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Abstract

The 1988 presidential campaign elicited numerous complaints about negative campaigning. But compared to the vicious rhetoric popular at the birth of the republic the rhetoric of the latest campaign was quite mild. Invective rhetoric was employed by the Founding Fathers, men like John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Callender. The partisan press of the time contributed greatly to the harsh tone of politics. All participants felt free to make acerbic remarks directed at the man rather than the issue, a tradition that continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Many of the charges made by American politicians were similar to allegations by politicians of the Roman republic. Since there was no invective tradition in European politics, it seems likely that American politicians were inspired by Roman models. Such attacks were generally lacking in veracity but obviously effected some political end or they would not have been employed for so long. The advent of a more responsible press in the twentieth century tamed the wild, freewheeling invective tradition considerably but did not kill it.

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