A look back at presidential campaigns and conventions; Presidential Campaigns, by Paul F. Boller Jr.; New York: Oxford University Press. 400 pp. $16.95.
Gary Hart, Walter Mondale, and Jesse Jackson may have gotten a bit sharp in their late campaign jabs at each other, mostly over issues. But many of the nation's earlier campaigns were much more personal. Take, for instance, the campaign of 1828 (Andrew Jackson vs. John Quincy Adams). Adams's supporters accused Jackson of adultery, gambling, bigamy, slave-trading, drunkenness, theft , lying, murder, and sponsoring cockfighting.
And today's political cartoonists would be hard-pressed to match Thomas Nast's vilifying cartoons in the 1872 campaign (Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley). One showed Greeley shaking hands with a Confederate soldier who had just shot a Union soldier; another pictured Greeley shaking hands with John Wilkes Booth over Abraham Lincoln's grave.
Now Paul F. Boller Jr., emeritus professor of history at Texas Christian University and author of ''Presidential Anecdotes,'' gives us a look at the campaigns of the past. From volumes on the topic, he has culled other contrasts - and similarities - in presidential campaigns from Washington's to Reagan's. Boller has no intention of presenting judgments on the campaigns. And, indeed, if the book lacks anything, it is analysis of trends.
But for those who want a quick course in our nation's political campaigns, this is a colorful one. Each account is brief but full of memorable anecdotes and authentic sounds and feels.
The anecdotes - some humorous, others sobering - are culled from diaries, journals, letters, and many biographies and autobiographies with an ample number of footnotes.
One story is that of Grace Bedell of Westfield, N.Y., the little girl who wrote to presidential candidate Lincoln suggesting he would look better with a beard. He forgoes a beard during the campaign, but months later en route to his first inauguration, his train stops in Westfield so that he can meet her and show her his beard.
At the Republican convention in 1860, Lincoln's backers had duplicate tickets printed, and jammed the hall with ''shouters'' for their man.
At the Democratic convention in 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt's backers were equally prepared. On a signal from Chicago's mayor, the city's superintendent of sewers, waiting in a room under the convention floor, yelled into a microphone beamed upstairs: ''We want Roosevelt. The world wants Roosevelt.''
In many of the campaigns there was the conviction by opposing parties that, if their man lost, the country would be lost. Somehow the country always pulled through, and it probably will in '84.
The brevity required in a book that tackles every presidential campaign since Washington's leaves one with the feeling of having only scratched the skin of this living thing called a presidential campaign. But to the degree that one enjoys a headline-type approach to historical context, Boller succeeds in presenting an interesting, entertaining, and often funny mix of anecdotes..