Washington’s Farewell

George Washington was the first President (and, yes, a slaveholder), and maybe among the first of the American Founders to see what happens when political parties fuel the factionalism that destructively divides We the People.  His warning gives fresh meaning to “Country over Party.”

George Washington’s Farewell (1796)

“[Party associations] 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. . .”

“[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.”

“[The spirit of party] 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.”

“Washington’s principal concern was for the safety of the eight-year-old Constitution. He believed that the stability of the Republic was threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs. He urged Americans to subordinate sectional jealousies to common national interests. Writing at a time before political parties had become accepted as vital extraconstitutional, opinion-focusing agencies, Washington feared that they carried the seeds of the nation’s destruction through petty factionalism.”

~United States Senate Historical Office

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