Find of the Week: ‘Coffin broadsides’ and the evolution of political mudslinging

NEW ORLEANS -- News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week from the museum's vaults.

This week, we learn about "coffin broadsides," or print attack ads against politicians, and how they were used -- unsuccessfully -- to try to defeat Andrew Jackson when he ran for president in 1828.

The election of 1828 was a rematch between Democrat Andrew Jackson and Republican John Quincy Adams.

On the water, a broadside can refer to the business side of a warship, but during a political election, a broadside is an acute publication of nasty words.

"They resemble death announcements, so they have black mourning borders, wood cuts of coffins," explained Jason Wiese, associate director of the Williams Research Center.

These coffin broadsides are incredibly rare, produced by John Adams supporters to attack Jackson's reputation as a military hero of the Battle of New Orleans.

"From 1815 through the 1820s, there was no one in America more famous than Andrew Jackson," Wiese said.

Once word hit the street -- by way of printing press and horseback -- the tea was spilled, igniting household conversations across the country and accusing Jackson of assassination and murder.

"They came across an incident that happened in early 1815, where six Tennessee militia men were sentenced to be shot for desertion," Wiese said.

But that wasn't quite the truth: Jackson upheld the sentence of their court marshals. He didn't sentence them to death.

So, what do you do when someone is trying to soil your good name?

"He didn't respond.  He just brushed them aside and let his reputation speak for itself," Wiese said.

Jackson won in a landslide and became the seventh president of the United States, unscathed by the coffin broadsides. To this day, his statue rests proudly in the heart of the French Quarter in Jackson Square -- also named in honor of Andrew Jackson.

"These are basically documentary proof that nasty politics aren't a recent phenomena," Wiese said.

You can see all the Historic New Orleans Collection has to offer by visiting either one of their campuses. The Royal Street campus, including The Shop at The Collection, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Chartres Street campus, including the Williams Research Center and Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about the Historic New Orleans Collection here.

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