As yet another election approaches I thought since political parties are all the rage I would take a look at the beginning of the American experiment…..
In the beginning (all great sagas begin with that intro) our Founding Fathers while I may not agree with some of their thoughts did have the right idea about the possible rise of political parties, factions if you will…..
Today, it may seem impossible to imagine the U.S. government without its two leading political parties, Democrats and Republicans. But in 1787, when delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to hash out the foundations of their new government, they entirely omitted political parties from the new nation’s founding document.
This was no accident. The framers of the new Constitution desperately wanted to avoid the divisions that had ripped England apart in the bloody civil wars of the 17th century. Many of them saw parties—or “factions,” as they called them—as corrupt relics of the monarchical British system that they wanted to discard in favor of a truly democratic government.
“It was not that they didn’t think of parties,” says Willard Sterne Randall, professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and biographer of six of the Founding Fathers. “Just the idea of a party brought back bitter memories to some of them.”
George Washington’s family had fled England precisely to avoid the civil wars there, while Alexander Hamilton once called political parties “the most fatal disease” of popular governments. James Madison, who worked with Hamilton to defend the new Constitution to the public in the Federalist Papers, wrote in Federalist 10 that one of the functions of a “well-constructed Union” should be “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.”
Then there is Jefferson who liked the idea of factions….
Thomas Jefferson, who was serving a diplomatic post in France during the Constitutional Convention, believed it was a mistake not to provide for different political parties in the new government. “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties,’’
With Jefferson as secretary of state and Hamilton as Treasury secretary, two competing visions for America developed into the nation’s first two political parties. Supporters of Hamilton’s vision of a strong central government—many of whom were Northern businessmen, bankers and merchants who leaned toward England when it came to foreign affairs—would become known as the Federalists. Jefferson, on the other hand, favored limited federal government and keeping power in state and local hands. His supporters tended to be small farmers, artisans and Southern planters who traded with the French, and were sympathetic to France.
And so it began!
Fast forward to the 21st century…..
This country has become the embattled nation the Founders feared….
America has now become that dreaded divided republic. The existential menace is as foretold, and it is breaking the system of government the Founders put in place with the Constitution.
Though America’s two-party system goes back centuries, the threat today is new and different because the two parties are now truly distinct, a development that I date to the 2010 midterms. Until then, the two parties contained enough overlapping multitudes within them that the sort of bargaining and coalition-building natural to multiparty democracy could work inside the two-party system. No more. America now has just two parties, and that’s it.
The theory that guided Washington and Adams was simple, and widespread at the time. If a consistent partisan majority ever united to take control of the government, it would use its power to oppress the minority. The fragile consent of the governed would break down, and violence and authoritarianism would follow. This was how previous republics had fallen into civil wars, and the Framers were intent on learning from history, not repeating its mistakes.
Sadly this nation is far from finding a solution to this chaos….if it ever will is still debatable….my thought is that it is doomed….parties will bring ruination to this country….that and the corruption that goes hand in hand with parties.
Turn The Page!
I Read, I Write, You Know
“lego ergo scribo”
2 thoughts on “Founders And Political Parties”
It’s always a voter’s dilemma to try to find good government. A stable enough two-party system dominating, or a multi-party parliament with no overall majority making unstable coalitions with other parties that they would not normally share a room with. Italy in modern times is a good example of how too many parties can almost make a country ungovernable, hinder any progress, and create the need for continual general elections.
Best wishes, Pete.
Parties become identity not about governing…..chuq