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Encounters

When the President’s Best and Brightest Were Also the Richest

The Practice of Tapping the Moneyed Elite Began with WWI—and Was Surprisingly Scandal-Free

Bernard Baruch, a financier and speculator known in his day as “the lone wolf of Wall Street,” was one of the first so-called “dollar-a-year men” appointed by President Woodrow Wilson. Courtesy of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.

By Charles Rappleye
February 10, 2017

From our earliest days we Americans have embraced leaders from among the ranks of the nation’s moneyed elite. Voters set the tone when they chose George Washington, the wealthiest man on the continent at the time, as the first president.

But that choice was accompanied by a healthy skepticism of the role of money in the halls of government. As the years went by, recurrent scandals prompted rounds of reform, fostering an intricate system of rules to promote ethical conduct.

The result …

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Encounters

Remembering 1876, the Year of the Inconclusive Vote

There Has Never Been Anything Like It Before or Since

The public inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes takes place in front of the U.S. Capitol on the East Portico in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 1877.   (AP Photo)

By John Copeland Nagle
October 10, 2016

We are told that this year’s presidential election is unprecedented in many ways. The American voters are faced with the choice between an unlikely candidate who has been repudiated by many within his own party, and a seasoned politician whom the head of the FBI characterized as “extremely careless.” The tumultuousness of the race makes many long for the good old days when elections were civil, thoughtful, and quickly resolved

In other words, we are not longing for 1876.

A …

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Artifacts

The Swag—and Swagger—Behind American Presidential Campaigns

From a Coloring Book to a Painted Axe, Election Ephemera Remind Us of Hard-Fought Elections of Yore

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By Megan Smith
October 10, 2016

America’s founding is rooted in the power of the people to select their own leader. Efforts to sway the vote—via gritty campaigns driven by emotion, piles of cash, and brutal, drag-out battles—are equally American.

Years, decades and even centuries later, the essence of these fights can often be glimpsed through their ephemera—the signs, slogans, and campaign buttons that both bolster true believers and aim to coax the reluctant into the fold. These objects can suggest campaign strategy as well as the …

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Ideas

1936, When “The Dictator” FDR Was Bent On Constitutional Destruction

The Fight Over the New Deal and Roosevelt's Second Term Launched a New Style of American Political Attack

Roosevelt Wallace

By David Sehat
October 10, 2016

True or False? Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed to be a conservative defender of the nation’s founding ideals.

If you answered “both,” you’d be correct. We don’t tend to think of FDR as a conservative today, and at certain points he would have rejected the label, but in 1936 that was how he wanted to be understood. He was three years into his first term and it was far from clear there would be a second. The mandate from his 1932 …

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Encounters

Think The Press Is Partisan? It Was Much Worse for Our Founding Fathers

A Scheming and Salacious Newspaper Reporter Targeted Hamilton and Jefferson—and Nearly Ruined Them

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By Christopher B. Daly
October 10, 2016

It is a common complaint that the drive for traffic at news sites in the digital age has debased our political dialogue, turning a responsible press into a media scramble for salacious sound bites. But partisanship and scandal-mongering go way back in the American political tradition. And there was no internet to blame in 1793, the year an especially vicious and salacious newsman arrived on American shores and soon after set his sights on the founding fathers.

Despite efforts to unify …

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Encounters

How Herbert Hoover Skirted Scandal to Win the White House

The Public Was Charmed by His Presentation as an Antidote to Politics, Until the Great Depression Hit

Smith

By Charles Rappleye
October 10, 2016

It was not the craziest election of the 20th Century, but it might have been the strangest.

One candidate was a natural politician, affable and gregarious, a true man-of-the-people who favored flashy suits and a trademark derby hat. Reporters loved him and admirers thronged his events.

The other contender could easily be classified a misanthrope. He was a miserable public speaker who hated crowds and disdained the campaign regimen of shaking hands and kissing babies. For months, even after secretly directing his …

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Encounters

Handle Your Presidential Debates With Care

The Institution of Multiple Meetings Between Presidential Nominees Might Seem Old and Tired, But Such Gatherings Are a New—and Fragile—Phenomenon

Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis shakes hands with Vice President and Republican candidate George Bush, left, prior to their second and final debate at Pauley Pavillion on UCLA campus, in Los Angeles, Calif., on October 13, 1988. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)

By Joel Fox
October 10, 2016

Today, presidential debates between candidates are considered fixtures of our political scene. Though they generate the occasional dust-up—like Donald Trump complaining that some of this year’s debates conflict with high-profile sporting events, or third-party candidates demanding places on the stage—it’s hard to imagine election season without them.

But I can attest from personal experience that not long ago our presidential debates were fragile. During the 1988 presidential campaign I had a close-up view of the near-cancellation and 11th-hour rescue of a …

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