Party – The Last Degradation of a Free and Moral Agent


Jefferson taught that ‘party spirit’ was degrading to man.
Jefferson taught that ‘party spirit’ was degrading to man.

Years ago, a statesmen I revere, warned his fellow freedom fighters if they ever hoped to be truly effective in this battle, they “must be devoted to sound principles in word and deed”, and that means they must be men and women who put “principle above party”.

He was right.

A century and a half earlier, Thomas Jefferson, who, though not absolutely free of that spirit of which parties partake (he would disagree), yet made it a strong part of his lifelong character to steer clear of it. In response to a letter from Francis Hopkinson that asked Jefferson if he were a Federalist or anti-Federalist, Jefferson wrote:

“You say that I have been dished up to you as an anti-federalist, and ask me if it be just. My opinion was never worthy enough of notice to merit citing; but since you ask it, I will tell it to you. I am not a federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in polities or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself.

“Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” (1)

I like that. Party spirit is like a grasping, dulling drug that chips away at a man’s agency, and, for that matter, a nation’s liberties, because when people turn to ‘the party’ to do their thinking – people stop thinking. Yet, even for those whose minds and mouths remain in motion when under ‘the influence’ of party spirit, that motion rarely rises above the parroting of the vague, vulgar, venom party provides.

Man was meant for more than this. Jefferson, for his part, wanted to do his own thinking, not blindly rely upon party.

“Therefore, I am not of the party of federalists. But I am much farther from that of the anti-federalists. I approved, from the first moment, of the great mass of what is in the new Constitution; the consolidation of the government; the organization into executive, legislative, and judiciary; the subdivision of the legislative; the happy compromise of interests between the great and little States, by the different manner of voting in the different Houses; the voting by persons instead of States; the qualified negative on laws given to the executive, which, however, I should have liked better if associated with the judiciary also.

“What I disapproved from the first moment also, was the want of a bill of rights, to guard liberty against the legislative as well as the executive branches of the government; that is to say, to secure freedom in religion, freedom of the press, freedom from monopolies, freedom from unlawful imprisonment, freedom from a permanent military, and a trial by jury, in all cases determinable by the laws of the land. I disapproved, also, the perpetual re-eligibility of the President. To these points of disapprobation I adhere.” (2)

Jefferson concludes:

“These, my dear friend, are my sentiments, by which you will see I was right in saying I am neither federalist nor anti-federalist; that I am of neither party, nor yet a trimmer between parties.” (3)

This is the way things ought to be: principle first and principle last, and thus a people who do “a little reflection”, reflection that leads them to discover the moral and political principles involved, down to their roots, before they vote.

That Jefferson made a valiant effort to be true to his 1789 resolve is evidenced by his successful peacemaking between the warring parties as president, by his resolve (despite being big on state rights) to put union first and state rights second, and by his post-presidency repair of burned bridges between he and John Adams (a friendship wounded by ‘party’ people), so that he and Adams might join in their retirement, in a two decades long pursuit of true principles wherever they were found; which he and Adams in their retirements in their retirements did commit themselves to do together.

Were every citizen to follow this timeless advice, party spirit would fade, principle would reign, and we’d all have a whole lot less to ‘parrot’ about, and a whole lot more to think about, when confronting the issues of our day.

Footnotes 1, 2, & 3. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789.

Steve FarrellLiberty Letters are researched, compiled, edited (with occasional commentary) by Steve Farrell. Mr. Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal, one of the original pundits at (1999-2008), and the author of the inspirational novel, Dark Rose.