For the last month, the press and airwaves have been packed full of messages extolling the strengths and/or weaknesses of various candidates, issues or proposals.
The language of persuasion sometimes can be more forceful than diplomatic -- seemingly the case more often than not in recent years. But not long ago, the two major political parties -- Republican and Democrat -- were considered to be "big tents," with liberal and conservative wings complementing a moderate middle in each party. Such may no longer be the case.
As the language of politics becomes more noticeable and the actions of political actors more assertive, it is easy to conclude that politics has reached a new and unique place in our lives and culture, a place it has never been before.
That conclusion would be mistaken.
If anything, in an era before radio, television or the internet, politics in America was and always has been one of the great participatory activities in our lives.
We have, for much of our history, had a persistent skepticism about the people who represent us. In 1821, only five years after the Ohio General Assembly had met for the first time in its new capital of Columbus, a local writer using the pen name of Fabius noted in a letter to a local newspaper the "private, personal, demoralizing conduct of very many members of that Assembly during their stay among us."
On the other hand, a different writer in 1826 remarked on the positive aspects of Ohio politics: "We have always been free in Ohio from the husting speeches of England, or the stump speeches of Indiana and Kentucky; which are nothing more than a mass of egotism and empty declaration. These brilliant efforts of the candidates enlighten no man's judgment."
But the efforts were not likely to go away.
Politics in America can be seen as a recurring set of waves reflective of the life and culture of our people. Periods of relative calm and stability are punctuated by times of change and upheaval. The pattern has repeated itself on many occasions and new actors have marched onto the stage and attempted to make their own mark on the era in which they lived.
One of those actors was William Henry Harrison. His time came in 1840.
Harrison was born in 1773 into a Virginia family with a long history but little in the way of wealth. Harrison joined the army of Gen. Anthony Wayne as it marched north in 1794 to victory at a place called Fallen Timbers. He was present the following year when the Treaty of Greenville was signed. That treaty opened the Ohio Country to further settlement.
Over the next several years, he made a name for himself as the first governor of the Indiana Territory and later as the victor of the Battle of Tippecanoe and as a successful general in the War of 1812. After moving back to Ohio, he served in the House of Representatives, in the Senate and as an ambassador to Colombia.
But then his political luck changed. Another general, Andrew Jackson, rode a career of military success to the presidency.
Harrison, on the other hand, returned to private life while continuing to hope for ultimate political success. It took a while, but Harrison's time finally came in the late 1830s. Emerging as a counterpoint to Jackson's Democratic Party, the Whig Party was looking for a candidate who could win the presidency and defeat Martin Van Buren, Jackson's hand-picked successor. The party found one in Harrison.
A later account recalled that the Baltimore American, a Democratic newspaper, "after General Harrison's nomination, sneeringly remarked that he was obscure and unimportant; that 'for $2000 a year he would be content to remain in his log cabin and drink hard cider for the balance of his days.' This sneer ... was seized by the Whigs as their battle-cry against the opposition.
"The history of the first of the campaign log cabins in Columbus begins with the organization of the Franklin County Straightout Tippecanoe Club, which took place, April 9, 1840, on the open lawn in the rear of John Young's Eagle Coffeehouse. A crowd large for those days was present and was regaled with a barrel of hard cider ... The generous liquor was imbibed with a gourd."
Further meetings were held and the opposition held noisy rallies of its own. Feelings ran high: "So strong was the partisan feeling that year that the Fourth of July was celebrated by the Whigs and Democrats separately."
In the end, William Henry Harrison won the election and delivered for two-and-a-half hours what is still the longest inaugural address in American history. One month later, he died of pneumonia. But he had reached the goal he had sought for so long and in the process helped create -- for better or worse -- a style of campaigning that is with us still.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.