In York County and beyond, presidential races have produced rages through the ages
You’ve heard it.
Maybe you’ve even said it.
This is the most emotional U.S. presidential election ever. Or political nastiness surrounding this Obama-McCain race has never reached such lows. Or the media has never been more one-sided.
Well, I tried to bash these myths in a York Sunday News column (11/02/08). American politics have always been rough and tumble… .
J.W. Gitt of the The Gazette and Daily’s decision not to run advertising for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 prompted the distribution of this cartoon around the community. Such brickbats have been common in elections around York County – and America – since the republic’s earliest years.
You’ve heard broadcast pundits say that political rhetoric is at an all-time high and togetherness in America is at an all-time low.
Well, come sit with me in a time machine of sorts.
We’re peering into a lighted screen as the right hand operates the throttle and the left hand focuses the images confronting us.
The scene keeps changing, rolling to the left, as we peer ahead.
Or perhaps it’s to the rear, for we discover we’re seeing America’s past scrolling before us.
Specifically, the screen is flashing newspapers of yore telling about past political seasons.
Surely, those political times revealed via this time machine we’re experiencing — actually a microfilm reader — were less complex, more genteel than today.
Surely, the past was less politically polarized and filled with reasonable discourse.
Surely, the newspapers of the day would have been right down the middle and not entangled with partisan politics.
* * *
If anything, partisanship in America seems more controlled today than in the 1800s.
Or at least no worse.
Three stops on the microfilm-reader-turned-into-time machine reveal a brand of newspapering and political speech typical of the past — partisan and shrill.
Stop 1 — 1796
What he did:
Solomon Meyer, started Die York Gazette in 1796, a German-language newspaper that the York Daily Record lists as its earliest ancestor. Meyer had a weakness that undermined many great men: a love for power and politics. His anti-Federalist views gained him a military patronage post.
And then his cutting editorial perspective and political shenanigans brought Meyer into such disrepute that researcher Walter Klinefelter wrote “that he eventually forsook the publishing business and betook himself elsewhere.”
What they said:
An opposing newspaper on Meyer’s military appointment: “That this fellow has as little knowledge of military affairs as a jackass of dancing, must have been well known to our Patriot Governor.”
After Meyer left a legacy of unreported fines collected courtesy of his militia authority, his opposition opined: “There is no doubt that he has collected a goodly sum and when paid into the treasury, will relieve us from taxes.”
* * *
Stop 2 — 1863
What he did:
David Small, owner of the Democratic York Gazette, won re-election as York’s chief burgess in March 1863.
His newspaper, successor to Meyer’s publication, gloated, “In the contest which has just closed, the indomitable Democracy (Democratic Party) have gloriously triumphed over the advocates of usurpation and oppression — of the unconstitutional and iniquitous measures of Lincoln’s Administration – of domestic strife and mob-violence – over secret cabals and Abolition clubs . . . .”
What they said:
In his Gazette, Small defended the decision in which he, acting as chief burgess, and other town fathers surrendered York to the Confederates.
“So much for the citizens of our patriotic borough, so much slandered and maligned by the lying abolition press of Philadelphia and elsewhere.”
His response came after this type of criticism found in a letter in the New York Tribune: “The Chief Burgess’ name is not Strong, but David Small, . . . editor of The York Gazette, one of the most violent copperhead (anti-Lincoln) sheets in the country.”
Stop 3 – 1948
What he did:
J.W. Gitt, owner of The Gazette and Daily, was also Pennsylvania’s Progressive Party chairman. In its news columns and editorial pages, his newspaper backed the leftist third party’s candidate, Henry Wallace, in his presidential bid against Democrat Harry Truman, Republican Thomas Dewey and right-wing Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.
All that effort brought Wallace few votes in York County.
Truman topped the county ticket with 33,110 votes.
“Progressive candidate Henry A. Wallace was not in the running,” the newspaper spun, “but had polled an impressive total of 1,976 votes.
What they said:
Such handshakes with the far left prompted an anonymous letter writer to ask for U.S. Congressman Jimmy Lind to take the lead in stamping out communism in the York area.
“I am sick and tired of the pussy-footing that has gone on in York with the hotbed of local Communists maintained, led, and sponsored by Josiah W. Gitt . . . ,” the letter said.
“With over 30,000 subscribers, do you realize how many homes, how many children, how many impressionable adults dissatisfied with their jobs and upset over the trend of events, read this rotten Communistic rag and are conditioned in their thinking by its clever, diabolical slanting of the news?”
We sit before our time machine pondering what we have learned.
It’s a sad lesson.
Clearly, American politics have always been filled with extreme partisanship, political missteps, milewide divisions and flaming vitriol.
So, why are we surprised when the 2008 presidential election does the same?
When future generations scroll through microfilm, will it show that we’ve learned as individual citizens to be kinder and gentler, civil and respectful?
Some of us will learn the lesson.
But as revealed by our travel through time, more than 230 years of American political history suggests that most of us won’t.
POLITICAL CARTOONS FROM THE PAST
For a look at former Gazette and Daily cartoonist Walt Partymiller’s work on election-related editorial cartoons, check out our online gallery.
– In York County, as the saying goes, all politics is local: Read more at this blog’s politics category.
– For a concise list of past presidential visits, click here.
– For a whole blog category filled with posts on presidential visits, click here.