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In the US political system there have been campaigns against and for certain candidates, and this goes back to the first Presidential Elections, where both sides used to have editors of newspapers write slanderous stories on opponents and glowing stories on the candidate they support. This has been well documented in many of the biopics on the Founding Fathers and on many historical books covering the American Revolution and the first few Presidencies, yet this concept had to have come from somewhere. It seems rather advanced to have only been invented in America, does this have roots in the English Parliamentary system? Was it imported from France? Many of the Founding Fathers spent time in Europe so it would not surprise me that they were influenced from this during their times abroad.

Are there any sources on where this would have come from?

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Interesting question, reminded me on story of citizen kane. Starting point might be Guttenberg printing technique history.stackexchange.com/a/1121/65. It's seems kind of natural evolution that political parties have their "own" press newspapers, so probably arose in europe short after invention of the printing technique... –  Hauser Oct 26 '12 at 12:36
I can think of examples of this dating back to the Roman Republic but I am pretty sure that examples of this in Athens pre-dates them. –  Sardathrion Oct 26 '12 at 12:48
@Sardathrion the concept of "smear campaign" is probably as old as the concept of "lying" or spreading rumours :) Nonetheless a free press/printing and at least 2 political movements are imho necessary. Maybe the Romans did oral smear campaigns, but the system was probably anyway too aristocratic and defined mainly by money, power, ancestry of single politicians to make smear campaigns worth the effort –  Hauser Oct 26 '12 at 13:00
@Hauser has it. Anybody who has been through middle school ought to realize that spreading rumors about others to help one's own social standing is pretty common human behavior. –  T.E.D. Oct 26 '12 at 14:05
@Hauser If you read Cicero, it's quite clear that deliberate campaigns to spread false rumors were well-practiced in ancient Rome. –  choster Oct 26 '12 at 14:06

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I believe that the first "smear campaign" in U.S. Presidential politics was against Andrew Jackson in 1824.


George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were all "Founding Fathers" of the United States. No one of any note had any real quibbles about any of them being President. The only question among this select group of people was "whose turn was it?"

Beginning in `1824, the two main candidates, John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson were "post" Founding Fathers. John Q. Adams was, in fact, the son of a founding father, but Jackson was the first major candidate from west of the Appalachians, born into a poor family (though made rich by his own efforts), and generally considered a "parvenu." Hence he would be the target of ad hominem attacks that we might call a "smear campaign."

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Don't forget the Aaron Burr/ Alexander Hamilton duel. –  American Luke Oct 27 '12 at 23:22
Too bad they prohibited duels –  DVK Nov 3 '12 at 21:51

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