p a r t y p o i n t o f v i e w
Hugh Brackenridge graduates from Princeton, son of a humble Scot farmer. About the time Lord Cornwallis surrenders to Washington's troops at Yorktown, Brackenridge heads west, over the mountains and into the wilds around Pittsburgh, seeking opportunity. He makes money, starts a newspaper, wins election for a seat in the state legislature by promising his backers he would make buying land easier for the small farmer. Once in Philadelphia, the state capitol, Brackenridge falls in with wealthy financier Robert Morris and his powerful friend, the attorney James Wilson. He is easily seduced by their flattery. How cosmopolitan he is, they marvel. He's definitely not like the usual Huns and Vandals they normally deal with coming out of those hills.
Brackenridge votes against the farmers back home, favoring instead the interests of a large bank. He is quoted in the newspaper as calling voters back home "fools" for not realizing only educated people could understand these matters. Brackenridge loses the next election and moves on with his life, deciding politics is not his calling.
William Findley defeated Brackenridge for office in 1788, the year the new Constitution was ratified. Until now the politicians fashioning this new nation were the top tier, society's notables like Washington, Hamilton and Franklin, people knowing great success. William Findley was different. He spoke for the man guiding a plow - rough, individualistic people. Voters.
Make no bones about it William Findley speaks for you. We're talking the price of grain, not classic Greek principles. Cut out land speculators and powerful banks, enabling regular people to be land owners. While we're at it make education free to all. Outlaw slavery. These are the interests Findley supports, promised in advance.
Until now Founding Father politicos preferred the lawgiver image being that of Solomon rendering his wisdom. But here we have Findley openly exchanging promises for votes. Once Washington retired to private life the widespread posturing of lawmakers as personally disinterested citizens was quickly exposed as hypocrisy, now obsolete. Like-minded individuals organized into groups identified as parties. Strength in numbers. Democracy in action. Possibly mob rule.
Federalist John Adams sat out the campaign for president in 1796 on the front porch of his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. His opponent, Republican Thomas Jefferson, did much the same by hanging around Monticello, his home in Virginia. It was considered unseemly to want a job bad enough to fight for it. Let your supporters do the politicking on your behalf. You graciously accept the burden of office if victorious.
Both candidates believed in the representative form of democracy - a republic with built-in checks dispersing the concentration of power. However Adams saw government as a force for good while Jefferson believed energetic government the source of tyranny. The leading Federalists - Washington, Hamilton and Adams all pushed one nation, indivisible rule. Jefferson advocated a democracy that is best kept local, close to home - states' rights. Around these divergent views coalesced the interests making up the beginnings of two great political parties.
An admirer of Thomas Jefferson, William Findley of Pennsylvania became a Republican. Federalist opponents defamed these Republicans by calling them democrats - demagogues inciting mob rule. Findley proudly accepted the label Democrat. For him it meant man of the people - someone fighting for their interests with conviction, passion. This is what you do when you ply your trade in representative democracy. Your challenge is to draw together divergent interests under your lone banner. No small talent - especially when your reach extends over large populations with their own centers of power.
Is total transparency a good idea when bringing competing interests together? The Constitution of 1787 was fashioned in a shroud of complete secrecy.
Transparency comes with the popularity of something on the order of World Peace. Politicians looking for compromise on difficult issues don't want a controversy focused on every thought considered. Common good calls for satisfactory resolution of the problem under legal means. All else is a corruption of the process involving human nature. Since all our enterprise is human this fact needs keeping always in mind.
© Tom Taylor