George Washington’s Warning Against Political Parties

George Washington's Warning Against Political Parties

America is in the midst of a partisan nightmare. In their own words, Democrats have been craving to impeach President Trump since 2017. Republicans have been dead set against it. In the meantime, the partisanship divisions grow wider and deeper across America.

When the Constitution was written, it didn’t mention anything about political parties. There was a belief, and idealistic assumption, among the founders that those elected to office would reason together and that their differences would reflect their constituents’ interests.

The two-party system began to develop over the factious fighting over the Constitution. Federalists wanted a strong central government and Anti-Federalists didn’t. Eventually, Anti-Federalists would form the Democratic-Republican Party.

Problems Emerge Inside Washington’s Cabinet

Washington experienced upfront the rise of the two-party system from within his cabinet.

Thomas Jefferson was appointed as Secretary of State. Having just come from back from a decade of service as Ambassador to France, he was appalled at what he found. What he saw was a drift toward the corrupt British systems. As Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was accused of aggressively creating a plan to centralize economic power in the hands of a few.

Hamilton saw it much differently. He was trying to establish credit and pay down debts. In order to do that the country needed a strong central government and banking system to demonstrate to lenders the new nation’s stability. To some, the thought of debt was a terrifying prospect.

Washington Caught in the Middle

Washington was fully aware of what was happening in his cabinet. Both Hamilton and Jefferson deeply respected Washington. When Washington announced his intention to not run for a second term, both men appealed on the grounds that the country needed him.

Heading into his second term, Washington said, “I was no party man myself, and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”

The parties became rooted in suspicions over international loyalties. It grew from suspicion to rebellion and forced the union to the brink of dissolution.

Once a hero, Washington was facing extreme criticism from political opposition and the media. Partisanship ruined long-time friendships between Washington and many of the Founding Fathers.

These experiences would forge the fire of Washington’s Farewell Address.

Washington’s Addresses Political Parties and Factions

When Washington was first elected as president, he desired to establish a government above partisanship and special interests. His farewell address is a snapshot into the eight years of his presidency. He was tired and had enough of the bickering. He desired moderation and felt that extremes would only lead to bad outcomes.

Washington warned in his farewell address that political parties would seek their own interests over the countries and that it was “truly their worst enemy.” Writing of his friends and warning them and the nation, he stated,

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

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