Notes on George Washington’s Farewell Address: The Evils of Political Parties

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

”How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” –Dr. Samuel Johnson

This post, I am distressed to report, will be a little bit bifurcated, though perhaps I will have figured out how to put the two parts together by the time I reach the end. We recently had discussion (Anthony K Wikrent; Louiedog14) on the question of whether a good President must also be a good human[1]. Since it seemed to me that surrendering power is almost certainly the act of a good man, I thought I would look at President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796). However, there I discovered Washington had strong views on political parties, which is a topic that I am more or less continuously interested in, covering electoral politics as I do. Now, if the test of a good man is to be ignored by all those who claim to honor him (cf. Mark 14:72), then Washington is indeed a good man, and my problem is solved [brushes hands together]. Proceeding, however, I’ll first take a look at Washington the man, then briefly at the production of the Address, then at the Address itself, and conclude.

From the Naked Capitalism perspective of “fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics and power,” Washington is almost too good to be true. He was a land speculator, a slaveowner, and died a very wealthy person. And in North American at the time, there was rather a lot of land to speculate on, which Washington did quite successfully (no doubt being a surveyor helped):

In 1752 Washington made his first land purchase, 1,459 acres along Bullskin Creek in Frederick County, Virginia. This act inaugurated the second and more profitable phase of his cartographic career, in which he assumed the role of land speculator. Over the next half century Washington would continue to seek out, purchase, patent, and eventually settle numerous properties. His will, executed in 1800, lists 52,194 acres to be sold or distributed in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley. In addition to these properties, Washington also held title to lots in the Virginia cities of Winchester, Bath (now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia), and Alexandria, and in the newly formed City of Washington.

From Bloomberg:

When he was elected president in 1789, George Washington was one of the nation’s largest landowners. Most of his holdings were on the wrong (western) side of the Appalachian Mountains, though, and thus of dubious financial value.

Washington had been working to remedy that. In 1785, he had gotten the Virginia House of Delegates to charter the Patowmack Company to build canals and otherwise improve navigation on the waterway (you know it as the Potomac River) that Washington was convinced could eventually, with a short portage or two, link the Ohio River to the Atlantic. This connection would knit East and West together and make the country stronger, Washington believed. It would also, not entirely coincidentally, make both his Western landholdings and his home base at Mount Vernon on the Potomac more valuable.

I got this from Joel Achenbach’s “The Grand Idea: George Washington’s Potomac and the Rise of the West.” As The Washington Post reporter tells it, Washington was aware of the potential for conflict of interest in his endeavors. He hemmed and hawed before accepting Virginia legislators’ offer of shares in the Patowmack Company in 1785. Thomas Jefferson had advised against it, but Washington finally agreed with a promise to “turn the destination of the fund vested in me from my private emoluments, to objects of a public nature.” As president of the company in its early days, he accepted only a nominal salary.

Still, the effort mixed public and private interest in remarkable ways. In an effort to settle Maryland and Virginia’s competing claims to jurisdiction over the Potomac River, Washington set in motion a series of meetings that ended up leading to the Constitutional Convention, over which he presided.

He’s no angel! Washington was a slave owner. Historian Eric Foner describes Washington’s plantation:

Washington’s sprawling estate consisted of eight thousand acres. There were five separate farms where tobacco and grain were the main crops, each worked by slaves directed by a white manager. There were also woodlands teeming with game, experimental gardens, stables, shops for carpenters, blacksmiths and other craftsmen, and a mansion, where Washington and his wife lived, attended by slaves dressed in red and white livery.

Foner also describes how Washington “worked” his slaves:

Labour, of course, was the raison d’être of slavery, and Thompson devotes much attention to Washington’s efforts to create a disciplined workforce and to the ways slaves resisted his demands. He was ‘by no means an easy man to work for’. He insisted that slaves and hired workers adhere to his own highly demanding work ethic. ‘I expect my people,’ he wrote to one overseer, ‘will work from daybreaking until it is dusk,’ a regimen which in summer, as Thompson points out, meant a very long work day indeed. Every morning Washington went into the fields. He noticed when slaves were not at work and reprimanded them and the farm managers. Extremely concerned with his public reputation, he took pride in his own self-control. Those who knew him, however, were aware that he had a fierce temper. He was ‘tremendous in his wrath’, Jefferson recalled after Washington’s death, and slaves learned to steer clear when he was provoked.

Finally, Washington died an extremely wealthy man, with a net worth of $525 million in today’s dollars (cf. Matt 19:24).

From the speaker, I turn to the speech. (Actually, that’s not quite right. Not only did Hamilton and Madison contribute to early drafts of the Address, the speech was never delivered, but printed and distributed by Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser).

The full text of the Address is available at the Avalon Project. (I say this because many of the links that Google throws up are to excerpts, including, shamefully, the Constitution Center.)

1) Washington declines to serve a third term

Friends and Citizens:

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 in 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 apprise 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.

Lambert here: Again, I think that surrenduring power, and securing the prospect of orderly succession for future iterations of that new old thing, a Republic, is an unambiguously good act (presumably, therefore, enacted by a good human).

2) Washington stresses the advantages of the Union, and inveighs against parties

Every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole….

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. … [And the same logic for East and West.]

Lambert here: Washington’s discussion of North and South erases slavery even more thoroughly than the Constitution did. Another way, after all, of saying “great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise” is “Southern slaves on Yankee bottoms” (= ships). Since, as Foner points out, Washington found slavery sufficiently dubious to free his slaves in his will, it seems strange that he would picture this “intercourse” between North and South as continuing “unrestrained,” without conflict, for the indefinite future.

Here we come to the first two mentions of parties:

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 endeavor 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 heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

Lambert here: On the one hand, we see “jealousies and heartburnings” today, along with all the other ill effects Washington mentions. The notion that parties “render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together” is quite modern; we call it “othering.” On the other, are we really to characterize the Abolitionists as “designing men” who “may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views”? If it took a party brought into being by Abolition to bring slavery to an end, doesn’t that make parties good?

3) Washington inveighs against party capture of government

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

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.

Lambert here: Here again, we see the ill effects that Washington inveighs against (and from parties in general, not one or the other). However, it is not completely clear to me that Washington means by “party” what we mean today, after over 200 years of institutional evolution. Washington gave the Address in 1796, when Hamilton’s Federalist Party had only been in existence for seven years, and Jefferson and Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party four. What could really have been known about them, in that short a span? Here is a timeline:

To me, the distinctive competence, if you will, of the modern political party is its control over the ballot. I don’t see that in the descriptions I read of how the parties of Washington’s day operated. The press is just as appalling as ever (why?), but the party structures look a lot like what we would call Flex Nets to me. (I need to find a copy of Elkins and McKitrick’s The Age of Federalism to understand this period better.)

4) Washington inveighs against “the spirit of party”

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.

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.

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.

Lambert here: Washington is very astute on “alternate domination,” which we see today, where electoral politics seems like nothing so much as an impacted mass of grudge matches. However, I’m mistrustful of “spiritual” explanations where material context is absent. Further, when you think of how carefully the checks and balances of the Constitution were constructed, it seems strange that parties were never considered in scope. Legislative, Executive, Judicial branches, but nothing on factions, let alone parties. If indeed partisanship culminates in the “ruin of public liberty” — which, after all, the Constitution was designed to preserve [pause for the usual caveats] — the omission of Constitutional provisions for parties seems like an enormous loophole. Then again, “The United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them,” as Julius Nyerere said.

5) Washington, isolationist

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 connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. 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.

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.

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?

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

Lambert here: The contemporary relevance couldn’t be more obvious.


Schmoop (I love Schmoop) summarizes the tragedy of Washington’s Farewell Address as follows:

It’s a tale as old as time (minus the singing teapot): a wise person dispenses really good advice, and everyone says “thanks” but continues to do the thing they were just warned not to do. Then everything basically plays out exactly the way the wise person said it would.

Washington’s strictures against party were obsolete at the time they were spoken. As for “interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe,” well…. that battle was over by 1898 the Mexican-American War the Loiusiana Purchase

It’s not clear to me that any human holding the power of a President can be good in any sense that those not in that position can ever understand; the power is too much, the pressures are too great, the information is too bad, and life is too short for most of us to become wise. (Am I correct in thinking that Roman custom demanded that a general, riding a chariot in his triumph, would have a slave whispering “Memento mori” in his ear? We don’t seem to have a lot of that, and we should have more). The same goes for any human with a net worth of $525 million.

So in what senses can Washington be considered a good man? Two, at least. First, he voluntarily surrendered power (threw the ring into Mount Doom, as it were, and with no Gollum to help). Second, with his views on the social and political effects of party, Washington made and shared an accurate and farseeing call; that argues for a balanced, even a stoic, mind and temperament. Obviously, Washington was a slaveholder, and so did great evil. Then again, as labor “was the raison d’être of slavery,” so too labor is the raison d’être of capital. So who among us has standing on that question? (Cf. 2 Sam 12:1-7.) How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of workers….


[1] Cf. Quintilian’s definition of an orator: “A good man speaking well.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Mark Gisleson

    Thanks. I think you covered a lot of ground well (at least it read well, I’m an editor first and historian last and yes I noticed you accidentally put an “as” in for “a” in the fourth non-indented ¶ of the main body : )

  2. Socrates Pythagoras

    Lambert, I enjoy your close-reading analysis pieces like this, so thanks for sharing.

    My problem with political parties is that the two wings of the monoparty have engineered voting laws on the state level such that it is nearly impossible for any other party to establish real viability on a national level. I would love to see a system where real coalition building is required in the legislative branch. This would also require regular exercise of real statesmanship on the part of the executive branch in order to drive its agenda. Moreover, I think it returns a lot of power to the legislative branch that has been surrendered in favor of the Imperial Presidency.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      i think an excellent case can be made that the machinery of voting should be a sort of public utility.
      in my experience on the ground, most…if not the vast majority…of people simply do not know that it currently is in the hands of the 2 mainstream parties.
      (similarly, with the debate infrastructure).
      the words of the DNC lawyer about smoke filled rooms and “whateverthehellwewant”…should be tatooed on the foreheads of every dem pol.

      and Lambert…not to be pedantic: Washington’s model was Cincinnatus.

      who went back to his plow after being the tyrannis.
      folks were more well read in those days(Washington’s, that is)….i tell that tale sorta often to the kiddos out here.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > Washington’s model was Cincinnatus

        I should have thought of that. Frankly, I was a little overwhelmed by the richness of the topic. I thought this would be an easy post — just slap some quotes together! — and it turned out not to be, at all.

        It seems that the question of whether Rome’s Optimates and Populares were parties as we understand them, or not, has vexed generations of scholars. Again, however, if the Roman Republic shaped the Constitution’s framing, then why were factions and parties “outside the experiment,” as it were? Or were they?

  3. NotTimothyGeithner

    Gore Vidal said the Founders were the only time the smart people ran things. To me that makes a difference. GW was a thinker, and I tend to think thought and empathy go hand in hand. Lex Luthor isn’t real.

    I’ve felt GWs (I’m a stan) farewell address was unbridled optimism. He kind of thought the Adam’s Jefferson working relationship was natural and could be fixed.

    In discussions of Washington’s morality, his religious views are necessary. We are his inheritors on that front.

    Yes, we give Biden types the grandeur of the office but forget it’s a job with a replacement on hand.

    1. Carolinian

      But Gore, speaking through his mouthpiece Burr, doesn’t paint a very flattering portrait of Washington who is described as a vain autocrat who harshly ruled his soldiers and wasn’t a very good military mind. Also I believe, re the speech, some have said that Hamilton wrote the whole thing.

      At any rate thanks to Lambert for the post. We luuv history. All of the founders were leery of seeming ambitious and in the next election they declined to campaign openly. Like NC’s Hudson they also relied heavily on studies of the classical world–more Roman in their case than Greek–and those long ago notions about aristocracy versus fragile democracy. If much of what said seems prescient it could be because history was a thing even back then.

  4. John R Moffett

    I think it has unfortunately been shown time and again that most people prefer to cheer on a clash of personalities as opposed to a debate of policies, and the news/entertainment industry know this well. Policies are absent from the news unless they concern a wedge issue like abortion or guns. The problem is how to get most people to stop acting like life is a TV soap opera where they root for one personality over another. How do you get the majority of people who don’t have any interest in government policy to start having an interest? Everyone is hammered with the personality clashes, and they respond to that without realizing it has no bearing on their lives or future. How do you compete with Hollywood and the “news media” for the attention of the public? It’s a tough row to hoe.

    1. ambrit

      I fear that ‘things’ will go on as before until enough people become seriously endangered. An extended period of hunger should do the trick.

    2. LifelongLib

      My understanding is that in earlier times in the U.S., people participated in politics largely through intermediate organizations like labor unions, churches, clubs etc. These have declined greatly in the last 40 years or so. Participation in politics has declined along with them.

      1. .human

        Then there are the limitations and prohibitions in corporate and tax law that mold the legal discourse.

  5. Greg Taylor

    Washington’s views on parties may have been formed more from the Whigs and Tories of 18th century England than the efforts of Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson. While parties control ballot access today, they continue to deploy power through appointments and other means that have existed since that time.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Washington’s views on parties may have been formed more from the Whigs and Tories of 18th century England

      I’m sure that’s part of it. However, from my very light reading on the Whigs and they Tories, they too were not really modern parties, much more like Flex-Nets.

      Musical interlude:

      Why the binary? There’s probably a political science explanation here…

  6. James T.

    Excellent review and thought provoking. I am not sure what the way back to having our leaders focus on the people and not themselves or their financial interests. I think the first step is simple term limits with Senators getting one terms and two terms in the house. The second is to end all overseas bases and focus on ourselves and build a strong defensive military to protect our borders. Finally, we need to address the massive bureaucracy and honestly I have no idea how to solve that one. The ultimate problem is that would require people to care which would require them to put down their cell phone for 10 seconds and I am afraid that is unlikely. Hopefully a strong leader that can motivate the masses will emerge.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I think the first step is simple term limits with Senators getting one terms and two terms in the house.

      I don’t believe in term limits because of my experience with the landfill fight in Maine. Because of term limits, the Maine State legislature has no institutional memory. Therefore, in order to interpret the wording and the intent of the law, we could not go to the legislature, but had to go to the lawyers who wrote the law for the legislature — at the behest of the very trash companies we were trying to rein in.

      I do think sortition is a good idea. It’s also something Washington, Hamilton, Je fferson, Madison, Franklin et al. should have known about, since the Athenians used it. I’d be curious to know if they ever considered it. Perhaps Montesqieu did not mention it? Or they concieved of the Constitution as a sort of perfect Newtonian machine, and did not want to introduce an element of randomness?

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        Sortition is possibly the best political idea which has ever been conceived. However it’s been more or less shunned since ancient Athens, for obvious reasons (i.e. does not favour manipulation by the rich/powerful). I know very little about the US constitution, but I believe I’ve read that, initially anyway, only male landowners were enfranchised? If that was the case then sortition would have been anathema to Washington et al.

    2. digi_owl

      The problem is not terms or anything about office, it is how they grew up, how they made their living before entering politics.

      Washington, even at this height, was directly connected to the land. A bad season could wipe him out, just as it could any farmer.

      These days world leaders can take private jets anywhere on the globe on a whim, can eat ice cream and smoothies all year. And they can continue to do so long after crop failures etc has driven prices beyond the reach of most.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The entire address is an interesting read.

      I was surprised, shocked even, at how modern and contemporary the issues raised by the address were. It’s like a horror movie where Washington, in the audience, is screaming “Kids! Don’t go in the house!” and of course they do, because who wants to be out in the rain, and….

      Thanks for the correct link. “f” was the href value of the link, not the URL I intended to paste in, because I still haven’t fixed my keyboard, and so “f” is on the clipboard all the [effing] time.

  7. Bruno

    ” I think that surrendering power, and securing the prospect of orderly succession for future iterations of that new old thing, a Republic, is an unambiguously good act (presumably, therefore, enacted by a good human).”

    That act, however, was scarcely unprecedented. The Roman Dictator For Life, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, did exactly that once he had enacted constitutional reforms with exactly this avowed intention–though after winning a bloody civil war and proscribing (executing or expropriating) thousands of his opponents from the wealthy Equestrian class. Sulla was unquestionably a great political and military leader. But was he a good human?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > But was he a good human?

      At least Sulla was capable of good acts. Killing people at scale isn’t something I have a moral framework for, and I suspect that goes * a lot of people*. For example, Biden’s mass slaughter through his policy of mass infection without mitigation was clearly a bad act* , since there were alternatives known at the time, and which should have been known by him, to that policy. But…. [Godwin’s Law].


      * Take the Ten Commandments — please! “Thou shalt not kill.” The scope of the document seems to be family and neighbor, no larger. In fact, the Bible celebrates mass killing in any number of cases. For example, the lovely “Rivers of Babylon” psalm concludes — and nobody quotes this part — “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

      Vaguely, I wonder if Washington is grappling with this sort of quantity-into-quality phase shift in his thinking on parties. As are we, even today.

      ** Is “act” even the right word here?

  8. The Rev Kev

    ‘George Washington…was a land speculator, a slaveowner, and died a very wealthy person.’

    And there is the problem right there. No matter how good the structure of a government is, we only have flawed human beings to work with. In spite of being born into a well-off family, Washington endured plenty of hardship in his lifetime and made his share of mistakes. Of course after all this time it is hard to distinguish between his own personal flaws and those that are a result of his living in the 18th century. So being a land speculator was a way for a person to get ahead if they had some money behind them and you took the risk that it would work out. No government at the time was going to step in and make them whole in spite of catastrophic losses. If he owned slaves, it was par for the course and few people actually question what they grow up with. He did not seem to. In older age he was very aloof and did not want to be touched, even upon his inauguration of first President, which caused one person to quip that he feared that they had merely swapped George III for George I. As I said, a flawed human being. Thing is, he did a fair job and stood down when it came time. There were a lot worse candidates that could have been the first President. Alexander Hamilton for example who initially wanted the job of President to be President for Life and when rebuffed, pushed for Senators for Life. I am right now imaging an America that would have been shaped by a President Hamilton who would have never stepped down. Now that is something that they could have made a musical about.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > we only have flawed human beings to work with.

      I need to understand better what happened to the Framers* during the Washington adminstration, because it’s evident that parties crytallized or curdled or had their index patients then, and Washington had enough experience with them to hate them. (One does wonder if Washington’s life and thought prepared him for any other kind of politics than “organic unity.” I doubt it.) However, Madison is quite conscious that human beings are flawed (“if men where angels….”); indeed, the whole theory of checks and balances proceeds from that assumption (which is why there’s great wisdom in it). My question became, and I only discovered this in the process of writing it this post: Why were there no explicit checks and balances on parties and/or factions?**

      > In older age he was very aloof and did not want to be touched, even upon his inauguration of first President

      I couldn’t find the reference but Washington went to great lengths to achieve an image of marmoreal dignity and imperturbability (an airport bookstore business writer would file that under “leadership principle”). I’m guessing being literally “untouchable” was part of that.

      > I am right now imaging an America that would have been shaped by a President Hamilton who would have never stepped down

      A good premise for a science fiction novel!

      NOTE * Horrid that those weasels at YCombinator hijacked “Founder” for dudes who secured VC funding in Silicon Valley, as if starting a company were the equivalent of writing the Constitution for an entire country. Talk about bootstrapping!

      NOTE ** I have thought of parties as bundled factions, but after writing this post, I don’t think I’ve got that right. MadisonMR SUBLIMINAL That Communist! defines factions as based on property interests (meaning, though this is unsaid, slaves) but doesn’t define parties at all. Party formation came later, but only a few years later.

      1. TomDority

        Jrfferson’s Letters – Arranged by Willson Whitman

        Jefferson has some great insight on parties / Washington and his speech / Burr / and Hamilton with his Monarchal views and Hamiltons view the Julius Caesar was the greatest man in history.

        I will try to locate the letters where he specifically speaks with and of Washington – they went through the whole revolution thing together from before to after. Washington was General and then President who set the example of voluntary retirement after eight years.
        As to parties – whatever you call them – “men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.” Jefferson

        On Washington to Dr Walter Jones Jan 2, 1814
        “…….He (Washington) has often declared to me that he considered our new Constitution as an experiment on the practicability of republican government, and with that dose of liberty man could be trusted for his own good: that he was determined the experiment should have a fair trial, and would lose the last drop of his blood in support of it. And these declarations he repeated to me the oftener and more pointedly, because he knew my suspicions of Colonel Hamilton’s views, and probably had heard from him the same declarations which I had, to wit, “that the British constitution, with its unequal representation, corruption and other existing abuses , was the most perfect government which had ever been established on earth, and that a reformation of those abuses would make it an impracticable government.” ……

      2. Bruno

        I’m perpetually irritated by any references to “Framers” (a “Framer” is someone who a gaggle of other rich men celebrates because he knew how to hide the word “Slave” with the phrase “Bound To Service”) and “Founders.” The constitution, such as it is, had neither “framers” not “founders.” What it had were “Ordainers” and “Establishers.” And its first words said who was supposed to have “ordained” and “established” it–“We The People!”

        1. TomDority

          What are you getting at – cancel culture for the people responsible for putting into a document the seeds of freedom for all people – seeds that ran directly to the civil war – civil rights – unalienable rights and all that… a denouncement of despots, kings, usurpers.

          1. TomDority

            Really wanted to say, by the definition of parties by Jefferson – both the Democratic and Republican parties today fall well within category 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.

            Higher classes being the FIRE sector – sort of the monarchal theme of today.
            When those folks going for a new constitution and separation from George (the UK being the largest dealer in the slave trade of all history) they were most worried that to get the whole thing thru – this experiment – that to totally alienate those most happy with the slave trade and monarchal government would mean not getting thru the constitution. – the ones in favor of definition 1 had in some way to be a little appeased.
            Well ever since, the cowardly white supremist and gaggles of idiot Karen’s among the many more illustrative names and brands have been trying to give the authoritarian, monarchist push to the usurpers the overthrowers of the spirit of all men are created equal. Who better than the crown to enable the oligarchs than having both parties supporting the financial sector under Definition 1. – So now we have such a huge private debt and huge increases in land/real estate costs that we are back to a neo-feudalism, debt bondage and a new era of servitude or debt slavery – same kind of control the despots, kings, lords, crackers, etc. used to put their lands and services into servitude.
            Welcome to the fight again – another giant step backward – I for one would like to take an enlightened step forward, but that seems impossible seeing that money is used to exclude a party of the second definition above.

          2. Bruno

            What led directly to the Civil War was Justice Taney’s “Dred Scott Decision”–which was an intellectually unassailable implementation of Article IV section 2 (of a Constitution that contains absolutely no reference to “civil rights–unalienable rights and all that,” except for Amendment IX in the Bill of Rights which was no part of the text cobbled together by the “Framers” and which is treated by the entire judiciary and legal establishment as what Bork so memorably called “a pimple on the face of the constitution.”)

    2. Bruno

      ‘George Washington…was a land speculator, a slaveowner, and died a very wealthy person.’
      Exactly so.
      The Colonists’ independence declaration included this crucial denunciation of the English King: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States…[by]…raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” As nobody knows now, but everybody knew at the time, what was being demanded was the expulsion of the Native American owners of those “Lands” and their conferral as “property” to the Virginian aristocratic land speculators (foremost among them Washington, who surely also wanted revenge for his own humiliation in the Braddock disaster). The American Revolution, in its essence and reality, was the effort of the Colonists to deprive George III of the fruits of his victory in the Seven Years War (called here the French And Indian War) notably Canada and the Ohio Valley, as well as (in the longer run) to open the way for continent-wide genocide of the American peoples.

  9. Samuel Conner

    > and with no Gollum to help

    I have the impression, from a biography I read decades ago, that Mary Washington was really unhappy with the public responsibilities laid upon her husband, going back to the war years.

    Me thinks there may have been significant spousal influence on George’s decision to finally retire and enjoy life at home.

    Just an opinion.

    Not a good man, but also not a bad man, at least on purist understandings of “good” and “bad”. Yes — a wise man.

    There seem to have been giants in the land in those days. By comparison, our present rulers seem to be of much shorter stature. Perhaps that’s just a cognitive bias.

      1. Samuel Conner

        Thanks for the correction. I’ve read that the “middle-aged” have trouble remembering names, and I hope it’s no more than that. In the present public health environment, one is tempted to fear that one is experiencing sequelae of a low-symptom viral infection … what was the name of that virus?

  10. Stephen V

    Thank you Lambert for the heavy lifting. I had only read excerpts…
    Very rare to see but I agree wholeheartedly: true (moral) power is desisting from its use.

  11. zapster

    I am frequently accused (in other places) as being “pro-China”, but as I read this, and the one about Mayo, et al, the back of my mind is whimpering “but the communists have solved these problems.” And I know that the minute I mention it, a zillion comments on Xinjiang and Mao and famines will avalanche–all of which were and are false stories to start with. But they have done something extraordinary there, and mostly westerners are completely unaware of it. They have parties–but they cooperate, instead of competing, and because there’s no way to get rich (legally, at least) being in their government, they cooperate in making *all* of their lives better. There must be ways to adapt some of it here, if there was any way to even discuss it.

    1. deplorado

      I’d like to learn more about that (how China’s doing it), because I was more or less thinking the same thing – how they achieve good governance and flourishing of economic initiative without explicitly basing everything (I could be wrong about that) on “that dose of liberty man could be trusted for his own good”

  12. dingusansich

    What’s found in the farewell address, as well as in Franklin’s remarks to the constitutional convention and other documents of the time, is what might be called prudent admonition, albeit varying in tone—in “Washington” you find the cadences of a Roman worthy, in Franklin those of an Enlightenment wag—which lays out a qualified prospect of successful republican governance if, and perhaps only if, inevitable threats can be understood for what they are and mitigated, not least through the exercise of something like public and personal virtue. It is like frank advice from a credible Polonius equal to Hamlet in intelligence and beyond him in experience.

    What’s not found, by the measure of our era, is the relentless catapulting of propaganda, the cynically deployed pretense of communication that is as riddled with childish mythologizing as it is meaninglessly performative. It is the difference between searchingly realistic discussion contingent upon ongoing experiment and irresponsible bullshit that aims to bend recalcitrant reality to the will of demagogic hypocrites.

    Yes, generalizations, guilty as charged, and exceptions to the rule can be adduced, to be sure, but this is a comment, nothing more, along with a thank-you to Lambert for his hello to Washington’s goodbye.

  13. Kouros

    Simone Weil elaborates much more on her essay against political parties why such entities are undesirable – ultimately they end up functioning according to the Iron Law of Oligarchy / Bureaucracy.

    Sortition is the only systemic countermesure against such developments (remember that sex in fact entails the production of a new generation based on random redistribution of the genetic material inherited by the present to be bestowed to the offsprings, randomness required in a ever dynamic and changing world).

    David Graeber mentions sortition as the truly democratic mechanism that likely was used in past, pre-writing societies, with some archeological evidence providing some material evidence for that (The Dawn of Everything).

  14. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

    Nice piece. You can definitely see how the anglo-elite of that time thought they could instill a calvinist work ethic in people who in no way benefited from their work, be it hard or easy.

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