The advent of social media certainly makes it feel as if the 2016 presidential elections are the dirtiest this country has experienced. I collect political ephemera and have postcards and buttons from Woodrow Wilson, Howard Taft, both Roosevelts, Nixon and Reagan, many of which are family heirlooms. Most of those elections were not pretty; nor were their predecessors. The Oct./Nov. issue of Family Tree Magazine has a great article on election politics. David Fryxell details elections as early as the 1796 battle between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. When Adams beat Jefferson, the loser was named as the vice president, setting up a nasty battle between the two in 1800. While they became good friends at the end of their lives, the men and their supporters questioned each others commitment to democracy, religion, and hinted at Jefferson's relationship with his slaves. Dire consequences were predicted for the country down to each man, woman and child.
Later, journalism was blamed by some as a source of the ugliness. According to Study.com the term "muckrakers" was coined by Teddy Roosevelt for investigative journalists, although "he borrowed the term from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, in which a rake was used to dig up filth and muck." Journalists began to wear the title as a badge of honor. Wikipedia quotes Roosevelt's 1906 speech in which he said, "the men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck..." In our current elections it seems journalists need not "muckrake" as the candidates do a fine job themselves.