Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Washington Warned Us 'in the Most Solemn Manner'

   I wrote this four years ago, perhaps my best blog ever:

   The America of today, deeply divided by political parties, is the America George Washington warned against.
   Actually,  he warned against political parties, period, warning us "in the most solemn manner." 
   And we, collectively as a nation, left his words at the podium where he offered them, walking away from that farewell address to join into political parties. And, we've been in them ever since, often having as much loyalty to them as we do for the nation, itself.
   If Washington's words, by chance, could echo down through the years, what would they tell us? They would tell us that for governments, the spirit of political parties "is truly their worst enemy."
   He said, "worst enemy," but we didn't listen. We didn't listen then, and we're not listening now.
   In that great address, Washington warned of "the danger of parties."
   He warned "against the baneful effects of the spirit of party."
   He warned against the "alternate domination" of one party over the other, "sharpened by the spirit of revenge."
   He warned that their fights might result in "the most horrid enormities" and become, in themselves, "a frightful despotism."
   He warned against "combinations and associations," including groups championing the interests of the various regions of the country.
   He warned of "artful and enterprising" people being in such groups.
   He warned such combinations and associations could "become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men" would rise to power.
   He warned such groups could cause divisions among the people. Their "designing men may endeavor to excite" differences among the people, he said.
   He warned that parties "tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together."
    As if he could foresee the campaigns of our day, he warned such groups would "misrepresent the opinions and aims" of others.
   He warned that such groups would "put in place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party."
   He said the spirit of party, "is a spirit not to be encouraged." 
   He closed his comments on parties by saying, "A fire not to be quenched, it (the spirit of parties) demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume."
   Washington characterized his warnings "as the warnings of a parting friend." His farewell address is replete with these warnings against political parties. They are warnings that have gone unheeded. Instead of discouraging parties, we have embraced them.
   Perhaps there remains room to speculate whether Washington would not have had us join parties at all, nor to have had us run for office on them. We only know he spake so gravely ill of them in his farewell address, and said a wise people would "discourage and restrain" the spirit of party.
   And, we know he, himself, walked the talk. He is the only president ever elected without a party.

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