EIGHTH LETTER ON PARTIES. Addressed to the People of the State of New-York.
I HAVE always thought that among the advantages attending the frequent change of men in high office, in a free state, there is one of considerable importance which has been little attended to.–I mean the tendency such an operation has to check the tide of parties. I have, in a preceding letter, remarked that parties, pursuing one course for a long period, degenerate from the REAL to the PERSONAL kind. Principles are converted into attachments, or are corrupted by them.–The reasons are too obvious to require a statement. Often this habitual attachment remains, when the principle, which first produced it, is entirely lost. Then parties become wholly personal: then indeed is liberty far in her decline. Our affections are naturally strengthened; and our admiration elevated by habit, by opposition, and by common danger, till imagination takes the place of common sense. Nor till the enchantment is broke, and man is let down to his natural level, do we discover how inconsiderable any single individual is on the great scale of society. When one or a few men have long held the reigns of government, the system of affairs becomes rigid and inflexible; and the public policy pursues an invariable direction, without recurring to principles or regarding the general interests. The resources of public opinion, of public zeal and popular prejudice, are all employed constantly and forcibly to maintain the established system, however vicious and corrupt it may be: the current of affairs becomes deeper & more rapid, and the thousand streams which should circulate through and fertilize the whole country, are drawn in to feed and swell one mighty river.–Thus the policy of the state becomes partial, illiberal, selfish and corrupt; the accumulation of political humors is formed into an obstinate disease. There is no remedy for this, but to cut off the attracting power. A salutary resignation, or a timely displacing of one individual from a high station, may accomplish more than all the diffusive exertions of the people, or the energy of the laws. For in the interval thus created, things return to their just and natural position: general tranquility succeeds: the people, emerging from the torrent that hurried them along, return to their sober senses, recover their deliberative powers, and their unbiassed judgments. The undue affection of one party and the rancorous opposition of the other lose their object, and both subside to that state of cool indifference, which is so favorable to the progress of reason and just enquiry.–This is a moment, when the application of remedial laws will go far in reforming the abuses of the state.
In taking a view of the circumstances which contribute to and establish the social happiness of any people, I cannot[[]]] regard the prevalence of moral habits and the influence of moral principles among them as the highest efficacy. This difficult to calculate the extent [[[]] support which these habits afford to the political institutions and to the law: when once laid deeply and fundamentally in the social constitution, sentiment and opinion supply the place of force and power, and party spirit has a long struggle before it can obtain a foothold for party spirit, whatever form it may assume, when brought to the test of moral sentiment, appears always odious and deformed. There is nothing in the moral system to which party spirit has not the most declared opposition and enmity; and no crime which it will not habitually employ in its service. Truth, justice, candor, friendship, all the virtues, all the that adorns the moral character of man, suffer and expire under its reiterated and weakening attacks. Hatred, revenge, deceit, fraud, falsehood, calumny, and not only indulged, but established and encouraged as the most fit instruments to promote the party interests. Look over the whole face of society–do you not see the ravages which party-spirit has committed? Can you shew me a single district or community, however small or however locally related, which is not marked by some unnatural and inveterate division? Have you not seen political animosities invading the seats of sacred justice and defiling the sanctuaries of religion? Do you not see brothers of the same family, inhabitants of the same neighborhood, members of the same profession, whose interests and happiness require concert, harmony and peace, regarding one another, in all public places, with the oblique and gloomy eye of malignant jealousy? And what produces all this? The agitation of certain questions of remote concern, or of doubtful importance to the mass of the people; who suffer all the present evils attending their discussion, tho’ they have but an uncertain interest in the contingent benefits of their final determination.
It would be an interesting employment to take a review of the parties which have grown up in this country within the last ten years; and are still forming in it. Such an enquiry may be proper and necessary when occasions shall have presented a fair and practicable opportunity for the application of a plan of effectual relief. It does not come with the design of these letters, which were only intended as a general introduction. The legislative body has much to do in this great business; the people, perhaps, have still more. The former has already made an important beginning, by seriously deliberating upon a plan for the general diffusion of knowledge among the common people, and promoting the education of youth. This policy, if extended and improved, will go farther to remedy abuses in the state, and to extinguish party spirit than all other superficial and partial regulations combined. It is planting the seeds of universal reform in the very foundations of society.
© Gunston Nutbush Hall 2021, Reprinted and Republished for the internet by Gunston Nutbush Hall, Editor & Publisher, Watchmen Gazette