William Livingston, "Of Party Divisions," Independent Reflector (1753).


[
William Livingston was a lawyer and a member of one of the dominant political families in the colony of New York. Livingston published his political philosophy in a series of essays during the 1750s, entilted The Independent Reflector.]


Of PARTY-DIVISIONS

Factions amongst great Men, they are like Foxes; when their Heads are divided, they carry Fire in their Tails; and all the Country about them goes to Wreck for it.

FROM the Moment that Men give themselves wholly up to a Party, they abandon their Reason, and are led Captive by their Passions. The Cause they espouse, presents such bewitching Charms, as dazzle the judgment; and the Side they oppose, such imaginary Deformity, that no Opposition appears too violent; nor any Arts to blacken and ruin it, incapable of a specious Varnish. They follow their Leaders with an implicit Faith, and, like a Company of Dragoons, obey the Word of Command without Hesitation. Tho' perhaps they originally embark'd in the Cause with a View to the public Welfare; the calm Deliberations of Reason are imperceptibly fermented into Passion; and their Zeal for the common Good, gradually extinguished by the predominating Fervor of Faction: A disinterested Love for their Country, is succeeded by an intemperate Ardor; which naturally swells into a political Enthusiasm; and from that, easy is the Transition to perfect Frenzy. As the religious Enthusiast fathers the wild Ravings of his heated Imagination, on the Spirit of God; and is ready to knock down every Man who doubts his divine Inspiration; so the political Visionary miscalls his Party-Rage the Perfection of Patriotism; and curses the rational Lover of his Country, for his unseasonable Tepidity. The former may be reduced to his Senses, by shaving, purging, and letting of Blood; as the latter is only to be reclaim'd by Time or Preferment.

Next to the Duty we owe the Supreme BEING, we lie under the most indispensible Obligations, to promote the Welfare of our Country. Nor ought we to be destitute of a becoming Zeal and Fortitude, in so glorious a Cause: We should shew ourselves in earnest, resolute and intrepid. We cannot engage in a nobler Undertaking; and scandalous would be our Languor and Timidity, where the Sacrifice of our Lives, is no extravagant Oblation. Replete with such illustrious Examples, are the Annals of Antiquity, when the great Men of those heroic Ages, with a kind of glorious Emulation, exerted their Talents in the Service of their Country; and were not only contented, but pleas'd to die for the Common-Weal. . . . But in vain doth Party-Spirit veil itself with the splendid Covering, of disinterested Patriotism: In vain usurp the Robe of Honour, to conceal its latent Motives. The Disguise may fascinate the Multitude; but appears transparent to the Unprejudiced and judicious. With all the Eulogiums due to the Advocates for Liberty, without Success doth the self-interested Projector attempt to impose on Men of Sense, with that respectable Appellation. A Zeal for our Country is glorious, but a Spirit of Faction infamous. . . .

When I see a Man warm in so important an Affair as the common Interest, I either suspend my judgment, or pass it in his Favour. But when I find him misrepresenting and vilifying his Adversaries, I take it for a shrewd Sign, that 'tis something more than the laudable Motive he pretends, which impels him with such Impetuosity and Violence.

The great, as well as the little Vulgar, are liable to catch the Spirit of Mobbing; and cluster together to perpetrate a Riot, without knowing the Reason that set them in Motion. The genuine Consequence this, of Party-Rage and Animosityl For when once we suppress the Voice of Reason, by the Clamour of Faction, we are toss'd like a Vessel stripp'd of Sails and Rudder, at the Mercy of Wind and Tide: But 'tis a Solecism in Nature, that the best End in the World is to be attain'd by the worst Means; or that we cannot be Patriots, till we are fit for Bedlam.

A Man of this Turn, is not half so intent upon reforming the Abuses of his own Party, as discerning the Errors of his Enemies. To view the Virtues of the Side he espouses, he uses the magnifying End of the Perspective; but inverts the Tube, when he surveys those of his Adversaries. Instead of an impartial Examination of the Principles he acts upon, or the Regularity of his Progress, he contents himself with exclaiming against the real or suppositious Faults of his Antagonists. In short, 'tis not so much the Goodness of his own Cause, as the exaggerated Badness of the other, that attaches him to his Leaders, and confirms him in his Delirium. Like a Set of Pagans, he makes the Spots in the Sun, a Reason for adoring the Moon.

. . . A Man who would be overlook'd, or despis'd in times of universal Tranquility, may have a Quantum of Lungs and Impudence, to make himself seem necessary when the Publick is agitated with Storms, and thrown into Convulsions. Nay, a Fellow who has deserved to be hang'd by all Laws human and divine, for his Conduct in private Life, will spring up into an important Champion at the Head of a Party.

"There is a particular Maxim among Parties (says a fine Writer) which alone is sufficient to corrupt a whole Nation; which is to countenance, and protect the most infamous Fellows, who happen to herd amongst them. It is something shocking to common Sense, to see the Man of Honour and the Knave, the Man of Parts and the Blockhead put upon an equal Foot, which is often the Case amongst Parties. The Reason is, he that has not Sense enough to distinguish right from wrong, can make a Noise; nay, the less Sense, the more Obstinacy, especially in a bad Cause; and the greater Knave, the more obedient to his Leaders, especially when they are playing the Rogue." Unspeakably calamitous have been the Consequences of Party-Division. It has occasioned Deluges of Blood, and subverted Kingdoms. It always introduces a Decay of publick Spirit, with the Extinction of every noble and generous Sentiment. The very Names of Things are perverted. On Fury and Violence it bestows the Appellation of Magnanimity and Opposition, and stiles Resentment and Rancour, Heroic Ardor, and Patriot-Warmth. Nor is it ever at a Loss for Pretences to bubble the Mob out of their Wits, and give its wildest Ravings a plausible Colour. . . .

Thus as the designing Party-Man always appears in the Mask of publick Spirit, and conceals the most selfish and riotous Disposition, under the venerable Pretext of asserting Liberty, and defending his Country; so the ministerial Scribbler, taking Advantage of this frequent Prostitution, gives a sinister Turn to the most laudable Views, and stigmatizes every Man who opposes the Encroachments of the Court. Hence the Necessity of our greatest Caution in siding with either Party, till by a watchful observation in the Conduct of both, we have plainly discovered the true Patriot from the false Pretender.

Almost all the Mischiefs which Mankind groan under, arise from their suffering themselves to be led by the Nose, without a proper Freedom of Thought and Examination. Upon this Priestcraft has erected its stupendous Babel, and Tyranny rear'd her horrible Domination. And indeed, well may we expect, as the righteous Punishment of our Guilt, to be abandon'd by Heaven to Delusion and Error, if instead of obeying the Directions of that sacred Ray of the Divinity, in Virtue of which we claim kindred with the highest Order of Intelligences, we blindly surrender ourselves to the Guidance of any Man, or Set of Men whatever. And yet I have known Persons of good Sense, and Lovers of Liberty, so infatuated with Party, as to put a whole City and Country in Alarm, and struggle, as if it had been pro uris et focis to lift a Creature into a Post, who, after all the Bustle made on his Account, was fitter to guide the Tall of a Plough, than to fill an Office of Skill and Confidence: But their Breasts were inflamed with Party-Spirit, and had the Candidate been a Chimney-Sweep, or a Rope-Dancer, they would have exerted an equal Zeal and Activity. . . .


Source: William Livingston, The Independent Reflector (February 22, 1753). *Some of the Latin quotations have been removed to protect the innocent.

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