Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

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Political Monday: The Two Party System

April 30, 2012

In the United States, we have two major political factions, the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party.  Today, control of our national political debate is firmly dominated by these two parties.  This system results in the endless bickering and inability to govern we see today.  It is the single greatest danger to the long-term survival of the United States.

Before the two major parties of today, various ones have led the national debate going back to our Founding Fathers with the Federalist Party (John Adams) and the Democratic-Republican Party (Thomas Jefferson).  Even then, the Founders understood just how disastrous a two-party system could be.  As President Adams put it in a letter to Jonathan Jackson in 1780:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.  This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.[i]

Think about that for a minute.  Before he served as President, before the ratification of the US Constitution, John Adams, as well as other Founders, understood the danger of developing powerful political parties.  He understood that political power vested to parties is political power taken away from citizens.  Look at just how right he turned out to be.

Today, virtually anyone seeking a federal or state elected office needs the backing of one of the political parties.  That is where the money lives; it is where the political power lives.  Our constitution separates power into three branches of government[ii].  Unfortunately, it does nothing to control the political power of our two most influential special interest groups, the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Both are mammoth organizations whose original intentions have metamorphosed to a single purpose of retaining power and not conducting the business of the people of the United States.  Both parties lack the will to govern by debating ideas on their merits and resort to lowbrow rhetoric and political brinksmanship to maintain the status quo.  Moreover, the two parties work in collusion to maintain their grip on power with the rules the parties use in the various houses of government.  For instance, the Senate and House of Representative make internal rules of operation that grants virtually all leadership roles to members of the two parties.

In fact, they have institutionalized the process.  Just think about how leadership roles are addressed.  The Democrats and Republicans have mirror positions in just about every aspect, The Majority Leader and The Minority Leader, The Majority Whip and The Minority Whip and so on.  This is very different from the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker’s role is constitutionally defined; the other roles are defined by politics.

In election years, the scheming of these two parties does not even attempt to remain undercover.  Political television shows are full of guests from both parties speaking on “gaining control” of one house or the other, splitting citizens into two distinct groups, just as President Adams warned over two-hundred years ago.  In the end, some sort of party system is required to get anything accomplished in government.  Unfortunately, the two dominate parties today put party over nation and press their views upon us rather than reflect the views we, the people, hold true.

The Democratic Party has been around since 1828 and the Republican Party since 1854.  Through longevity, they have insured the true political power remains in their hands alone.  It is as if they realize they need the other party to balance things and allow both parties to survive.  In other words, they are in collusion with each other and prevent new political allegiances forming.  Look at the Tea Party.  Only three years ago, it seemed they would change the political landscape in the United States.  Now, it looks more likely they will be nothing more than a footnote, as the Republican Party throttled support for the upstart.

Need more proof as to their unfettered power, just look at voting.  We can walk into a voting booth and vote a party ticket with the push of one button.  No longer do we even worry with individual candidates, they want you to vote a straight party line.  It is better for the party but is it really better for the nation?  Only a moron would think so.  I guess that is really the opinion of party leaders, we are nothing more than a bunch of morons to be led around like cattle.

It is time we, the people, cut these two monolithic and self-serving parties down to size.  Neither has a right to govern, we elect people, not parties.  It is time we demand our elected officials represent us and not a national political party.  It will be messy but the result will be the sort of governance our Founding Father envisioned for us.  I, for one, trust their thinking more than any political minion spouting rhetoric today.


[i] Adams, Charles F. The Works of John Adams. By John Adams. Vol. 9. Boston: Little, Brown &, 1854. 511. Web. <http://books.google.com/books?id=j9NKAAAAYAAJ&dq=John%20Adams%20works&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

[ii] U. S. Constitution, US Const., art.  1 -3 <http://constitutionus.com/>

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What’s In A Quote?

January 14, 2010

Ever heard the quote “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”?  It is from a letter to Benjamin Rush written by Thomas Jefferson in 1800.  If you visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., you can see the words engraved in the rotunda’s frieze below the dome.  I remember when I was very young, my grandfather taking me there and pointing it out.  From that moment, I understood President Jefferson was dedicated to protecting our country’s freedom.

Later in life, after reading much of Jefferson’s writing, I came to understand his dedication was more complex than I thought and this quote is totally out of context.  As presented, it does lend itself to the greatness of the man but it misrepresents the nature of him.  President Jefferson was no ideologue to be pointed at a problem simply to charge in.  His opinions and actions were based on careful reflection.  Knowing this made me wonder about quotes in general and how they can mislead.

Take the Memorial example, at face value it says Jefferson was a God-fearing man who would protect our freedom regardless of personal cost.  While I agree that thought to be accurate of Jefferson, it removed the true target he aimed for.  It illustrates that quotes are often taken out of context and serve the person quoting rather than the originator, sometimes for good, sometimes not.

This quote is often used to link Jefferson to a Christian philosophy, which is ironic, because it is a slap at the Christian religious leaders around Philadelphia at the time.  While it is impractical to quote entire passages in support of any argument, deference must be given the original intent.  In this case, we need more of Jefferson’s words to understand that intent:  “The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes.  And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.  But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . .”  Jefferson is saying he opposes the religious leaders Benjamin Rush had cautioned him about, no matter what.  He is saying that the religious leaders of his time (and not much has changed today) are tyrants.

When reading quotes from historical figures, we need to understand they may not be in context to their original intent.  It is easy to “cherry-pick” passages to support a particular theory or belief.  It establishes a justification of sorts for that belief.  Quotes, therefore, are often perverted from their original meaning.  It is up to us, the audience, to challenge that support and understand the true meaning of quotes used.  Personally, I am glad people quote Jefferson, just not  his intended meaning misrepresented.

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