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The presidential election of 1832 was the dirtiest campaign in U.S. history.

Actually, I don’t know that it was (and it probably wasn’t) but that is said about every other  presidential election.

The illustration here is a pro-Henry Clay/anti-Andrew Jackson political cartoon from that election, where the three contenders (plus John Calhoun, who did not run for president that year) are playing three card brag, an ancestor of modern-day poker.  At the table, starting from Clay, going counterclockwise we have:

  • Henry Clay, Kentucky; National Republican Party;
  • John Calhoun, South Carolina; Nullifier Party (a short-lived third party venture aimed at Andrew Jackson’s federalism);
  • Andrew Jackson, Tennessee; Democratic Party;
  • William Wirt, Maryland; Anti-Masonic Party.

Wait- who was William Wirt?

William Wirt (November 8, 1772 – February 18, 1834) born in Bladensburg, Maryland, was the 9th US Attorney General under Presidents James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.  The Anti-Masonic Party (name self-explanatory), ironically nominated him as its choice for the 1832 election you see, he had been a freemason (albeit a former one) at the time… great guy, I’m sure; but probably not the best representative for something you’re trying to abolish.  Especially when it is believed that he gave a speech at that party’s nominating convention defending the organization.

As for the 1832 election, Jackson won it, for his second term in office.  Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, became most famous as the architect of the Compromise of 1850.  Sectionalist Calhoun, tried to one-up Jackson by claiming his state would not obey federal law in 1832; even threatening secession- that didn’t work.  And Wirt died in 1834.  His party died four years later.

Today, William Wirt is the least remembered of the four men pictured in this cartoon.  However, he made recent news in certainly the most bizarre way possible– as a victim of grave robbery (WARNING- disturbing image viewing in the above link).

Maybe the grave robbers were trying to find out if he had really been a US citizen…

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