The Origins of American Political Debates

From the Revolution up to the turn of the 20th century, America preferred that its presidential candidates be seen and not heard. The presidency was regarded as so solemn an office that it was considered indecent and prideful to aspire to. Instead, candidates were to approach nomination as if it were something that just happened to them—"Oh golly. Well, if the People say I must, I guess I have to!"

While the candidates had their hands full cultivating the self-effacing persona of an honest leader, their handlers, political allies, and fans did all the dirty work: Printing fliers, holding public Q & A sessions, and generally campaigning on the candidate's behalf. They even handled press write-ups, this being an era when newspapers were often owned and run by political partisans who made no claims about fair and balanced reportage.

However, this isn't to say that politicians of the time didn't know public speaking from a hole in the head. Great, sweeping debates were common in the houses of Congress and many politicians were experts at using the spoken word to convince their colleagues of a particular point—they simply thought it disgraceful to turn those oratory skills on the unwitting public. So great was the social taboo against campaigning for yourself that it wasn't until 1840 that a candidate, Whig party member William Henry Harrison, was able to advocate his own election and still win. Even then, most historians think he got away with it because of a split in the Democratic party, rather than any change in public morals.

Lincoln the Heckler

Lincoln-Douglass.jpgThe first true election debates were probably the ones held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglass over the Illinois senate seat. In fact, those debates are famous today partly because such spectacles were extremely rare. Debates hadn't actually been planned as a part of the race. Rather, Lincoln managed to cajole Douglass into them by showing up at all of the incumbent's speaking engagements and peppering him with questions (read: Heckling) from the audience. The ensuing series captured the imagination of audiences in Illinois and around the country and drew huge crowds. Of course, all this was more than a little ironic, since the audiences had absolutely nothing to do with which candidate won the election. At the time, senators were still appointed by state legislatures, as per the original draft of the Constitution. By simply bringing their views to the public at large, Lincoln and Douglass were accused by many people of violating the spirit of the country's founding document.

But in the end, the candidates (or, at least, Lincoln) had the last laugh. Although the Illinois State Legislature opted not to appoint the young upstart to the Senate, the debates made him a national celebrity and gave him the recognition and credibility to win the Presidency (without debating anybody) two years later.

TV Kills the Radio Star

During the 20th century, Presidential debates became more acceptable, but still not very common. Some election years they'd happen. Some they wouldn't. And the public really didn't pay a lot of attention. That started to change in 1948, when Thomas Dewey faced off against Harold Stassen in a radio broadcast debate for the Republican nomination. The first televised debate famously came in 1960, showing a poised, handsome John F. Kennedy squaring off against a sweaty, flustered Richard Nixon and giving the first hint at how image would influence future elections. Amazingly, however, it took a few years for the public and networks to catch on—televised presidential debates didn't become a regular feature of election seasons until 1976.

See also...

"¢ The Highest-Rated Debates in History2in-the-beginning.jpg
Memorable Moments from Presidential (and VP) Debates
"¢ Quiz: The Debating Game

This passage was written by Maggie Koerth-Baker and excerpted from the mental_floss book 'In the Beginning: The Origins of Everything.' You can pick up a copy in our store.

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The Simple Way to Reheat Your French Fries and Not Have Them Turn Into a Soggy Mess
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Some restaurant dishes are made to be doggy-bagged and reheated in the microwave the next day. Not French fries: The more crispy and delectable they are when they first arrive on your table, the more of a soggy disappointment they’ll be when you try to revive them at home. But as The Kitchn recently shared, there’s a secret to making leftover fries you’ll actually enjoy eating.

The key is to avoid the microwave altogether. Much of the appeal of fries comes from their crunchy, golden-brown exterior and their creamy potato center. This texture contrast is achieved by deep-frying, and all it takes is a few rotations around a microwave to melt it away. As the fries heat up, they create moisture, transforming all those lovely crispy parts into a flabby mess.

If you want your fries to maintain their crunch, you need to recreate the conditions they were cooked in initially. Set a large pan filled with about 2 tablespoons of oil for every 1 cup of fries you want to cook over medium-high heat. When you see the oil start to shimmer, add the fries in a single layer. After about a minute, flip them over and allow them to cook for half a minute to a minute longer.

By heating up fries with oil in a skillet, you produce something called the Maillard Reaction: This happens when high heat transforms proteins and sugars in food, creating the browning effect that gives fried foods their sought-after color, texture, and taste.

After your fries are nice and crisp, pull them out of the pan with tongs or a spatula, set them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil, and sprinkle them with salt. Now all you need is a perfect burger to feel like you’re eating a restaurant-quality meal at home.

[h/t The Kitchn]

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Bone Collector
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