Reichley- A Polity without Parties

Reichley- A Polity without Parties - Political Parties 223...

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Unformatted text preview: Political Parties 223 7.1 James Reichley “Intention of the Founders: A Polity Without Parties” (2000) The delegates to the Federal Convention of 1787, led byJames Madison, sought to build "a polity without parties” in James Reichley’s phrase. Rather than depending simply upon "interests to check interests” as Madison wrote in Federalist i0, or parties to check parties, the Founders sought to tame politics and protect liberty by carefully limiting power and building intricate checks and balances into the con— stitutional structure of the federal government. The Founders looked to consti— tutional structure — the separation of powers and checks and balances — rather than to the interplay of parties and factions to protect liberty. intention of the Founders A Polity Without Parties IN “GOVERNMENT OF A MONARCHICAL CAST,” George Washington observed, “Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of the party. But in those of popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged . . . 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.”1 . . . The Founders’ low regard for parties was in part derived from prejudices formed by their studies of classical writers and British and European political theorists. But they also had before them what they considered the baneful effects of parties in the colonial and state governments: the tendency of parties to sharpen class antagonisms; the emer— gence of parties, with their attendant functionaries, as interests in themselves; the openness of parties to corruption, and the ease with which they could be mastered by demagogues. Beyond these acquired biases and empirical observations, the Founders’ rejection of parties grew out of their conviction that such political divisions are inherently sub— versive of republican ideals. The Founders, . . . realized that any political system will be shaped in part by clashing interests and personal ambitions. But they believed that republican government must finally be rooted in the ideal of a disinterested citizenry coming together, either directly or through elected representatives, to legislate for the common good. They were Lockeans, but Lockeans of the original school, holding, like Locke himself that the social contract once concluded exerts moral authority of its own, rather than merely providing a playing field for unremitting struggle among private interests, Parties, by framing every issue in terms of winners and losers, the Founders believed, undermine this indispensable willingness to seek at some level the common good rather than the satisfaction of special interests. Parties, therefore, are socially destructive and must be considered, as Madison wrote, a potentially “mortal disease”; as Hamilton claimed, an “avenue to tyranny”; and as Washington insisted, a source of “frightful despotism.”2 224 Perspectives on American Government The delegates who gathered in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787 to consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation, on which such national government as existed was based, were concerned over the growing acrimony among the states. Even more, they were determined to erect constitutional safeguards for social order and established rights, including property rights. With Washington in the chair, and Hamilton, Madison, James Wilson, and the octo- genarian Benjamin Franklin among the delegates, the Philadelphia convention went far beyond its legal mandate and produced a Constitution that embodied the spirit of the Revolution in a moderately conservative structure of national government. . . . Hamilton, Madison, and John lay, in their classic defense of the Constitution, The Federalist, made no bones about the conservative nature of their objectives. The pro— posed new structure of government, Hamilton maintained in Federalist Number Nine, would be “a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. A strong national government, insulated against parOChial pressures, lay argued in Federalist Number Three, would override the tendency of “the governing party in one or two States to swerve from good faith and justice . . 3’3 Madison, more than his two colleagues, spelled out the underlying moral, political, and psychological assumptions on which the Constitution is based. The “great object” of the Constitution, Madison wrote in the familiar Federalist Number Ten, was to “secure the public good and private rights against the danger of . . . faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government. . . .” The causes of faction, “actuated by some common impulse or passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the com— munity,” are “sown in the nature of man.” Differences over religion and forms of government contribute to the development of faction. “But the most common and most durable source of faction has been the various and unequal distribution of property.M Economic inequality results from “diversity in the faculties of men. . . .” Proponents of pure democracy “have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a per— fect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.” Democracies taking this approach “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and con— fusion; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.“5 Faction growing out of differences in economic interest, though a constant threat to republican government, cannot be avoided without suppressing freedom. “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire. . . .” Since faction in a republic cannot be avoided, its effects must be mitigated through constitutional design. A faction consisting of “less than a majority . . . may clog the administration, . . . may convulse the society,” but in the end it must give way to the will of the majority, so long as republican forms are maintained. But “when a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government . . . enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” It is then that popular government becomes vulnerable to such pernicious schemes as “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for equal division of property. . . .”6 The surest way to avoid this danger, Madison contends, is to make it unlikely that Political Parties 225 Such a majority will form. In relatively small constituencies, like the individual states, the majority of have~lesses will tend to combine politically against the minority of have—mores. But in a nation as large as the federal union to be formed by the new ' tion economic interests will divide into “a landed interest, a manufacturin Constitu ) g interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, [and] many lesser interests. . . .” Politics, then, will focus on functional and regional differences rather than on class rivalries — a politics, that is, of many minorities, rather than of majority against minority.7 Sheer size, moreover, will make it difficult for radical agitators, like the populist leaders coming to power in some of the states, to mobilize the discontented into an effective national majority. “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.”8 In Federalist Number Fifty~one, Madison returned to the need under republican 7: government “to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.>> . . . In a republic, the avaricious will of a transitory majority may be countered in part by a system of governmental checks and balances: first dividing “the power surrendered by the people” between the states and the national government; then within the national ‘ :3 government balancing the executive against the legislature; and finally by dividing the * legislative branch into different houses, rendering “them by different modes of elec— . tion and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.” The surest protection for minorities, however, is extension of governmental authority over a territory so vast and a population so varied that government will have to achieve consensus rather than a simple majority in order to act. Society “will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of indi— viduals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”9 Resort to such devices, Madison concedes, may be a reflection on human nature. “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”10 The populist leaders in the states, who had been little represented at the Philadelphia convention, did not have to read The Federalist to recognize what the framers of the Constitution were up to. Populist strategists and spokesmen like Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, George Clinton in New York, and Patrick Henry in Virginia fought ' ratification in their respective states. Among state legislators whose position on the Constitution is known, more than four—fifths of the populists opposed ratification while an even larger share of conservatives were pro—Constitution.” The Antifederalists, as opponents of the Constitution were called, could not match the Federalists’ national organization, directed by much of the former high command of the Revolution. The inability of the Antifederalists to mount an effective national campaign provided a demonstration that seemed to bear out Madison’s thesis. Populist appeals might work state by state, but when the issue was framed in national terms — in this case, the survival ofa united republic — the moderates and conservatives appeared to have the advantage. The Antifederalists issued propaganda blasts but deployed no intellectual artillery approaching the force of The Federalist. Tom Paine, the Revolution’s most articulate 226 Perspectives on American Government publicist of equalitarian ideology, had earlier attacked the principles of social balance and mixed government on which the Constitution was based. But in 1787 Paine was otherwise engaged, working on various political and business projects in England, soon to depart for France to participate in the Revolution of 1789. Thomas Jefferson, absent in France as American ambassador but in touch with political associates at home, wrote to friends that he hoped the Constitution would not be ratified — an interesting first effort, he told Madison, but needing another try. Jefferson did not, however, publicly align himself with the Antifederalists. Looking back after the fight for ratification had been won, he maintained that he had been “neither federalist nor antifederalist; . . . of neither party, nor yet a trimmer between parties.“12 In some states, notably Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia, the vote on ratification was close. But by March 4, 1789, 11 states had ratified and the Constitution was declared adopted. Eight months later, North Carolina added its vote for ratification. In May 1790, Rhode Island, by a majority at the state convention of only 34 to 32, became the last of the original 13 states to join the federal union. By that time, George Washington had been President for more than a year. Were the Founders Wrong? When James Madison argued in The Federalist that factions will inevitably develop in a free society, he did not imply apprOVal of political parties nor did he suggest that parties as institutions would necessarily play a major role in the political life of the United States. Like all the other principal Founders, Madison regarded parties as a political evil and believed that a wisely framed constitution would minimize their influence. The Founders recognized that competition among different economic and social interests was bound to find outlet through politics. But they believed that the varying kinds of representation provided by the states and the federal government, and by the executive and bicameral legislative branches at the federal level, would themselves offer sufficient advocacy for contending interest groups and would make extensive recourse to formally organized parties unnecessary. Were the Founders, who were right about so many things, simply wrong then when they turned their attention to parties? Did prejudice or lack of experience with how republican government actually works lead them to overlook the valuable role that most political scientists now claim parties play in free societies? Or is it possible that they were in fact right: that the nation would have been better off if the development of institutionalized parties had somehow been avoided; and that parties not only are not necessary to democracy, but also, as many ordinary Americans have always believed, dangerously undermine the efficiency and integrity of republican government? NOTES 1. Noble E. Cunningham, )r., The Iefifersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organizer tion, 1789—1801 (U. of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1957), p. 94. 2. Sisson, American Revolution, p. 207; Gerald Stourzh, Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Republican Government (Stanford U. Press, Stanford, CA, 1970), p. 118. 3. The Federalist(New York: Modern Library, 1937), pp. 47, 15. l 1 ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/02/2012 for the course 790 302 taught by Professor Field during the Spring '09 term at Rutgers.

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Reichley- A Polity without Parties - Political Parties 223...

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