Kadner: A warning about political parties
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2012 6:30PM
In this file photo Gen. George Washington leads his troops across the Delaware River in this painting by Emmanuel G. Leutze, Dec. 1776, during the Revolutionary War.
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:58AM
It was George Washington who warned Americans about the dangers of political parties.
“However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government,” Washington said in his farewell address as president.
Two of his proteges, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, immediately set out to prove him right.
They started building their political parties and set the pattern for election campaigns that continues to this day.
James T. Callender may be a name unknown to most people today, but he was at the very center of the Jefferson-Hamilton political feud and, at times, worked for them both.
A political pamphleteer and journalist, he specialized in digging up dirt.
Hamilton not only cheated on his wife, Callender revealed, but then bribed the woman’s husband to keep silent about the matter by leaking information about federal securities to him.
Hamilton, who founded the Federalist Party and was the first Treasury secretary of the nation, would eventually acknowledge the adultery but denied the financial crime.
Jefferson made sure Callender found employment with a newspaper backed by his Republican Party and soon Callender was attacking John Adams.
Eventually, the administration of President Adams had Callender tried and convicted for sedition.
Released from prison on the last day of the Adams administration, Callender went to Jefferson seeking an appointment as postmaster of Virginia. Jefferson turned him down.
An angry Callender then found a job with a Federalist newspaper and turned his sights on Jefferson, revealing that it was Jefferson who financed his political attacks on Hamilton and Adams.
The Jefferson folks fought back, printing stories that Callender had abandoned his wife, who was suffering from venereal disease.
The two-party system was under way in full force.
Callender, writing under a pen name, claimed Jefferson had not only had an affair with a slave, Sally Hemings, but had fathered children with her.
Later, Callender would also write that Jefferson attempted to seduce the wife of a neighbor who had asked him to look after his plantation while he was away on business.
Callender, a drunk, was found drowned in the James River. Some said it was suicide. Some believe it was death by politics.
Most of what he wrote proved to be true.
But that really isn’t the legacy that he left behind.
Negative political commercials, character smears and battle plans to divide and conquer the electorate remain.
If you read the blogs of hard-core Republicans and Democrats, you would believe that if the other side wins this election the nation will be destroyed.
“We don’t know anything about Barack Obama,” his critics contend.
Well, we know a lot about Jefferson today.
Would you have voted for him? Would his character flaws mean he couldn’t be a great president?
Teddy Roosevelt, who has his face up on Mount Rushmore, was accused of being a drunken, egomaniacal nutcase by members of his own Republican Party.
Opponents said FDR was out to destroy the nation with his Socialist ideas, and when the U.S. Supreme Court tried to stop him, he tried to increase the number of justices on the court so he could appoint new members who supported his policies.
Despite the evidence of history, if you listen to the rantings of political zealots today you would think they lived in enemy nations.
Only their man, only their party, only their philosophy can save the nation — the world for that matter — from ruin.
Washington knew better.
He understood that it wasn’t the good of the country political parties would fight over, but the power and wealth they could obtain.
Hamilton, Jefferson and the two Roosevelts were great men.
But they weren’t perfect.
And I haven’t even mentioned our own Abe Lincoln.
Visit the Lincoln National Museum in Springfield and take a look at the political cartoons of his day portraying him as a monkey, a madman and a fellow whose only goal was to destroy the country.
Ignoring history, some people whine the U.S. faces a crisis today greater than any in its history.
Folks, there was something called a Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II and a confrontation between Russia and the United States in the 1960s that almost resulted in nuclear war.
For all we know, John F. Kennedy was thinking about Marilyn Monroe when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted.
The rhetoric about good vs. evil doesn’t help the country much, but it does serve the purposes of the two political parties.
Washington had a vision of how things might turn out.
This was the man who kept a volunteer army together when it had no clothes or weapons, who successfully battled the greatest military force on the planet and then took leadership of a new government the likes of which had never been seen before.
But no one heeded his warning about “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” subverting the power of the people.
Of course, today, those fellows are known as “the other political party.”