I feel a little sorry for Karl Rove. True, the guy may be guilty of obstruction of justice – and Lord knows he’s been working toward that achievement his whole life – but he is not the greatest political evil genius of all time. He managed to out-think the leadership of the Democratic Party for the last decade but that’s like saying he outmaneuvered a bunch of prep school seniors. Contrary to what a lot of ultra-liberal web sites would have you believe Karl did not invent bounce polling, the political smear or any other dirty tricks. In fact, Karl is merely the latest in a long line of practitioners of the Political Dark Arts. Maybe the first and certainly one of the greatest of them all was Amos Kendall.
Kendall was tall, thin and prematurely white haired. He was also a puritanical workaholic hypochondriac with a talent for venom. He’d been born in Dunstable, Massachusetts in 1789. He moved to Kentucky in 1814 and worked as a tutor to the children of Congressman Henry Clay.

In 1816, with Clay’s financial assistance, Kendall became editor of the Frankfurt, Kentucky Argus of Western America and turned it into one of the most politically influential newspapers of its day. Not unexpectedly the Argus supported Clay for President in 1824, even though Clay had not supported the Kentucky Reform Party – see PANIC OF 1819 – which Kendall’s paper had supported.

The Argus’reporting on the campaign was classic Kendall. He mocked Clay’s Whig opponent John Quincy Adams for his pantaloons, depicting them and the man as arrogant and out of touch with the times, and fanned suspicions about his “English wife”. Kendall alleged that Republican candidate William Crawford was not only a drunkard and a gambler but claimed he had also embezzled funds while Secretary of the Treasury.

But Kendall saved his best bile for Clay’s chief opponent, Andrew Jackson. He openly accused Jackson of murder, comparing him to Aaron Burr.

In the election Jackson won 41% of the popular vote, while Adams won less than 40%. Clay came in a distant third with only 13%. But Jackson had won only 90 electoral votes while Adams received just 6 less. Under the Twelfth Amendment, since no candidate had received 50% of electoral votes the election was thrown into the House, where Clay, whose 37 electoral votes placed him fourth (behind Crawford’s 41) was not even on the ballot.

Left with no chance of becoming President himself, Clay’s chief interest became keeping Jackson out of the White House. Clay thought of Jackson as a dangerous unqualified hot headed wind bag. So he made a deal with Adams. Clay instructed his electors to vote for Adams and Adams promised to name Clay as Secretary of State in his new administration.

It was a run-of-the-mill political deal. Clay’s electors couldn’t vote for Clay and if he simply released them they might scatter and have no impact on the results. As it was he insured that his supports had a voice in the next administration.

But Jackson was furious, convinced in his own paranoid mind that he had been cheated rather than outmaneuvered. Clay’s deal, which blocked the winner of the popular vote from the White House, angered so many of Kendall’s readers he reluctantly shifted his support to Jackson. Immediately Kendall’s paper began to refer to Clay’s deal as “The Corrupt Bargain”.

In the 1827 campaign Kendall, along with his assistant editor Francis P. Blair – founder of the powerful Republican Party Blair clan of the 1850’s and `60’s – became the center of a public relations machine that spread innuendo and smear about Adams throughout western newspapers, things that Jackon’s campaign manager Martin van Buren coudln’t get into the more sophisticated (and generally pro Adams) Eastern papers. The old charges against Adams were trotted back out, and were joined by charges against Clay as well. But this time the smear campaign was a nationwide effort, with coordinated talking points. Kendall and his fellow political journalists founded the DEMOCRATIC PARTY in that campign. Jackson won the election of 1828 with 178 electoral votes and 53% of the popular vote.

Kendall was rewarded for his part in this victory with a Federal job – Fourth Auditor of The Treasury. The job was, of course, a cover for his real work in Washington. According to Rep. Henry Wise, (a Wig from Virginia), “Kendall was…the President’s thinking machine and writing machine and his lying machine…chief adviser, chief reporter, amanuenis scribe…Nothing was well done without (him).”

In 1834 Jackson named Kendall Postmaster General and Kendall took the opportunity to perfect the spoils system, firing wholesale any workers who were not Jackson Democrats, whatever their level of skill and experience, and replacing them with any pro-Jackson Democrat who wanted a job.

In a pre-echo of Tom Delay’s “K” street project, Kendall decreed that any company which the Post Office did business with had to hire Democrats exclusively or need not bother to apply for contracts. He even fired some companies that already had contracts but kept Whigs on their payroll. One stage line, Stockton & Stokes, sued when Kendall cancelled their contract to carry the mail, but government lawyers tied the case up with delaying motion after motion.

When Martian van Buren replaced Jackson as President in 1836 Kendall stayed on as a powerful advisor. In 1840 Kendall resigned his job as Postmaster and started a new paper in Washington, Kendall’s Expositor. The paper supported a second term for van Buren and when van Buren lost to Tippecanoe and Tyler too – William Henry Harrison (who died sixth months after taking the oath) and General John Tyler – both the paper and Kendall went bankrupt.

Worse, in 1841 Stockton & Stokes finally got their case heard before the Supreme Court, which awarded them $162,000 in public money for their illegally cancelled contracts and an additional $11,000 to be paid personally by Kendall. It was a huge fortune in the 1840’s.

But Kendall was too connected to stay broke for long. In 1845 he became Samuel F. B. Morse’s business manager, helping that paranoid, anti-Catholic politically lunatic genius to create and run the International Telegraph Company, which would later become International Telephone and Telegraph – or I.T.& T.)

Kendall retired from business and politics in 1860, fabulously wealthy but disgusted that the Democratic Party he had help found was supporting secession. He died on November 12, 1869, one of the first but far from the last Great American Evil Political Geniuses, and cultural ancestor to Karl Rove.

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