In the current political climate of tea parties and voter polarization, the phrase “political civility” seems like an oxymoron. It seems like everything has gotten downright nasty, with each group demonizing the other, and the word “compromise” taking on negative connotations. Ah, for the good old days, when everyone believed in God, motherhood, and apple pie.
…or was it so great?
History is replete with examples of political rivalries that make the current climate look tame in comparison. There is the infamous pistol duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and the caning of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Senator Preston Brooks in 1856.
I found another interesting bit of insight into local politics in the South Carolina Digital Archives. (www.scmemory.com). One of their collections includes images of pamphlets and broadsides from Colonial times to the present. These include a letter to the Board of Trustees at Furman denouncing card playing by students, and an interesting pamphlet from one Ellison H. Miller who was running for the office alderman in 1913.
In the pamphlet Miller takes issue with comments published in the Greenville News from a “Dr. Cody.” Apparently Cody is a minister, and Miller states that, “I don’t stand for nor uphold with meddlesome preachers, preachers who are dabbling in politics.” Miller says that Cody behaves “just like any common coward or flea bitten fool and smears his ignorance over a few sheets of paper and asks the papers to publish it.” Wow. He goes on to brand Dr. Cody’s ideas (which are never given in the broadside) as “Codyism.”
By the end of the broadside Miller has worked up a full head of steam and lets loose with the following barrage:
…if the old grumpus don’t like what I say, come again and don’t stand back and squall like a Mexican greaser choked on dog liver trying to cuss the railroad out in Chinese language.
Political correctness obviously wasn’t much in vogue back then, either. Miller ends his tirade by saying that, “The News refused to publish this.” Go figure.
In addition to Miller’s broadside, in the collection there is a warning to “Beware of Frauds at the Polls” from the “Executive Committee True Democracy.” The pamphlet warned of threatened violence from supporters of “Pitchfork” Benjamin Tillman during the upcoming elections in 1890.
The pamphlets and broadsides collection currently contains 254 items. Not all of these are political in nature. Some are store register receipts, and some are simple announcements, such as this advertisement for Sullivan’s Island
These original source documents provide a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era. I’m pleased that the South Carolina Digital Library is making these documents available. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to kill hours of time just browsing through these wonderful collections.