The No-Party President

George Washington’s 1796 Letter of Farewell on the evils of political parties.

Let me now warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party. This spirit 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 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. 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.

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 occasion-ally 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 will of another. The effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire which demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

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