Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Political Parties & The Founding Fathers

Today we find it difficult to imagine not having any form of political allegiance to one party or another. We each usually proudly proclaim our affiliation with either the Democrats or the Republicans, and many work diligently to aid their party. Each party either reflects our beliefs or appeals to us with their agendas. But such has not always been the case. The idea of political parties was anathema to Washington who stated in his Farewell Address (1796) that...
"They [political parties] 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;..."

How prophetic those words seem today with the current administration. Surely the agenda of the Bush administration has not been to the benefit or betterment of the nation, and surely it has appealed to but a small faction of the populace, despite what election results might show. There had certainly been blatant pandering by this administration to a certain element of our society which is far from a reflection of the whole.

It is hard to pigeonhole any of the other Founding Fathers, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, into any of the political parties of today. Hamilton, would have been happy to have had a monarch, provided that monarch was benevolent and kept the welfare of the nation as the highest priority. Jefferson and Madison felt the government should be tightly controlled and in no circumstances should it intrude upon decisions of the individual states. This does not separate them into liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans as we see them today. In no way shape or manner would Jefferson approve of the Republican stance on prayer in school and abortion issues. Both he and Madison would have been appalled at any central government intrusion into what they considered local issues, if not totally personal ones. Government should not intrude into the private lives of it's citizens. One can only imagine their horror at the Terri Schiavo debacle or the religious rantings of the likes of Jerry Farwell and Pat Robertson. The role of central government as they saw it was national defense, trade both international and national, and international relations.

In contrast, Hamilton would have had the government strictly controlling just about everything. He would have been on the positive side of prayer in school, abortion would not be allowed and he would have been a card carrying member of the NRA, as he felt everyone should be a gun owner, even if they did not feel the need or were opposed to that ownership. He would have had the President decide all and there would be no state or local governments. Congress should be in charge of raising monies and hand it directly to the President, to use at his discretion. The powers that be today would have reveled in that sort of government, and it seems they are doing their level best to achieve those ends.

With his words, "...give me liberty or give me death.". Patrick Henry managed to state his political beliefs. He was most strongly opposed to any form of governmental intrusion into the private lives of it's citizens. The spectre of tyranny is what had brought him to his feet in Virginia's House of Burgesses, and led to those immortal words. His challenge that day, to his contemporaries, was their acceptance of slavery or freedom, based on the Crown's intrusion into their lives. Today's wiretapping government would surely have sent him into apoplexy.
John Adams looked upon government as a benevolent parent, seeing government's role of helping those who were in need. Although a Federalist, today he would most likely be deemed a liberal. In this Hamilton and Adams were the most closely aligned. However, all of them were more or less opposed to any political party structure, seeing in them an entity not in line with the common good but rather a vehicle for separating one group of citizens from the other, pushing the agenda of one group rather than working for the good of all.

And what if they should return today to see the state of what they labored so long and hard for? Would they be heartsick over the turn of events in the Republic that they labored so long and hard to create? Benjamin Franklin, the philosopher of the group, perhaps said it best. When, as he left Constitution Hall, he was asked..."Well Doctor, what have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?" Dr. James McHenry, a Maryland delegate, heard Franklin reply. "A Republic, if you can keep it."

I will leave you with a return to Washington and those prophetic words from his Farewell Address...

"However combinations or associations of the above description (political parties) 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."

Susan B. Goodwin