American Government and the Danger of Political Parties

Updated on January 30, 2019
ata1515 profile image

ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

The Founders

Throughout history, governments rise and fall due to a variety of factors. One of the most dangerous and insidious means of destroying an independent government is through the actions of agents inside the government itself.

The Founding Fathers of the USA were composed largely of educated, well read men, whose studies included a great deal of Greek and Roman history. These men were able to study the rise and fall of the early democracies and republics that gave life to Western Civilization, and so were uniquely positioned to theorize on the dangers of factionalism within a government.

Factionalism within a representative government is typically represented through political parties. At their most benign, political parties organize the will of their constituents into well intentioned social clubs. At their worst, political parties form elite clubs dedicated to advancing or protecting the desires of individuals over the needs of society.

Among the Founding Fathers, the idea that factionalism was a danger to the republic was extremely prevalent. These men advised against such parties because they knew them to both be inamicable to good society and impossible to prevent from forming. They argued that factions, while natural outcroppings of personal politics, could and should be curbed wherever possible.

Sack of Rome 455 AD
Sack of Rome 455 AD

Factionalism Throughout the Ages

History is the study of the rise and fall of the people that came before, and this study leads to the conclusion that factionalism is a danger to society through and through. From the earliest democracies up to the present day factions, have schemed at great cost to freedom.

The Greeks were the first to record experiments with large scale democracy. In Thucydide‘s The Peloponnesian War, we consistently find examples of the warring Athenians and Spartans utilizing political infighting to capture city-states when siege warfare failed. This early period of history saw methods of defensive war surpass offensive methodology, and so generals were either forced to starve a city out, or get an inside faction to betray their own people, often into massacres, enslavement, or other depredations of war. By the end of the worlds earliest “Great War” we would see free Greeks allying with Persian dictators to ensure the success of their own faction against the whole of freedom.

In Rome, this process would continue, albeit into the hands of tyrants rather than foreign invaders. In the waning days of the Roman Republic factions, comprised of the Optimates and Populares, fought increasingly devastating wars that turned the once proud Republic into a dictatorship in all but name. Internal strife between political factions caused such upheaval that people were willing to trade freedom for bread, and the victors of the Civil Wars crushed factionalism by destroying personal freedom.

This process continued through the ages, with examples all across Europe. The English Civil War saw the rise of Cromwell’s Roundheads, the dissolution of the Kalmar Union by the Swedish House of Vasa, and Napoleon coopting the French Revolution are all examples of factions breaking apart established systems to establish political dominance.

Madison and the Federalist Papers

James Madison, philosopher and president, laid out an energetic attack on factionalism in the Federalist Papers no. 10. Madison argues that the federal system acts to break apart the greatest dangers of factionalism while leaving the greatest amount of liberty to the people to assemble as they wish.

In Madison’s view, both the majority and minority can cause great harm to the national body with factionalism if their opportunities to do so are not curbed. From the enactment of laws to seize property and devalue currency to suppressing the rights of others, factions, being drawn from collections of people with similar ideals, inherently seek to maintain control of their own interests.

Since factions grow organically in free thinking societies, its necessary to limit their capability to cause harm rather than to limit their ability to form. By splitting powers between Federal and State the founders hoped to fulfill a limit on factions taking power nationwide.

These limits on factionalism assumes that the same interest groups would continue to exist, in spirit if not design. National and state focus should have prevented the formation of national political parties, but time and money managed to overcome these restraints by the early 20th century.

Washington’s Farewell Address

George Washington, general, president and founding father, was also adamantly opposed to political parties. In his farewell address after declining to run for a third term, Washington famously stated that “[factionalism] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration.”

Washington goes on to argue that factions act to stratify power structures, indebt the nation to foreign governments, and generally disrupt the flow of good governance from top to bottom. Party allegiance takes the place of loyalty to the State as a whole and the ideals it encapsulates.

While it has remained an enduring speech for the ages, it must have fallen on deaf ears, as the 19th century saw the rise and fall of political parties throughout all levels of government. Despite the growth of factionalism, these political parties remained largely connected to geographic constituencies and few parties lasted more than a couple decades.

Party Centralization

By the beginning of the 20th century the American political system had centralized around two main parties and this was cemented into Democrats and Republicans around the time of the New Deal. Factionalism seized the national stage inextricably linking local politicians to federal politicians in nominally shared causes by the middle of the 20th century.

History is fraught with examples of the horror of civil wars spiraling out of control. When factions are allowed to run ramshod over democratic traditions they inevitable seek to dominate and destroy the very system that let them take power.

Going into the 21st century, political parties continue to paralyze the mechanisms of government in the USA, often over issues which should be handled at different levels of government. As it stands, factionalism will continue to hold the government in thrall until the American people are able to recall the wisdom of those who’ve come before.

Sources

Washington, George Farewell Address https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Washingtons_Farewell_Address.pdf


Selections from The Federalist Papers Hamilton, Madison, Jay.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 ata1515

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, soapboxie.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://soapboxie.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)