A “party spirit” is destructive to liberty.
That’s how Noah Webster put it. He said, “Nothing is more dangerous to the cause of truth and liberty than a party-spirit.”
He went on to say, “party spirit is violent, malignant and tyrannical,” and that “faction is death to liberty.”
That’s where we are today.
Politics is dominated by partisanship. It’s all red team versus blue team. Most people show far more loyalty to their party and its leaders than they do to constitutional principles.
John Adams also warned about getting caught up in a party spirit. He said, “There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties.”
In other words, everybody diving up into team red and team blue, and as Adams put it, “concerting measures in opposition to each other” under their respective leaders.
These measures aren’t to support to Constitution or advance liberty. They’re just meant to support one team or oppose the other team.
And a lot of times people will suddenly support measures they opposed under the “other guys” simply because “their guy” is for it now.
Adams said, “This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution.”
Thomas Gordon was widely read by the founders. He gave a pretty good explanation of the dynamics of faction. In 1744, he wrote, “It is with measures as with men; they are praised or condemned not because they are right or wrong, beneficial or hurtful, but because they come from this party, or the other.”
In other words, people get so caught up in “owning the Democrats” or sticking it to the Republicans that the completely lose sight of what is in the best interest of the people. Everything gets oriented toward advancing the party. It’s party over principle.
In his farewell address, George Washington warned us exactly how this would play out.
“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.”
The founding generation feared factions and warned us about it. We should heed their warnings.
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