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Here We Go Again

I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton. It’s the book that inspired Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. It’s also quite long. The audiobook is approximately 36 hours and the book is over 1,600 pages. I plan on writing other posts about this book, but for today, I want to highlight one key detail that pops up again and again during the United States of America’s formative years.

Partisan conflict is not new.

Outside of George Washington, who strove to rise above partisan disagreements of his day, other framers fell in line with what became the first two major parties in America’s political history: Federalists and Anti-Federalists (who later renamed themselves Democratic-Republicans).

Major issues of those days mirror major issues of today, including but not limited to:

  • Race relations (then slavery, today Black Lives Matter);

  • Big government versus small government (i.e. government’s involvement in day-to-day life);

  • Isolationism versus global involvement (then debates about whether to get involved in the French Revolution and other international conflicts);

  • States rights versus federal rights;

  • Balance of power between branches of government (Federalists proposed a strong executive branch while Democratic-Republicans favored the legislative branch);

  • The role of the electoral college (specifically, Hamilton believed the president should be selected by electoral college delegates in lieu of popular vote);

  • Immigration policies (himself an immigrant, Hamilton favored open immigration)

  • Religion’s role (specifically Christianity) in government.

I could go on. The issues of their day eerily seem like doppelgängers of today’s major partisan divisions. The details of our partisan conflicts today may be different. The circumstances have changed, but the root behind the issues are just as unresolved today as they were in the late 1700s.

Since then, parties have changed but the fundamental structure of a two-party system remains. Neither Federalists nor Democratic-Republicans exist today. In their place, we have the Republican Party and Democratic Party. Yes, there are third parties as well, but in our history, no third party has ever won a national election, unless you count the Whigs realignment to Republicans in 1856.

I bring this up because I find the cyclical nature of politics interesting. If you look at American history from a long range view, one party and its associated ideas will find themselves in power. The tide will shift. Popularity will change. In a decade or so, the other party with their associated ideas will find themselves in power. I think from an educated citizen/voter perspective, it’s important to recognize the reality that these major divisions are not likely to be resolved any time soon. Regardless of who’s in charge, there may be efforts for change just as there are efforts to thwart change.

What I’m trying to espouse is recognition that conflicts, especially about the aforementioned issues, will continue to arise on a political scale. It always has. The best predictor of future events is the past and our nation’s history is rife with wild pendulum swings left and right. I think it’s critical for people to refresh their memories of American history to gain a little perspective, especially as we barrel closer to Election Day. I encourage everyone to read up on American history and do so from a variety of perspectives then draw your own conclusions about today’s issues.


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