Washington’s letter to Jefferson

Letter to the editor:

In Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” a Pulitzer-winning biography, he writes of President Washington’s frustration with disagreement between Hamilton and Adams on one hand and Jefferson on the other. Progress in forming our new government was hindered by their continuing disagreements following ratification of the Constitution and Washington’s election in 1787. Among other differences, Hamilton and Adams favored monarchical government and alliance with England against France, while Jefferson preferred democracy with popular election of public officials and alliance with France.

Little time left for other essential business in launching our new nation’s government led President Washington to write to Jefferson in July 1792, “How unfortunate and how much it is to be regretted then that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals…. I believe it will be difficult if not impractical to manage the reins of government, or to keep the parts of it together: for if, instead of laying our shoulders to the machine after measures are decided on, one pulls one way and another, that, before the utility of the thing is fully tried, it must inevitably be torn asunder — And, in my opinion, the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man will be lost — possibly forever.”

How relevant this is today, 222 years later, with the damage caused by Tea Party Republicans in their dedication to scuttling the ship of state, instead of “laying our shoulders to the machine” — much more damaging than dysfunctional government in Washington’s time or Hoover’s! How much stronger might we be today had our Congress heeded President Obama’s repeated call for employing a veterans corps to repair or replace decaying infrastructure. Last week, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander won his state’s Republican primary race, favoring crossing the aisle to reach agreement with the other side. A sign of hope?

John Vance


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