Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cult of Personality

People think the cult of personality is something new, a relic of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The only difference between the 1780s and 2017 is the speed with which information -- and scandal -- are disseminated.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull was not yet 35 in 1872 when she decided to run for President of the United States. She was not allowed to vote, but she was determined to vote, citing an eloquent argument based on the U. S. Constitution and building on what had already been written by like-minded men and women. Woodhull was the first woman to petition Congress on this matter and present her well reasoned arguments before that august body.

An entrepreneur, the first woman stockbroker in history, and a vocal advocate for women's rights and free love, Woodhull was determined to push women's suffrage forward and gain the vote for women. She also pushed her feminist agenda for free love and an end to government deciding marriage, divorce, and every other aspect of a woman's life, especially with regard to what was permissible in modern society. If men could marry and carry on illicit affairs, then women should be allowed to determine their own fate as well. It was Woodhull's version of quid pro quo and met with mixed acceptance.

One might say that Woodhull's publication of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's adulterous affair with Elizabeth Tilton and subsequent arrest was over the top in regards to punishment and using the U. S. mail to circulate the issue in Woodhull & Claflin Weekly's edition containing the details of the affair an obscenity as petty as it was political. The fact that Woodhull was a presidential candidate and unable to cast her unsanctioned vote because of her incarceration on charges that were specious at best is still notable, as is her choice of Frederick Douglass, a presidential elector from New York in the Electoral College, as her running mate for Vice-President. Douglass never acknowledged his candidacy nor did he attend the nominating convention. Woodhull ran under the Equal Rights Party banner.

Woodhull did garner votes, as one man from Texas claimed, stating he voted for Woodhull as a vote against Ulysses S. Grant, who eventually won the presidency in 1872. She received no electoral votes and all votes for her were not counted. She ran again unsuccessfully in 1884 and 1892. In the meantime, Woodhull was bankrupted by her opposition in the Women's Suffrage Movement by women like Susan B. Anthony who did not like her position or her politics.

As Otto von Bismarck stated, "Politics is the art of the possible," a sentiment echoed famously by Eva Peron in the opera penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Looking at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as John F. Kennedy, can we really not see how the cult of the personality is the bedrock of politics? The Cult of the Personality did not begin with Barack Obama or Donald Trump and its roots are strong and deep throughout the history of politics in the United States of America as it has been throughout the history of the world, from Julius Caesar all the way back to Agamemnon and beyond. Victoria Claflin Woodhull is in memorable company and not only for her presidential candidacy but for her beliefs in communism, free love, and business and for her business acumen and refusal to bow to pressure, even when she was jailed.

That is all. Disperse.

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