George Washington on Party Politics

The following is an exerpt from Washington’s Farewell Address 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.

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.

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 duty of a wise
people to discourage and restrain it.

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 passions. 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.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country
should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine
themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the
exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of
encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and
thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just
estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in
the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The
necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing
and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the
guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by
experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own
eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the
opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional
powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the
way which the Constitution designates. But let there
be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the
instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are
destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any
partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

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About P. W. Fox

P. W. Fox, a.k.a. Wayne Howard, born in Mississippi, grew up in Nevada, Japan and Guam, returning to Mississippi where he attended high school and college in Mississippi where he received a degree in chemistry from Mississippi State University, and after working as a plant chemist for two years, he returned to the university, for graduate study in geology and geochemistry both at Mississippi State and the University of Texas at Dallas. On leaving school, he worked for a number of years in the oil and gas industry in Texas before moving to Oregon, where he has lived for the last 22 years. He has always been drawn to fiction writing and won a story writing contest at the age of nine. He began but later abandoned a science fiction novel while an undergraduate at Mississippi State. In recent years he began a more deliberate and sustained writing effort, producing short plays, poems, short stories and meditations as well as lyrics for choral pieces. Current projects include a science fiction novel and a children’s story.
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