The modern political landscape is often rife with scandals and controversy. In recent history, we have been subject to (or subjected to by the media) all kinds of controversies. The more distinguished ones include Watergate, the Lewinsky Affair, and the countless controversies arising from the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq.
But scandals are not limited to United States politics, nor are they the usual kinds of controversies you would expect.
From the 1700′s to the 2000′s, from Australia to Canada to Britain to the USA, here are some of the most remarkable and unique political scandals and controversies ever seen:
Please leave the room if this will affect you:
Budd Dwyer may (or may not) have been implicated in some political kickback scandals, but the Pennsylvanian politician is well-known for something else entirely: committing suicide during a televised press conference.
Dwyer had been accused and charged of conspiracy, racketeering, and mail fraud. He was facing 55 years in prison. On the day before his sentencing, January 22, 1987, he held a press conference to make available to the media an update on the situation.
The reporters expected a resignation declaration, but instead, he read aloud a speech that professed his innocence and that he was being victimized. Once finished reading, Dwyer pulled out a .357 magnum revolver and pronounced, “Please leave the room if this will affect you. Stay away, this thing will hurt someone”.
Those in the room supplicated to him to drop the weapon – but as people started to approach him, he placed the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The press conference was broadcast to a mid-day audience. In Pennsylvania, home of the politician, a major snowstorm had closed schools, and consequently the suicide had been televised before school-aged children.
The Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta:
The Sexual Sterilization Act was put in operation by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada in 1928. The act legalized the sterilization of mentally disabled persons to stop disadvantageous traits from being passed on to the next generation of offspring.
Effectively, it was perceived as an act to protect the gene pool. During the time the act was in effect, close to five thousand people were proposed for sterilization. Of these, over 2,800 were approved. The law terrifyingly stayed in effect for 42 years; it was finally repealed in 1972 on moral and legal grounds.
The story, however, did not end there. In 1995, Ms. Leilani Muir sued “Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta” over her sterilization when she was a child. The case was revolutionary, caught much national press in Canada, and resulted in Muir being compensated over $CA 900,000.
The case set a standard for others who were subject to the Sexual Sterilization Act.
The Children Overboard Affair:
If one were to segregate and identify the most effective liars in the world, it would probably be a safe bet to say that most of them would be car salesmen, lawyers, and, of course, politicians. One of the most well-known political controversies in Australia in recent history involved major lies, and was known as The Children Overboard Affair.
Around the commencement of the 21st Century, the Australian Government was facing rising disparagement over the issue of illegal immigrants; who would arrive in Australian waters in inadequately maintained boats seeking asylum in the land down under.
As most of the sanctuary seekers had not followed “correct protocol”, many were placed in detention centers. During the prelude to a federal election in October 2001, the Howard Government was seen to be taking a harder line on asylum seekers, by using naval resources to redirect them to neighboring nations – or divert them back to where they came from.
One such occurrence happened when the HMAS Adelaide intercepted a suspected vessel with asylum seekers. During national debates, John Howard claimed that people on the boat had thrown children overboard in an endeavor to be rescued by Australian authorities just so they could be brought to Australian soil. And, he had the photos to prove it.
The conservative Howard government was subsequently re-elected. However, in the months that followed the election, more footage and images came out, where it was exposed the small, poorly maintained boat was actually sinking, and that no-one was in point of fact “thrown” overboard; people were evacuating the sinking craft. Effectively, the Liberal party had lied to the Australian population, and won the election because of it.
The Governor Who Was Impeached – Twice:
In the late twenties, Henry Simpson Johnston served as Oklahoma’s governor. Despite being inaugurated with elevated hopes and expectations, his administration was almost immediately thrown into controversy when detractors accused his secretary, Mrs. Hammonds, of having too much authority and influence over the Governor.
The accusations mutated and evolved into Johnston being negligent of his duties as Governor. Legislative leaders determined to meet and talk about impeachment of Johnson, but were met with an intrusion by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that determined the legislators’ actions were unconstitutional.
Notwithstanding this, they decided to move forward with impeachment anyway and headed to the state capitol to go on with the charges. The move was unsuccessful: they were stopped from entering the capitol by Oklahoma National Guard troops, operational under orders of the Governor. Defeated, the first round of impeachment was dropped.
But in 1928, round two was about to begin. As Hoover took the US Presidency, many Republicans started taking over numerous state offices, which included seats in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Republicans had also gained majority in the state Senate and House.
Using their newfound power, the legislators began to conclude what they started, and brought Governor Johnston up on thirteen charges of impeachment. Their labors were successful this time around, and Johnston was removed from office.
The First Sex Scandal in the USA:
Sex Scandals are more or less synonymous with politics in this day and age, but what was the first one in America? Perhaps the first well-known sex scandal involved Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, in 1791.
Hamilton became caught up with a married woman by the name of Maria Reynolds. Her spouse, James, learned of the affair, and decided that he would blackmail Hamilton for wealth under the threat of informing Mrs. Elizabeth Hamilton of the affair. Hamilton actually paid Reynolds more than $1,000 to continue the affair without interference or intervention. However, James Reynolds was later detained on counterfeiting charges, and pleaded to renowned members of the opposing parties to help him expose Hamilton‘s scandal.
Politicians James Monroe and Aaron Burr confronted Hamilton about the issues. Hamilton then did something that many modern politicians would never attempt: he told the truth. In fact, not only did he admit to the affair, he ultimately published an intricately detailed account of his involvements with Maria Reynolds.
Despite his truthfulness, his reputation had been tarnished in the public eye. Hamilton resigned as Secretary of the Treasury in 1794.
A Downer – The Things That Batter:
Back in 1994, in Australia, the conservative party (ironically named the Liberal Party) was the opposition to the Paul Keating led Labor Party Government of the time. The Liberal Party was under pressure to gain ground politically, and many began believing that it was time for a “fresh face” for leadership; particularly when considering they were facing a government that had been in power for over ten years.
The solution for Liberal Party came in the form of Alexander Downer who was supported very strongly when he was first named leader of the party, but this was soon to fade away. The party came up with a policy platform in preparation for the next election that came with the slogan The Things That Matter.
During a ceremonial dinner promoting the Liberal Party, Downer took to the stage for his speech, at which point he began making joking references to the slogan. He bantered that the Liberal’s domestic violence policy should be named The Things That Batter, referring to abusive husbands.
This unpleasant incident was all the media needed. They used the event as a method to crucify his qualifications to be a leader, which forced the Liberal Party to pressure Downer into resigning his position in January 1995.
John Howard was his replacement, and later won the Federal Election in which he became (and still is) Prime Minister of Australia. Alexander Downer still works in the Liberal Party and currently serves his government as the Foreign Minister of Australia.
“The Things That Batter” often gets discussed in Australian newspapers to this day, and most recently, The Age recalled the incident as an “act of self-immolation”. To date, he has not let out any more wisecracks about domestic violence. However, Alexander Downer will everlastingly be rendered by political cartoonists as a cross-dresser after he allowed himself to be photographed in fishnet stockings in 1996. The Things That Matter, indeed.
Washington is next:
His face is on the one dollar bill and his namesake is all over the place in the United States. Indeed, the impact of the first President on the nation is of distinguished significance and he is perceived as one of the greatest leaders of all-time. Yet, extraordinarily enough, Washington was not without facing his own scandal – albeit that it was one he was subjected to prior to his presidency.
The Revolutionary War was in progress, and Washington was commanding the Continental Army to the independence of the nation. During the time, Brigadier General Thomas Conway became a vociferous opponent to Washington’s leadership.
Behind the scenes, a scheme was gathering that became known as the Conway Cabal – an effort to remove Washington as commanding officer. The plot failed, when criticisms written by Conway were forwarded to Congress, and made public.
The result saw General Horatio Gates apologize in public to George Washington, and saw the very disgraced resignation of Thomas Conway. The war continued, and the rest, as they say, is history.
One of the most abnormal political scandals actually involved tuna and would become known as Tunagate. The matter occurred in Canada during 1985 when fisheries inspectors had discovered that a New Brunswick plant was processing tuna that had spoiled. The inspectors considered the product unfit for human consumption. They later added that it was also unacceptable for cat food production.
Despite the findings of the inspectors, the plant owners pressed their case to then Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, John Fraser – who then allowed the plant to process the tuna and have it sold to the community. When the story broke in the media, the tuna was recalled.
Fraser’s standing was damaged, but his career eventually restored itself. StarKist, the tuna company behind the undertaking, saw their Canadian market share fall close to zero. They pulled out of Canada, which was a move that saw many workers at the New Brunswick plant lose their jobs.
Stonehouse is dead – Stonehouse is not dead:
John Stonehouse, a British politician, worked under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Unluckily for Stonehouse, it was during the seventies when it became apparent to him that the lid was going to be blown on a controversy he was caught up in. He had set up numerous companies during the time, but all were eventually facing financial disaster.
As forecasts looked bleak, Stonehouse resorted to misrepresenting financial income information for the companies. He discovered that the government was beginning to examine his business actions. His decision was to kill himself. But in fact, he did not.
John Stonehouse faked his own suicide. On November 24, 1974, he left a pile of clothing on Miami Beach and simply disappeared. Searches yielded no outcome and he was eventually presumed dead. In actual fact, Stonehouse had taken on a new identity (actually, he actually used three names: Joseph Markham, J.D. Norman, and Donald Mildoon), moved to Australia and was living a new life with his mistress, Secretary Sheila Buckley, in Melbourne. He was exposed, by chance, on Christmas Eve by the Australian Police.
Stonehouse was extradited back to Britain in 1975, and was convicted to seven years in prison for eighteen counts of fraud, theft, and deception. He was released from incarceration in 1979, after he suffered three heart attacks behind bars and was recovering from open heart surgery. His mistress had also been behind bars, and the two jailbird lovers eventually married in 1981. Stonehouse passed away in 1988 at the age of 62.
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