George Washington ended his second presidency by giving a speech on the dangers of political parties. In his terms as president he thought he was a president for all the people. His duty to the people was to represent them well without any party affiliation. He truly believed that the people were the ones who were to run the government, not some political party (Washington n. p.).
Washington’s speech is relevant today. In his address, he specifically warns that political parties could allow foreign governments into the United States (U. S.) to influence government policy. Moreover, he warned that political parties would not represent all of the American people but only represent factions and would rule as despots over Americans (Washington). It does not matter that Washington’s definition of the people is different than those of today. He was talking about men who had the right to vote. He wanted voters to not vote for a party platform, but for men who would represent all of the people, whether they voted or not.
The parties that came into existence during Washington’s presidency were Federalists and Democratic Republicans (Handout p. 1). Federalists usually promoted federal government over state governments. Today, that party would be the Republicans. They are conservative as were the Federalists. The Democratic Republicans had to represent the people then. Today’s Democratic Party is the people’s party. It tends to lean towards socialism, wanting universal healthcare for all people in the U. S., free college tuition, and so on. Americans have been conditioned to wince when they hear the word socialism, but they have been living with socialism since the late 1800s. If one takes the word and defines it as for the common good of the people, it means that all those Progressive Era reforms such as water treatment, sewer systems, and garbage pickup are socialistic. The Pledge of Allegiance is also socialistic (Dreier n. p). So are stop lights. They control traffic. Without stoplights traffic would be chaotic, thus they create order and protect the common good. Social Security is also socialistic. Not all socialistic reforms are bad. In fact, things like universal healthcare would actually allow the American people to be individuals again. Instead of working at a job someone hates but needs insurance, people can follow their dreams and work at their passion never having to worry about healthcare if it were made into universal healthcare for all people. All people would be equal when it came to healthcare. That is very democratic – all people being equal.
If Washington were to come back to life and visit Washington today, he would not be happy. He is a man who fought for a better ideal and for a democratic republican society. The way the parties snipe at each other and the idea that Russians, Saudis, and the Chinese may have influenced government policies would make him apoplectic. He would know that his warning some 200 plus years ago what so relevant today. Washington would be surprised to see how meanings of words changed over time. He meant white men who owned land when he spoke of voters. Today, voters mean all people over the age of 18 who are citizens of the country. However, he would also see that white men still control most government offices and that might give him relief to know that what the founders set in motion there is still working.
- Dreier, Peter. “Trump Touts Pledge of Allegiance with Socialist Roots.” The American Prospect. 7 Sept. 2016. http://prospect.org/Accessed 18 Sept. 2018.
- Washington, George. “Washington’s Farewell Address 1796.” Avalon Project. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/