Campaign Mudslinging: An American Tradition since (at Least) 1828

Scion of one of the most prominent (albeit cash-strapped) families in the United States, 34-year-old Philip Richard Fendall II had already made a national name for himself by 1828: he had practiced law in his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia; edited a newspaper in nearby Washington, D.C.; and was also a clerk in the U.S. State Department. Active in party politics with the Whig Party, he developed a close friendship with Henry Clay, one of the most important politicians of the era and Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams.

When Adams lost the 1828 presidential election to Democrat Andrew Jackson, Fendall's friendship with Clay and party affiliation would lose him his position in the State Department. The election of 1828 had been the nastiest the country had yet seen, with Democrats accusing Adams of a "corrupt bargain" with Clay to win the 1824 election and of misuse of public funds for the White House. Whigs attacked the morality of Jackson's personal life, his involvement in the slave trade, and especially his military record, charging him with cruelty to both his own soldiers and to Indians.

The Newberry holds an 11-volume set of dozens of pamphlets collected by Fendall, many of the volumes featuring his armorial bookplate, and with some items inscribed to him by friends and colleagues. The volumes include examples of anti-Jackson campaign literature such as the "Monumental Inscriptions," a compilation of the famous "coffin handbills" that charge Jackson with the needless and unlawful execution of deserting soldiers during the Creek War, in the form of typographic tombstone inscriptions memorializing eight soldiers.

This essay was written by Director of Reader Services and Curator of Americana Will Hansen.