To The Courier-Post:
In 1796, George Washington’s printed Farewell Address (“a warning from a parting friend” to “friends and fellow citizens”) warned of dangers of excessive partisanship. Washington, after announcing he was walking away from the presidency, said, “Here, perhaps, I ought to stop.”
But he did not stop. Soon after the Constitution’s ratification in 1788, the country was erupting into opposing factions. Washington’s writings in 1792 to two warring cabinet members reflect frustration with their growing partisanship.
To Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury, Washington wrote: “Differences in political opinions are unavoidable . . . but it is to be regretted, that subjects cannot be discussed with temper on the one hand and with more charity in deciding on the opinions, and actions of one another.”
To Jefferson, Secretary of State, Washington wrote: “My earnest wish, and my fondest hope is, that instead of wounding suspicions, and irritable charges, there may be liberal allowances—mutual forbearances—and yielding on all sides.”
Unfortunately, Washington’s warnings against hyper-partisanship are ignored today. Language permeated with pejoratives and perfunctory behavior, both between and within political parties, hinders our representative democracy from being effective (doing the right thing) and being efficient (doing things right).
John C. Schafer