George Washington's warning against Political Parties
Sun Apr 20, 2008 3:13 pm (PDT)
The plan George Washington signed on to -- the US Constitution allowed for the State Legislatures to pick the US Senators (no political party involvement) and for the people to pick electors who would then convene the electoral college every four years and as a "search committee" find the best man in the country to call to be president (again no place for political parties here either). But no constitution can give better government than the people it governs -- and so the spirit of partisanship -- interest groups and razzenkampf became the miserable norm. Parties are merely the organized special interests -- put together by the agents of the oligarchy and run only for the good of the ruling minority. -- Dick Eastman
A prescient quote from George Washington's final "farewell" presidential address in 1796:
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy....
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
Moral: Washington thought political parties and political party dominance was a very bad idea. He wanted it to be about the best candidate winning. Not about 2 parties taking over and preventing all other parties - no matter how good their candidates - from having a chance. Makes you wonder whether Washington is spinning in his grave.
With Approval Voting 2-party dominance should be lessened, consonant with the top expressed wish of George Washington.
A quote from Abraham Lincoln shortly before he was killed:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country... corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) letter to Colonel William F. Elkins, 21 Nov 1864.
Do you think Lincoln's prophecy of monied/corporate-powered political corruption and control came true?
FAREWELL ADDRESS (1796)
George Washington had been the obvious choice to be the first president of the United States, and indeed, many people had supported ratification of the Constitution on the assumption that Washington would be the head of the new government. By all measures Washington proved himself a capable, even a great, president, helping to shape the new government and leading the country skillfully through several crises, both foreign and domestic.
Washington, like many of his contemporaries, did not understand or believe in political parties, and saw them as fractious agencies subversive of domestic tranquility. When political parties began forming during his administration, and in direct response to some of his policies, he failed to comprehend that parties would be the chief device through which the American people would debate and resolve major public issues. It was his fear of what parties would do to the nation that led Washington to draft his Farewell Address.
The two parties that developed in the early 1790s were the Federalists, who supported the economic and foreign policies of the Washington administration, and the Jeffersonian Republicans, who in large measure opposed them. The Federalists backed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's plan for a central bank and a tariff and tax policy that would promote domestic manufacturing; the Jeffersonians opposed the strong government inherent in the Hamiltonian plan, and favored farmers as opposed to manufacturers. In foreign affairs, both sides wanted the United States to remain neutral in the growing controversies between Great Britain and France, but the Federalists favored the English and the Jeffersonians the French. The Address derived at least in part from Washington's fear that party factionalism would drag the United States into this fray.
Two-thirds of the Address is devoted to domestic matters and the rise of political parties, and Washington set out his vision of what would make the United States a truly great nation. He called for men to put aside party and unite for the common good, an "American character" wholly free of foreign attachments. The United States must concentrate only on American interests, and while the country ought to be friendly and open its commerce to all nations, it should avoid becoming involved in foreign wars. Contrary to some opinion, Washington did not call for isolation, only the avoidance of entangling alliances. While he called for maintenance of the treaty with France signed during the American Revolution, the problems created by that treaty ought to be clear. The United States must "act for ourselves and not for others."
The Address quickly entered the realm of revealed truth. It was for decades read annually in Congress; it was printed in children's primers, engraved on watches and woven into tapestries. Many Americans, especially in subsequent generations, accepted Washington's advice as gospel, and in any debate between neutrality and involvement in foreign issues would invoke the message as dispositive of all questions. Not until 1949, in fact, would the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign nation.
For further reading: Burton I. Kaufman, ed., Washington's Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century (1969); Paul A. Varg, Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers (1963); Alexander De Conde, Entangling Alliances (1958).
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do u think this was good advice?
Posted by: jim bob | Apr 14, 2011 3:47:46 AM
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