Dear Mr. President,
Election after election, I’m told by Americans that I shouldn’t vote for someone unless they’re a republican or a democrat. Or that if I do, my vote either won’t count or is a vote for whoever they dislike more.
But I remember something you said a long time ago, and it’s really got me thinking.
I’m sure that you’re aware that most of the country you helped found is divided into two major political parties, with the institution of the democratic party pretending to care about people’s rights, and the institution of the republican party pretending to care about constitutionally-limited government.
Participants and observers alike can feel the intense heat coming off the fiery passions of party on both sides, and many people feel burned and confused.
Perhaps I’d be blissfully ignorant if I hadn’t read your farewell address, an address wherein the things you said seem to rebuke most of contemporary America.
What did you mean by it all, and were you serious?
Please help me understand your warning.
What did you mean when you said,
“Let me now…warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.”
I’m sure you were you talking about political parties and not a wild night of drinking and loud music with friends.
“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.”
If the party spirit is, in is popular form, our worst enemy, how can a people embrace it so completely?
“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.”
Mr. President, America has seen this fulfilled over and over, but it has become especially stark during the last two decades. America is on the verge of permanent despotism that results in the ruins of public liberty.
“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
Are you saying that even if the country were not to end up with that terrifying “despotism,” the spirit of party always produces common mischiefs that make it worthy of strict avoidance?
“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 find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
You obviously believed that the a party system would ultimately divide our country and cause irreparable harm, and I’m sorry to say that you were absolutely right. This statement sounds exactly like the election cycle of 2016.
“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.“
Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds like you are saying that there is a time and place for the party system, but that our country has not the time and is not the place.
You believe that we should use our resources to squash party politics like we would a deadly pest.
Mr. President, are you warning us here against a party system or just against having the spirit of party in general? If you are only warning us against the spirit of party, then did you assume that we would be able to adopt a party system without fostering a party spirit?
I believe that if you get rid of something’s spirit, you get rid of the thing.
I read your words and feel as though they are prophetic.
I don’t know if you saw my day, but it sure seems like it. My country has not only adopted the spirit of party, but we are proud of it! It is quickly resulting in despotism, and it is ruining our liberty. We’ve got ill founded jealousies, false alarms, severe animosity, riot, insurrection, foreign influence and corruption, and subjection.
I am so sorry to say that it seems like we ignored your warning. We were not vigilant, and it has burst into a flame that threatens to consume.
Mr. President, what do we do now? Is there a way back to the path of principled government based on eternal truth?
America needs your wisdom, guidance, and leadership more today than ever.
Look fondly upon America’s potential, and send you prayers for our sake.
Do yourself a favor. Read Washington’s farewell address to the people of The United States.