One difficulty in following these narratives is that many of the key figures seem to change sides as issues present themselves. John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson all supported the Missouri Compromise in 1820. Calhoun served as vice president under Adams and Jackson and broke with both of them. Adams was the lone member of James Monroe’s cabinet who in 1818 defended Jackson’s conduct in Spanish Florida (where he summarily hanged two British officers). All of which is a reminder that politics isn’t static, that serious people who take the same position on one issue can take very different positions on others, and that the political alignments of the 1830s could not be frozen in amber and preserved into the 1840s.
I wrote a post in 2002 which dealt with this very issue — the shifting stances of politicians — and did so in the context of the politics of the 1840s. I reached the conclusion that Al Gore (who today returned to his conscientious policy geek persona long enough to impress at least some conservatives at a Washington D.C. gathering) surpasses past politicians when it comes to taking inconsistent positions within a short period of time on the most crucial issue in politics — war and peace. However, John Kerry’s performance in 2004 may well have surpassed Al Gore.