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What did Washington think of the two-party system?

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2009-09-09 07:16:34

Here are direct quotes from George Washington in his farewell

address. Source: The Independent Chronicle, September 26, 1796

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 discrimination's. 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


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


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


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.

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