I can't help wondering why so many people keep complaining about politicians.  Check my math, please: politicians say stupid  things, like "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight", or" Segregation Now, Segregation Forever!", or "The Election was Stolen". and politicians get elected. Could there be a connection?  Let me give you some examples from ancient history, so no living voters feel insulted.
James Knox Polk (above) was America's eleventh President, serving a single term from 1845 to 1849. He was, until Richard Nixon, our most secretive President. He often did not even tell his own cabinet members what he was thinking. He had been Speaker of the House of Representatives and most recently the Democratic Governor of Tennessee.  But no matter what your history books tell you Polk did not campaign on the phrase "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight" – that came up later. 
The actual 1844 campaign centered on the divisive issue of Texas (above). Recently declared to be a slave republic, Democrats favored it's admission into the union because it would strengthen their hold on the Senate, and weaken Wig control of the House. It also extended slavery westward, toward the Pacific.  
The Wigs opposed Texas admission for the same reasons, but they preferred talking about high tariff's, which raised prices for all consumers. So their candidate, Henry Clay (above),  merely issued a few confusing statements about Texas. And then, abruptly, in August,  the Wigs decided to claim that Polk was unfit to be President because he branded his slaves. And trust me, this smear was so good they still haven’t figured out who exactly was behind it.
The story was first published in the 21 August, 1844 edition of the Ithaca New York "Chronicle". It was a Whig Party newspaper. And the story claimed to be a letter to the editor, quoting a three paragraph extract from an unpublished book, titled “Roorback’s Tour Through the Western and Southern States…” 
The extract claimed to detail Baron Von Roorback's conversations with a group of slave traders on the Duck River in Tennessee. “Forty of these unfortunate beings had been purchased, I was informed, by the Honorable J.K. Polk…; the mark of a branding iron, with the initials of his name on their shoulders, distinguishing them from the rest.”  Now, even in 1844 the idea of branding human beings, even those treated as slaves, was appalling to many people...most Whigs and even some Democrats, of whom, remember, James K. Polk was the leading candidate for President.
Which was why the story was picked up by the "Albany Evening Journal", and other Whig newspapers, particularly in the 1844 “battleground states” of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many voters in those swing states were outraged that a man standing for President would do something so despicable as to brand human beings the same way you brand cattle. 
To Whig politicians the story from "Roorback’s Tour" was almost too good to be true.  And almost instantly the Democratic press discovered there was no such book and no such Baron. 
The details claiming to be about Polk had been lifted from a real travel book, of a run in with some slave traders on Virginia’s New River. Polk’s plantation was in Tennessee, so the inventor of the smear had shifted the scene to where it would be easier to tie the branded humans to Governor Polk. Besides, it was not common practice to brand slaves.  Like whipping scars, branding tended to reduce their value as property, since it indicated this slave had a tendency to escape. Slaves were certainly whipped and branded because in 1844, most Americans, even most Democrats, still believed black slaves were property and would have been equally offended if some government official tried to tell them how to treat their horses or how to slaughter their hogs.
So now, embarrassed at repeating what was so obviously a fabrication, the Whigs pinned the whole thing on William Linn, a lawyer and a Democratic operative in Ithaca, New York.  But why would a Democrat smear his own candidate? Well, if I were a believer in conspiracy theories, I might say that this kind of allegation against Polk was actually a fairly safe charge to make. 
Polk did own slaves. But his Whig opponent in the 1844 election, Henry Clay (above), owned even more slaves than Polk did.  And it has been suggested by some historians that the “Roorback” story was a case of nineteenth century “wedge” politics. 
Abolitionism was still a minor issue in 1844, but abolitionists formed a solid voting block in certain sections of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, those key battleground states. Convince enough abolitionists in those states that the Whigs were lying to them, and they just might choose the Democrat Polk over the Whig Clay as the lesser of two evils.  Or they just might stay home and not vote at all. And the letter to the Ithaca Chronicle had been signed, “An Abolitionist”, thus adding insult to the injury.
Well, maybe....And maybe that theory implies a level of sophisticated conspiracy that did not exist in the simpler culture and times of 1844 –
...and certainly would not have existed in Athens in 415 B.C., when Alcibiades was accused of vandalizing statues of the god Hermes.
You see Hermes (above) was the mythical inventor of fire, who "...protects and takes care of all travelers...".  Each Greek home had an anatomically correct statue of Hermes standing on its front lawn, and it was common practice for visitors to pause at the stature and stroke his stone phallus for good luck before knocking on the front door. 
And when the owner left the house, they would also give the phallus a tug for good luck.  And that was why it was so shocking that on the morning that Athens was launching a massive naval assault on Sicily, the city awoke to discover that during the night many home statues of Hermes had their phallus' knocked.
It sounds to my modern ears as if the neighborhood kids had been drinking sour wine on the street corner and started smashing phalluses as a prank. But to the devout in Athens (and there were many who believed in the gods) it was also sacrilege. And rumors began almost immediately that the person responsible for the damaged statues was the golden boy politician who had conceived of the Sicilian expedition, and was known for his past sacrilegious opinions, Alcibiades (above). 
Of course Alcibiades had his own theory. He thought it had been the work of his chief political opponent and co-commander of the Sicilian expedition, Nicias (above).  Two thousand five hundred years later, it is impossible to know who the phallus whackers really were or why they were whacking off in the dark.. But whether the politicians planned it all or just took advantage of the situation, the one thing we know for certain is, that the people spewing hot air over both sides of this scandal were politicians.
The point is, politicians have been gaming voters since voting was invented. And voters have been playing along, else the game would not have remained so popular. Like claiming to build a wall to nowhere.  And that is why when a politician tells me he is selling something, especially when it is something I want to buy,  my first reaction should be,  “Pull the other one.,”  When the American political system works  (which it has not been doing for a generation)  it is been based upon pragmatism, not hysteria.  When it gets hysterical, it's usually when the politicians want to distract you.
And the election of 1844 was not pragmatic, either.  Polk won 49.5% of the popular vote to Clay’s 48.1 %, and part of that razor thin margin were victories in New York and Pennsylvania - by less than 6,000 votes in both states.  Those two states gave Polk 62 Electoral Votes, out of his sixty-five vote margin of victory (170 to 105). It seems that if the Roorback story was a double blind trick, it damn well worked.
Oh,... and remember the phrase “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”?  Well, that was actually invented by Ohio Senator William “Earthquake” Allen (above), known for his thundering speeches, and he used it after the 1844 election. 
The number was  the Southern border (54 degrees & 40 minutes of latitude) claimed by Russia when they owned Alaska, before 1867.  Radical Democrats were demanding the U.S. insist on that line for our northern border with Canada, and Polk seemed to back that position.  He might have even have supported starting a shooting war over it.  However,  simple glance at a map will confirm the modern border,  agreed upon by President Polk, was (and is) the 49th parallel. 
So much for the “…Or fight!” part of the slogan.  Have you noticed how often politicians don’t actually mean what they seem to say? Like they are going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it? Or how they say Democrats want to leave our southern boarder wide open?  You might say many of them make a career out of hysteria.  And always have.  And voters keep buying the horse manure they keep dropping all over the place.  And whose fault is that?
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