George Washington’s warning against political parties

George Washington (Wikimedia Commons)

George Washington (Wikimedia Commons)

With all of the fighting between the political parties, many people are defined by which party they belong and the issues that they stand for. Partisan attacks and polarization have become the norm, and the division in the nation is clearly growing to an alarming level.

Whether you are liberal or conservative minded, it is the issues that divide us and sets us into one camp or the other, and in order to allow all citizens of the United States to have their voices heard, a big picture view is needed to find a direction that we want our country to move for the future.

By only focusing on issues, it makes it easy for us to forget the most important fact that we are all American citizens, which have many differing ideas, and this fact will remain no matter what issues we decide are the most important to each of us.

George Washington may have been on to something when he said in his farewell speech in 1796:

The unity of government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize.

Washington was highlighting what was created, and the pride that came from forming a federal government that guaranteed the wishes for independence, tranquility at home, protections from foreign intervention and the prosperity for its citizens.

There are those that only seek to gain the power of one party over the other, no matter if they are liberal, conservative, independent or libertarian, and they use the most volatile issues to create a constant division in the country, which helps gather votes to one party or the other.

Washington also had something to say about this as well:

But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

He goes on to say:

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 are many issues that are dear to each of us, but our beliefs may not have the same force of reason to another group of citizens, and it is crucial to find a way to stand above those issues to be able to reach all Americans for a peaceful compromise. The issues are being used to create a wedge in the electorate that some are exploiting to divide our nation for their own purposes, and this is one of the reasons that George Washington discouraged the idea of having parties.

Whether one agrees with George Washington’s view on having political parties or not, it is easy to see that some of his warnings have merit. There are many that believe ceasing the hostilities erupting across the nation today is a worthy cause, and by seeking out, and exposing the methods employed by those that seek only to divide us for personal gain, we may learn to find ways to bring our divided nation together again.



Listen to the whole speech here

George Washington’s Farewell Address

To the People of the United States


1 The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

2 I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

3 The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

4 I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

5 The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

6 In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

7 Here, perhaps I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

8 Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

9 The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

10 For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

11 But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those, which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.

12 The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds, in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

13 While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighbouring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

14 These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope, that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavour to weaken its bands.

15 In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?

16 To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

17 All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

18 However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

19 Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

20 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.

21 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.

22 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.

23 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.

24 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.

25 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.

26 It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those intrusted 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 depositories, 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.

27 Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

28 It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?

29 Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

30 As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

31 Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?

32 In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

33 So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

34 As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practise the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

35 Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

36 The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

37 Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

38 Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

39 Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

40 It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

41 Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

42 Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

43 In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

44 How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

45 In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

46 After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

47 The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

48 The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

49 The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavour to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

50 Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

51 Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

George Washington
United States – September 17, 1796

Source: The Independent Chronicle, September 26, 1796.

A pragmatist’s view on politics

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, Wikimedia Commons

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, 23 January 1889, Wikimedia Commons

I have always preferred progressive policies, and I disagree with nearly all of the views of the far right conservatives, but where I differ with some is how to proceed.

I see the division and partisanship as a destructive force that will only do further harm to our nation, and the only way forward is if some common ground can be found between the left and the right. It is true that there are some people that cannot be reached, but if some can be, I would consider it a win. At least it would be a starting point, and it would be a beginning for future dialog.

Knowing that principles alone could not make a difference and that I needed to think of the situation pragmatically, I began to wonder what it meant to be a pragmatist. Merriam-Webster defines Pragmatism as follows:

1: a practical approach to problems and affairs <tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism>

2: an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief

It’s true. I do see that a balance will be needed between my principles and pragmatism. I believe it is practical to try to understand the reasons why much of the population is polarized today, and it’s reasonable to believe that our government of obstructionism will continue as long as everyone is doing the same as our legislators, fighting with each other and avoiding the word compromise.

At the same time, the ‘too big to jail, fail or nail‘ banks and the corporations that destroy competition with small businesses, as well as continuing to keep wages low with little benefits for their workers, have taken control of the political narrative in our government with their lavish campaign donations and ‘pay to play‘ lobbying efforts.

Conservatives are hurt by these tactics as much as any liberal, and for this reason, I believe there is a really good chance that the rational minded, in all parties, will see that we all have a common cause here to stand up and change the policies that have become so prevalent in our government, which favor only the super wealthy powers of industry over everyone else.

This is definitely an issue that both conservatives and liberals can agree. It has always been dangerous to our economy having businesses and banks that are too large, and there was a reason the Sherman-Antitrust Act was passed in 1890. Our country had learned that when companies grew too large, they could, and usually did, stifle competition.

Anyone wanting to start their own business has to contend with these super corporations that can outbid and have lower prices than anyone, and the ‘Super Banks’ can get away with breaking laws without fear of prosecution. One would think our country had outgrown this past by allowing and accepting these tactics today.

AT&T Building - Nashville, Wikimedia Commons

AT&T Building – Nashville, Wikimedia Commons

With the Sherman-Antitrust Act, the Federal Government was authorized to institute proceedings against trusts to be able to dissolve them. It was an act  that was meant to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies.

An example of breaking up a company occurred in 1984, when Ma Bell, known today as AT&T, was broken up as a result of a federal antitrust suit, because of it’s monopoly over the telecommunications industry, and when this was done, our economy did not suffer because of it.

Practically speaking though, there are differences this time, because breaking up the ‘too big to fail’ banks could have negative consequences on our economy and the world.

It is obvious though, something does need to be done besides deregulating and simply fining ‘naughty’ corporations with a slap on the wrist, while exempting individuals within those organizations from the fear of being prosecuted for their unlawful actions. ‘No one is above the law’ is what we have always been taught, liberal and conservative.

I have also been reflecting on the Republican Party’s civil war that is raging in the country, and there has been a civil war in my thoughts as well. Wouldn’t it be better for the liberal progressive cause if the Republicans destroy their credibility for decades to come? Should I grab the popcorn and sit back and enjoy the show?

However, I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind telling me not to gloat because their civil war is hurting everyone else in the country as well, because of the continued obstructionism. Some democrats argue that it is best to stand back and to not get involved so the republican brand will continue to be damaged, but I’m not sure if this is the best course of action.

The way that I see it, a balance is required for our government to run efficiently, and at the moment, that balance is askew. When in balance, the extreme voices can be held in check by the moderate voices in government, and this creates a better environment for reaching consensus and compromise. Something that is sorely lacking at the moment.

The Republicans, over the last few years, have been systematically weening out their moderate voices, and this has caused a massive disruption in our government with their wave of obstructionism. So the question that I have been asking myself is if the Democrats should stand up and join forces with the moderate Republicans, to help them get the upper hand again for the sake of the sanity of the country.

Barack Obama signs 2013 inauguration proclamation, Wikimedia Commons

Barack Obama signs 2013 inauguration proclamation, Wikimedia Commons

Both sides are very passionate with their beliefs though, and the continued fight between them will keep going if calmer minds don’t prevail. Let’s just say your side is right (as I still do), this doesn’t mean the other side will somehow see the light and change their beliefs, and I don’t see an end game by continuing the fight.

In diplomacy, a mediator is used to try to resolve two side’s differences. Our elected figures are reflecting our differences only and not trying to be mediators themselves and govern, even though they represent all the citizens within their districts, regardless of party, and the cable news media loves this fight too much to want to change anything, because it is great for their ratings.

I am a liberal progressive that is ready to stand side by side with those in the Republican Party that want to restore the balance that has been lost, and fight with them against the powerful moneyed interests that have been hoarding the wealth at the expense of everyone else for their own gain. But, I’m only one person. It seems that many more mediators will be needed.

Alben W. Barkley – Paducah’s pillar of politics

Alben William Barkley, 1877-1956 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZ62-59671

If you have driven down Alben Barkley Drive in Paducah, Kentucky, seen Alben Barkley’s name on the historical markers in town, flew out of Barkley Regional Airport, or spent the day at Barkley Lake, this name will be familiar to you, but do you really know who he was and his accomplishments?

For those that are history enthusiasts living in the area, Alben Barkley Drive brings back the memories of Paducah’s most famous politician, that had a remarkable career in politics in the House of Representatives, as the Majority Leader in the Senate and as the 35th Vice President of the United States with President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953.

Early Days

Barkley was born November 24, 1877 in a log cabin near Lowes, Kentucky in Graves County, but his given name was Willie Alben Barkley. His parents were John Wilson Barkley and Electra Eliza (Smith) Barkley, which were deeply religious tenant farmers who raised tobacco but later settled on a wheat farm in Hickman County, Kentucky in 1891.

He first attended Marvin College, in Clinton, Kentucky, and graduated in 1897 where he learned that he excelled in speech and debate, all the while working as a full-time janitor in school. Barkley continued his studies at Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, and afterwards, he attended the University of Virginia School of Law and graduated in 1901.

Never liking his name Willie Alben, he legally changed his name to Alben William Barkley. He later commented, “Just imagine the tribulations I would have had. A robust, active boy, going through a Kentucky childhood with the name of ‘Willie,’ and later trying to get into politics!”

Mrs Alben Barkley Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-hec-18413

Returning to Kentucky, Barkley clerked for two Paducah attorneys before passing the bar exam in 1901 and opened his own law office the same year. He married Dorothy Brower in 1903 and they had three children: David Murrell, Marion Frances, and Laura Louise.

Barkley decided to run for prosecuting attorney of McCracken County two years later, and he would later tell a story in his memoirs, That Reminds Me, about how he was said to have ridden a mule during the campaign stating, “This story is a base canard, and, here and now, I wish to spike it for all time. It was not a mule—it was a horse.”

From Judge to House of Representatives and the Senate

Working as the prosecuting attorney for four years, Barkley became a County Judge for the McCracken County Court in 1909 and held this position until 1913. It was at this time that he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912 representing Kentucky’s 1st District.

In Congress, Barkley was heavily influenced by Woodrow Wilson and believed government needed to be flexible and have a willingness to experiment with social and economic programs. He was a proud liberal and progressive declaring, “I was a liberal and a progressive long before I ever heard of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

In 1919, he was a leading figure in creating the Prohibition Amendment and the Volstead Act that was ratified as the 18th Amendment and enacted into law as the National Prohibition Act of 1920 that prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport, import, or export of alcohol beverages.

Serving seven terms in the House of Representatives, Barkley made an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination as governor of Kentucky, and after suffering this defeat in the 1923 campaign, he ran for the United States Senate in 1926.

Even though Barkley lost the election for governor, he did get name recognition which helped him win the 1926 election for Senator and won him the title of ‘iron man’ because of his ability to give as many as sixteen speeches a day.

When the New Deal was being debated in congress, Barkley worked closely with Majority Leader Joe Robinson from Arkansas, who was very different in style, and they were influential in passing much of the New Deal legislation between 1934 and 1936.

BARKLEY, ALBEN W. HONORABLE Library of Congress Prints and Photograghs Division LC-DIG-hec-17392

Having worked together in the Democratic minority in the 1920’s, Robinson gave an impression of strength and forcefulness, while Barkley was much better with his oratory skills and usually succeeded by using compromise with his jovial personality and his gift of storytelling. Robinson was happy to let Barkley forge alliances using his skills while he used a mix of threats, favors, and parliamentary skill.

Barkley was known to say about his storytelling ability, “A good story is like fine Kentucky bourbon, it improves with age and, if you don’t use it too much, it will never hurt anyone.”

In 1937, Joe Robinson passed away leaving a vacancy for the Senate Majority Leader position. Barkley was selected along with Pat Harrison, the chairman of the influential Finance Committee and very popular in the Senate, to compete for the leadership of the Senate.

President Roosevelt did not feel comfortable with Harrison because he would not support his Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 that would appoint an additional member to the Supreme Court for every sitting justice over the age of 70. This would have increased the Supreme Court by a total of six new judges.

For this reason, Roosevelt privately threw his support behind Barkley and he won by just one vote to become the new Democratic Majority Leader from Kentucky. However, Roosevelt’s ‘court packing plan’, as some called it then, failed to be included in the final amended version of the bill in the Senate.

Barkley was the Senate Majority Leader from 1937 to 1947, and with the Democrats loss of the Senate in 1946, he became the Senate Minority Leader from 1947 to 1949. President Roosevelt, during the 1944 election campaign, chose Harry S. Truman for the Vice Presidential nomination, although Barkley was almost considered for the position.

Barkley continued to support the President’s initiatives though, including the passage of the United Nations Charter and the formation of Israel as a nation-state. He was also the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack while also a member of the Congressional Nazi War Crimes Committee.

New majority leader of the Senate Washington DC July 21 Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-DIG-hec-23064

On March 10, 1947, Dorothy passed away in Washington D.C. after a long illness from a heart ailment. She had been in a critical condition for nearly three years.

Time as Vice President and his Legacy

When Truman became the President with the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, a Vice President was not picked to replace him but after Barkley’s keynote speech at the 1948 Democratic convention in Philadelphia, where he gave an impassioned speech saying, “Thomas Jefferson did not proclaim that all white men, all black men, or red or yellow men are equal, that all rich or poor men are equal, that all good or bad men are equal. What he declared was that all men are equal”, this speech was the deciding factor for Harry Truman picking Barkley for Vice President.

According to Mark Hatfield with the Senate Historical Office:

“While the president whistle-stopped by train, Barkley made the first “prop stop” campaign by air. He had come a long way since the days when he first campaigned for office on horseback. In six weeks he toured thirty-six states and gave more than 250 speeches. He spoke to so many small audiences that the press dubbed him “the poor man’s candidate.” But his strength and stamina refuted the charges that he had been too old to run.”

This was the historical election where the Chicago Tribune newspaper had the headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Truman and Barkley had won when everyone thought they didn’t have a chance to succeed.

One evening, Barkley went to his daughter’s house in Washington and was talking about how he should be addressed, because he thought Mr. Vice President was too wordy. Barkley later told in an interview about a conversation with his grandson, Stephen M. Truitt, “Gramps, why not put two little e’s in there between those two big letters and call it Veep?”

The next day, he told the story to the press corps and the name stuck, and from then on, he was called ‘The Veep’.

Dewey defeats Truman Chicago Tribune Wikimedia Commons

At this time, Barkley was 70 years old but this did not slow him down. He was the last Vice President to preside regularly over the Senate, and Truman insisted, because of his legislative experience, that he be included in all of the cabinet-level meetings and on the National Security Council.

“He was certainly the first vice president that routinely attended National Security Council meetings”, Truitt stated in an interview with NPR, “And part of this was his own personality and the other part of it was Truman liked him and trusted him, and wanted him to do these things. He met with the president all the time, and was very important in his advice-giving to him.”

Also, because of Barkley’s talent in public speaking, Truman decided to have him be the administration’s principal spokesman to use his natural sense of humor and a gift of storytelling to help defuse many partisan and personal animosities.

“A Vice-President who is well liked by members of the Senate”, Barkley once stated, “and by the corresponding members of the House in charge of legislation can exercise considerable power in the shaping of the program of legislation which every administration seeks to enact.”

When asked about the Vice President, Truman replied, “Barkley, as Vice President, was in a class by himself. He had the complete confidence of both the President and the Senate.”

Captivating national attention with their romance in 1949, Barkley began courting Jane Hadley, who was half his age, and the press loved following the romance in the newspapers. On November 18, 1949, they were married in a big ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri.

Barkley and Truman Courtesy of Barkley family in Paducah

Barkley’s granddaughter, Dorothy Barkley, who was a young girl at the time, recalled the publicity surrounding the wedding, “Their pictures were all over Life Magazine, all sorts of goings on because he was the first Vice President ever married while he was in the White House.”

Back in Paducah, Barkley lived in a house called ‘Angles’ that was built in 1859 by Colonel Quintus Quincy Quigley, who was another famous lawyer back in the nineteenth century from Paducah. A Kentucky historical marker is located at the home that reads:

“Home of Alben W. Barkley, 1937-56. A good example of Greek Revival architecture. Built in 1859 by Colonel Quintus Quincy Quigley. Location on sharp angles of three tracts of land source of its name. In early married life Barkley and his wife dreamed of owning it. Dream realized after 30 years. Beloved home for 19 years while Senator and Vice President.”

Mark Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office, notes that Barkley was described as:

“A storyteller of great repute, Alben Barkley frequently poked fun at himself and his office. He was especially fond of telling about the mother who had two sons. One went to sea; the other became vice president; and neither was heard from again. In Barkley’s case, the story was not at all true. He made sure that the public heard from him, and about him, as often as possible. And what the public heard, they liked, for Alben Barkley performed admirably as vice president of the United States.”

Jane Hadley Barkley her husband Alben W. Barkley Vice President of the United States President Harry S Truman Nellie Tayloe Ross Wikimedia Commons

In 1952, Barkley tried for the nomination for the President of the United States, but he withdrew because many felt he was too old to run. This was a bitter pill for him to swallow, but Barkley accepted the decision and delivered a farewell address to the convention with all of his usual grace and style. When he finished, he was given a forty-five minute ovation out of their respect for him.

Barkley retired afterwards but he was unable to stay retired. Barkley ran for and won his Senate seat back in 1954, against the incumbent Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper. Two years later, at Washington and Lee University, he was invited, on April 30, 1956, to deliver the keynote address at their mock convention.

At the end of the speech, Barkley reminded the audience that he was once again a freshman in the Senate, “ I was a junior congressman, then I became a senior congressman, and then I went to the Senate and became a junior senator, then I became a senior senator, and then Majority Leader of the Senate, and then Vice President of the United States, and now I’m back again as a junior senator. I am willing to be a junior. I’m glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the house of the Lord, than to sit in the seats of the mighty.”

These were Alben Barkley’s last words, because shortly after saying this, he collapsed from a heart attack and passed away. Thus ended the career of one of Paducah’s finest heroes.

NPR concluded in their interview with Stephen Truitt:

“In the end, Stephen Truitt says, his grandfather’s most profound legacy was the New Deal. Truitt says the program went hand in hand with his grandfather’s deeply-held belief that sometimes society needed a little bit of a boost from the government it created to reach its fullest potential.”

It is a rare thing to see someone, whose parents were humble Kentucky farmers, achieve the success that Alben Barkley was able to accomplish, showing that a rural location does not decide the fate of one who strives to rise so high in the government. One may not agree with his liberal and progressive ideals, but Paducah has a long history of residents, belonging to both parties, staying current and debating the affairs of the day. He was no exception and took it as far as he could, to the Vice President of the United States.

Barkley and Dottie Courtesy of Barkley family in Paducah

Will the Rational Majority please stand up

We saw with the emergence of the Tea Party Movement how a relatively small percentage of the electorate can vocalize their displeasure of the government. Even though some of their ideas lack factual merit and they showed many intolerant attitudes, they should be congratulated for their tenacity.

Imagine what a large majority could do. This example can be used to show everyone else that we do not have to sit and watch idly from the sidelines while intolerance spreads through the political discourse.

You only have to watch a couple of political ads from any election to see that the rhetoric is just getting worse with no end in sight for reason to return. As long as the reasonable and rational people remain quiet, the money being thrown into the elections will continue to grow adding to the lack of civility being shown in politics today.

Is this what we want to teach our children about how our government works? Is this the legacy that we want to leave them?

In the political spectrum today, there are groups that are radically to the left and to the right but there is an even larger group of the electorate that longs for the return of common sense and sanity to the government.

We are the Rational Majority. Ranging from moderate republicans, independents and moderate democrats, this majority can become a real political force if only they would unite and vote together to bring back the belief to more people that working together is more beneficial to the country than division and hatred.

We all see how a lack of bipartisanship in government is failing to meet the demands of the 21st century and the moderates have the ability today to show that by working together as Americans first, we can accomplish great things.

If the rational majority can unite, our vote can tell the politicians to get their act together and quit arguing like children. We all want to see our country succeed and only by working together can we achieve that.

Our government has been a beacon of light to many countries in the world striving to create their own democracy. Can we really be proud of what the world sees now? How can we degrade each other for political gains and how can we allow a small minority to hijack the political agenda from the majority? Honor is a value long lost in politics.

The Rational Majority can restore that honor by standing together and using their vote to counter the big money being injected in politics with common sense.

The United States is more important than just the war between blue states versus red states. By looking at the similarities that we all share opposed to what makes us different, can we ever escape this adversarial culture that has taken over the politics in our country. Let’s show the world that we are not a divided nation but one that is built on consensus and common sense.

Published on Coffee Party Originals