Tag Archives: Partisanship

No cheats! No hacks! No speculators!

… I can only recommend an adherence to the principles which would have governed myself in making the selection. 1. to reject dishonest men. 2. those called federalists even the honest men among them, are so imbued with party prejudice … that they are incapable of weighing candidly the pro and the con … their effect in the public councils is merely to embarras & thwart them. 3. land-jobbers [speculators] are undesirable. it is difficult for them, even with honest intentions, to act without bias in questions having any relation to their personal interests.
Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, April 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know even honest men can act dishonorably.
The President had been asked to pick five men out of ten nominated to serve on a legislative council for the Territory of Indiana. He knew none of the nominees and delegated the selection to Harrison (1773-1841), Territorial Governor. He recommended three standards:
1. No “dishonest men”
2. None from the political opposition – Even honest ones were so partisan they could not fairly weigh an issue. Their only motivation was “to embarrass & thwart.”
3. None who could benefit financially – Again, even honest men could not “act without bias” where money was to be made or lost.

Thirty six years later, in 1841, Harrison became the 9th President of the U.S., defeating Martin Van Buren. He died just 31 days after his inauguration and was succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, served one term as President, 1889-1893.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Pissing THEM off a little can help US behave.

… nor do I foresee a single question which ought to excite party contention. still every question will excite it, because it is sufficient that we propose a measure, to produce opposition to it from the other party. a little of this is not amiss, as it keeps up a wholesome censorship on our conduct;
To Ephraim Kirby, December 10, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Shrewd leaders appreciate the value of opposition.
In a previous post, Jefferson wrote that the country was doing so well, there was little to recommend to Congress in his annual report (State of the Union Address as we know it today).  He expressed the same sentiment to Kirby, with nothing on the horizon to divide the republican party.

Yet they were bound to propose something, and it would of necessity cause the Federalist party to rally in opposition. That opposition in turn would keep the republican party on its toes, united in its focus and proper in its conduct.

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How do we win back political foes?

if we can but avoid shocking their feelings by unnecessary acts of severity against their late friends, they will in a little time cement & form one mass with us, & by these means harmony & union be restored to our country, which would be the greatest good we could affect … these people did not differ from us in principle … I do not speak of the desperados of the quondam [former ] faction, in & out of Congress. these I consider as incurables, on whom all attentions would be lost, & therefore will not be wasted. but my wish is to keep their flock from returning to them.
To William Branch Giles, March 23, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek to heal political wounds.
Earlier in this letter to a political ally from Virginia, the newly-inaugurated President listed some thoughts about which Federalist office-holders he should keep and which he should dismiss. They would not clean house completely, nor would they keep all of them in office. They should retain those who could do their job fairly and dismiss those who would try to undermine the new administration.

Three groups clearly faced the ax:
1. Those appointed by President Adams after his defeat but before he left office.
2. “officers who have been guilty of official mal-conduct …”
3. “Attorneys & Marshals,” because they controlled access to courts packed with Federalist judges who could not be removed.
All other Federalist holdovers might reasonably expect to remain in office.

Jefferson hoped to bridge the partisan divide that had polarized the nation. If he could go forward without giving unnecessary offense to his political enemies, he might win the majority of those opponents to a common national cause. That “would be the greatest good we could affect.”

He had no plan for wooing Federalist leaders. He considered them “desperados” and “incurables.” Trying to convince them  was a waste of time. But he did hope to separate them from their followers, whose essential principles were not that different his own.

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Can’t we just get along?

You and I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, and separate the business of the Senate from that of society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the street to avoid meeting, and turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hats. This may do for young men with whom passion is enjoyment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds. Tranquility is the old man’s milk. I go to enjoy it in a few days, and to exchange the roar and tumult of bulls and bears, for the prattle of my grandchildren and senile rest …
To Edward Rutledge, June 24, 1797
The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Edited by Koch & Peden, P. 498-499

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders keep political and personal interests separate.
Jefferson had been Vice-President less than four months when he wrote this. As presiding officer of the U.S. Senate, he made these observations about the extreme partisanship he saw there:
1. He remembered when men could keep strong political differences from affecting their personal friendships. That time was gone.
2. Political opponents would go out of their way to avoid each other so they wouldn’t have to offer a greeting or even acknowledge the other’s presence.
3. Some young men might seek confrontation because of their youth or inexperience, but it was offensive to those who sought peace.
4. Old men want peace.
He called these opponents “bulls and bears” and looked forward trading their “roar and tumult” for the noise of his grandchildren, whom he would soon see at home at Monticello. (Even though he claimed the rest due a fading old man, he was only 54. His leadership would continue for 29 more years.)

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