Founding Fathers: Political party affiliations

Political parties did not exist in 1789. Washington despised the idea of political associations, formed in such a way as to pit one group of citizens against another. In his farewell speech in 1796 he said:

[While speaking on the subject -- The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established 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 [political parties] 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; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

"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."

[Bold emphasis not in original text.]

It is not very clear how the most famous Founding Father's tenets would fit into today's political parties.

Alexander Hamilton was an extreme anti-federalist [pro-Federalist Party, opposed to de-centralized authority], inclined toward what today is referred to as "the far left." His philosophical bent would fit comfortably within the modern Left political spectrum. He would be best described as "ultra-radical left."

Born in the West Indies, Hamilton came to New York City as a young man and studied politics up close and personal, from the European perspective. He found no problem with the concept of a monarch as long as the king was kind, had a good heart, and was interested only in the welfare of the nation. Hamilton thought his mentor, George Washington, was just right for the job of King of America. He never grasped the reality of human nature that, unlike lower forms of life, humans perform poorly when left without the pressures of accountability.

Toward the other end of the political spectrum of the late 1700s was Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom believed that central power should be tightly restrained, restricted and controlled. Yet when Jefferson was President, he thankfully departed from those views by using the power of his office for the Louisiana Purchase without any 'controlling legal authority.'

Does the above indicate that Hamilton would have been a liberal Democrat and Jefferson and Madison conservative Republicans (the currently claimed popular public doctrines)? Au contraire! It is impossible to imagine Jefferson or Madison embracing political dogma in support of today's Republican Party stance on prayer in schools, abortion, etc. The notion to keep the federal government OUT of religion and religion out of government was Jefferson's, but he would be appalled to see the federal government interfering with LOCAL decisions on religion or any like subject. On abortion, or women's right of choice, both Jefferson and Madison most likely would take the position to keep the federal government OUT of personal lives, TOTALLY. Again, Jefferson and Madison perceived the central government's role as strictly national defense, international and interstate commerce, treaties, postal system, and the like. EVERYTHING else was a state or local matter.

Hamilton, on the other hand, the 'ultra liberal' thinker of the group, would have had the President decide all of the above, eliminate the state and local governments, let Congress raise the money and shovel it over to the President with few strings attached. Hamilton would have expected HIS President to outlaw abortion, write a 'middle of the road' prayer to be recited in all schools, and require every citizen to own a gun, whether they wanted a gun or not.

Many historians, citing Washington's record as President with Hamilton as his right-hand man, claim that he was a Federalist (Party, although the "Party" wasn't formed until a bit later), placing him in the same category with Hamilton and John Adams. The facts simply do not support such a classification. Washington was four-square against federal involvement in personal lives, yet he did allow Hamilton almost total leeway in establishing a federal financial system because, as the first President, he saw the necessity in a start-up situation of pushing the boundaries. What Washington despised most was the idea of political parties; factions of any kind. He further warned in his Farewell Address; discussing factions between people, between North and South, between states and between nations, "...it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy."

Washington went on to say,

"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."

As for the other famous Founders, Patrick Henry, said, "...give me liberty or give me death" and meant just that. He had no patience with any form of governmental control over individual lives, which would place him to the right of Jefferson and Madison but, as with their tenets, his views would cut across today's party lines, and he would be railing against the governmental tyranny. In his day, Henry served as governor five times (one year terms), then refused appointment to the U.S. Senate and later refused to serve as governor when he was once more elected to that office.

Benjamin Franklin may have been the centrist of his time. More of a philosopher than a politician, Franklin's perspective appeared to float above all the rest, ebbing and flowing with the consensus of the group so long as the group remained generally on track.

John Adams was a Federalist, believing in a strong central government, virtually ignoring the principle embedded in the Virginians -- Jefferson, Madison and Henry -- of keeping government at bay where private lives are concerned. Adams' beliefs would fit neatly into the political atmosphere around Ted Kennedy and the left wing of today's Democrats.

Samuel Adams, who never served in national elective office, would place somewhere in the spectrum with John Adams and Hamilton. A colleague described him:

"Samuel Adams would have the state of Massachusetts govern the union; the town of Boston govern Massachusetts; and that he should govern the town of Boston; and then the whole would not be intentionally ill governed."

Adams never denied the portrayal.

John Hancock, the maverick of Massachusetts politics, held views closer to those of Jefferson and Madison, but he did not have the "fire in the belly" for pushing a national agenda. Hancock was the wealthiest of the famous Founders and could have gone far in national politics but chose to spend his time closer to home, serving eleven times (one year terms) as governor of his state.

Philosophos Historia

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