LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Reaffirm Jeffersonian principles

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“We’ve got to move beyond partisan politics on this issue” is the mantra employed by most candidates running for office every election cycle. Yet the more perfect union promised by the Constitution that we celebrated this week is dissolving by the day. Given, in James Madison’s words, that “faction is sown into the nature of man,” did our Founders attempt the impossible in seeking to establish a flourishing republic?

For a short time, the American Founders envisioned a politics without parties. George Washington carried no party name with him into the presidency. By 1791, just two years later, it was obvious that even within his own Cabinet, there were serious divisions about how best to interpret the Constitution and translate the promises of the American republic into practical legislative measures. With Thomas Jefferson on one side and Alexander Hamilton on another, America was beginning to divide into its first two-party system, but that didn’t require a war of rich against poor, old against young, or public employees against the private sector. There was room for serious debate without threatening the loser’s basic rights or livelihood. As Jefferson put it in his first inaugural address, “The minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Our way forward today is not to pretend that there are no differences of principle or interest that divide the American people, but to reaffirm Jefferson’s principle and the political peace it allows for. We need to recapture the moral distinction between factions, using political power to benefit friends and injure enemies, and partisanship, pursuing a particular vision of the common good.

DAVID CORBIN

Professor of politics, The King’s College

MATTHEW PARKS

Assistant professor of politics, The King’s College

New York

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