called Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton a “scoundrel” and the two “adopted the ritual of a duel.” Yes, name-calling resulted in more than a duel with words, it resulted in a duel with pistols.
The name-calling got so bad, that during an essay about Hamilton aka “Tom Shit,” the writer blasted his “Creolian” writing and charged him with being of mixed race (that was a really big deal then).
The writer also accused Washington of being Hamilton's “immaculate daddy,” and fueled unfounded rumors that Washington fathered Hamilton.
For many people, the amount of partisan fighting we're seeing is overwhelming and is not only a political turn-off, but seems counterproductive.
While it may be true that you get more with honey than you do with vinegar, even a bipartisan cabinet couldn't keep odds at bay.
As early as the first administration, Federalists and Republicans were using pen names and newspapers to berate the other side of the aisle. Fast forward to the 45th administration and little has changed.
We may have swapped pen names for real names and hard copies for social media, but the concept is the same.
Chernow noted the partisan fighting became so intense that President Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the street to avoid meeting and turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch hats.”
He added that during John Adams's presidency, the two parties “surrendered all trust in each other.” On the one hand, Hamilton likened men who risked their lives and wrote the founding documents to “more Frenchmen than Americans.”
The other side of the aisle equated policies they disagreed with to the “treacherous deeds of men in league with England and bent on bringing back [King] George III.”
Yes, they may have powdered their wigs and donned waistcoats, but at one point, men who we see as the epitome of respect and class were seen physically fighting on the floor of Congress Hall in 1798.
Chernow noted that Jefferson once wrote, “Party animosities have raised a wall of separation between those who differ in political sentiments.”
When Trump signed an executive order on immigration that temporarily halted immigration from seven countries, people were outraged. Many declared that it was outside of the president's power and a constitutional showdown ensued.
Claims that the Constitution has been violated are certainly shocking, however, the truth is, battles over the validity of someone's actions in the eyes of the Constitution were being debated by the very people who wrote and signed the document.
As treasury secretary, Hamilton wanted to create a central bank in an effort to stabilize the economy and establish a currency that would be accepted in every state.
However, author of the Constitution and future President James Madison opposed the bank, and while speaking on the House floor said, “Reviewing the Constitution ... it was not possible to discover in it the power to incorporate a bank.”
Not unlike in today's battles, different parts of the document can be used to either support or oppose a measure, and Hamilton turned to Article 1, Section 8, which gives Congress the right to pass any legislation deemed “necessary and proper.”
Yes, resorting to violence to express political opinions is shocking. Yes, there are better ways to solve problems. No, it's nothing new.
In 1794, a whiskey tax was passed by Congress. It is considered to be the first “sin tax,” and to say people weren't pleased would be an understatement. Chernow explained that federal tax collectors were “shunned, tarred, feathered, blindfolded, and whipped,” for doing their job.
When France went to war with Great Britain, President George Washington signed the Jay Treaty, which seemingly strengthened economic ties to Great Britain while remaining neutral in the war.
The backlash was so bad, that Washington, who is touted as the single greatest president the United States has ever had, feared he and his supporters would be guillotined.
On the Fourth of July, the day our country celebrates its independence, John Jay, author of five Federalist Papers and chief negotiator of the Jay Treaty, was burned in effigy in so many cities, Chernow wrote that he said he “could have walked the length of America by the glow of his own flaming figure.”
The United States of America was created out of an inherent need to have a place where we are represented equally and justly. Forty-five presidents later, we seem to face the same problems that we did when we first started out.
However, one major change in the past 200 years is that we've strayed from the days when men went into debt to serve their country for a short span of time — a time when legislative service was a sacrifice, not a career.
After resigning from his position with the meager finances of less than $500, Hamilton made an observation about our Constitution — almost prophetic — to our current state of affairs:
“Now, mark my words. 'So long as we are a young and virtuous people, this instrument will bind us together in mutual interests, mutual welfare, and mutual happiness.”
However, he added, “But when we become old and corrupt, it will bind us no longer.'”