Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Political Party Divisions of the Nation

ThomasJeffersonQuotesPartyDivisions
Jefferson explains Nations are divided into two parties
1. Want’s all power in the hands of a government elite.
2. Trusts power only in the hands of the people.

Political Parties.—”Parties seem to have taken a very well defined form in this quarter. The old Tories, joined by our merchants who trade in British capital, paper dealers, stock-brokers and the idle rich of the great commercial towns are with the kings. All other descriptions with the French. The war (between France and England) has kindled and brought forward the two parties with an ardour which our own interests merely could never excite. The war between France and England has brought forward the Republicans and Monocrats in every State so openly that their relative numbers are perfectly visible; it appears that the latter are as nothing.” (To James Madison, 1793. F. VI., 326.)

Two parties then do exist in the United States. They embrace respectively the following description of persons:

The anti-Republicans consisted of

  1. The old refugees and Tories.
  2. The British merchants residing among us, and comprising the main body of our merchants.
  3. American merchants trading in British capital. Another great portion.
  4. Speculators and holders in the banks and public funds.
  5. Officers of the Federal Government, with some exceptions.
  6. Office hunters willing to give up principles for places. A numerous and noisy tribe.
  7. Nervous persons, whose languid fibres have more analogy with a passive than an active state of things.

The Republican party of the Union consisted of:

  1. The entire body of land-holders throughout the United States.
  2. The body of labourers not being land-holders, whether in husbanding or the arts. [i.e. The citizenry as a whole] (From notes on Professor Ebelling’s letter, 1795. F. VII., 47.)

“Were parties here divided merely by a greediness for office, as in England, to take a part with either would be unworthy of a reasonable or moral man, but where the principle of difference is as substantial and as strongly pronounced as between the Republicans and the Monocrats of our country, I hold it as honorable to take a firm and decided part, and as immoral to pursue a middle line as between the parties of honest men and rogues into which every country is divided.” (To William Giles, 1795. F. VII., 43.)

“When a Constitution like ours wears a mixed aspect of monarchy and Republicanism its citizens will naturally divide into two classes of sentiment, according as their tone of body or mind, their habits, connections and callings induce them to wish to strengthen either the monarchial or Republican features of the Constitution. Some will consider it as an elective monarchy, which had better be made hereditary, and therefore endeavor to lead towards that all the forms and principles of its administration. Others will view it as an energetic republic, turning in all its points on the pivot of free and frequent elections. The great body of our native citizens are unquestionably of the Republican sentiment.” (To James Sullivan, 1797. F. VII., 117.)

“But, my dear friend, if we do not learn to sacrifice small differences of opinion, we can never act together. Every man cannot have his way in all things. If his own opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at others. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society. My position is painful enough between Federalists who cry out on the first touch of their monopoly, and Republicans who clamor for universal removal. A subdivision of the latter will increase the perplexity. I am proceeding with deliberation and inquiry to do what I think just to both descriptions and conciliatory to both. The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people. I do not speak of their leaders who are incurable, but of the honest and well-intentioned body of the people. I consider the pure Federalist as a Republican who would prefer a somewhat stronger executive; and the Republican as one more willing to trust the legislature as a broader representation of the people, and a safer deposit of power for many reasons. But both sects are Republican, entitled to the confidence of their fellow citizens. Not so their quondam leaders covering under the mask of Federalism hearts devoted to monarchy. The Hamiltonians, the Essex-men, the revolutionary Tories, etc. They have a right to tolerance, but neither to confidence nor power. It is very important that the pure Federalist and Republican should see in the opinion of each other but a shade of his own, which by a union of action will be lessened by one-half; that they should see and fear the monarchist as their common enemy, on whom they should keep their eyes, but keep off their hands.” (To John Dickinson, 1801. F. VIII., 76.)

“We shall now be so strong that we shall certainly split again; for freemen thinking differently and speaking and acting as they think, will form into classes of sentiment, but it must be under another name; that of Federalism is to become so scanted that no party can rise under it. As the division between Whig and Tory is founded in the nature of men, the weakly and nerveless, the rich and the corrupt, seeing more safety and accessibility in a strong executive; the healthy, firm and virtuous feeling confidence in their physical and moral resources, and willing to part with only so much power as is necessary for their good government, and therefore to retain the rest in the hands of the many, the division will substantially be into Whig and Tory, as in England, formerly.” (To Joel Barlow, 1802. F. VIII., 150.)

“I tolerate with the utmost latitude the right of others to differ from me in opinion without imputing to them criminality. I know too well the weakness and uncertainty of human reason to wonder at its different results. Both of our political parties, at least the honest portion of them, agree conscientiously in the same object—the public good; but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good. One side believes it best done by one composition of the governing powers; the others, by a different one. One fears most the ignorance of the people; the other, the selfishness of rulers independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove. We think that one side of this experiment has been long enough tried, and proved not to promote the good of the many; and that the other has not been fairly and sufficiently tried. Our opponents think the reverse. With whichever opinion the body of the nation concurs, that must prevail. My anxieties on the subject will never carry me beyond the use of fair and honorable means, of truth and reason; nor have they ever lessened the esteem for moral worth, nor alienated my affections from a single friend, who did not just withdraw himself.” (To Mrs. John Adams, 1804. F. VIII., 312.)

“Men have differed in opinion, and been divided into parties by these opinions, from the first origin of societies, and in all governments where they have been permitted freely to think and to speak. The same political parties which now agitate the United States have existed through all time. Whether the power of the people or that of the tyrant (?) should prevail, were questions which kept the States of Greece and Rome in eternal convulsions, as they now schismatize every people whose minds and mouths are not shut up by the gag of a despot. And, in fact, the terms of Whig and Tory belong to natural as well as to civil history. They denote the temper and constitution of the mind of different individuals. To come to our own country and to the time when you and I became first acquainted, we will remember the violent parties which agitated the old Congress, and their bitter contents. There you and I were together, and the Jays, and the Dickinsons, and other anti-independents, were arrayed against us. They cherished the monarchy of England, and we the rights of our countrymen. When our present government was in the mew, passing from Confederation to Union, how bitter was the schism between the Feds and the Antis. Here you and I were together again. For, although for a moment separated by the Atlantic from the scene of action, I favored the opinion that nine States should confirm the Constitution, in order to secure it, and the others hold off until certain amendment, deemed favorable to freedom should be made, I rallied in the first instant to the wiser proposition of Massachusetts, that all should confirm, and then all instruct their delegates to urge those amendments. The amendments were made, and all were reconciled to the government. But as soon as it was put into motion, the line of division was again drawn. We broke into two parties, each wishing to give the government a different direction; the one to strengthen the most popular branch, the other the more permanent branches, and to extend their permanence. * * * There have been differences of opinion and party differences, from the first establishment of governments to the present day, and on the same question which now divides our own country; that these will continue through all future time; that everyone takes his side in favor of the many, or of the few, according to his constitution, and the circumstances in which he is placed; that opinions, which are equally honest on both sides, should not effect personal esteem or social intercourse; that as we judge between the Claudii and the Gracchi, the Wentworths and the Hampdens of past age, so of those among us whose names may happen to be remembered for awhile, the next generations will judge, favorably or unfavorably, according to the complexion of individual minds, and side they shall themselves have taken; that nothing new can be added by you or me to what has been said by others, and will be said in every age in support of the conflicting opinions on government; and that wisdom and duty dictate an humble resignation to the verdict of our future peers.” (To John Adams, 1813. C. VI., 143-146.)

“I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” (To Francis Hopkinson, 1789. F. V., 76.)

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