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Letter from American History - February 2011

By American History editors 
Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: December 03, 2010 
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Uncivil Politics

All the name calling and negativity that filled the air during the recent electoral season was tame compared to the innuendo unleashed during the presidential election of 1828, when the incumbent John Quincy Adams tried in vain to stave off a populist challenge by Andrew Jackson. The Adams camp circulated a handbill covered with coffins suggesting Jackson had illegally executed deserters during the War of 1812. In response the Jackson camp intimated that when Adams was a young diplomat he had procured American virgins for the Russian czar. Then, as now, personal and partisan rancor permeated the political process. But as Peter Carlson reveals in our cover story, "Pistols at Dawn," when our republic was young and unruly an exchange of insults between politicians could sometimes prove deadly. One of the mementos Jackson brought with him to the White House was a bullet from a duel that was lodged so close to his heart it could not be removed. Jackson was prepared to duel over the slightest affront. And he was not alone.

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