Atticus Essay II (Massachusetts)


Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, Boston,

October 18, 1787

YES, as I observed sometime ago, no violent party man can ever be a good citizen. He seeks to destroy all interests but his own; and to ride triumphant over the prostrate necks of his opposers. Such is his delirium and fury, that he pays no regard to the wisest laws, or the most unquestionable rights of mankind. Yet, by the wisdom of Patriots, occasional good may be drawn from the storm of party-rage. The wrath of parties, when not suffered to reach the extreme to which it tends, shall work the good of the State. When the troops which were ordered to Concord, the last September, to support the Court of Common Pleas, were countermanded, it was not difficult for a person of but moderate skill in political movements, to foresee, that thenceforth there would be two parties, or factions, in the State. That one of these, that of the populace, would tend to general levelism, and democratic turbulence. That the other, that of the rich, and of men of austere political principles, would tend to an alteration of the constitution of our State, and the subjection of the people to a rigid aristocracy.

The first of these factions arises from the impatience and uneasiness, which they who compose it feel, under their embarrassed circumstances, which they commonly attribute to rich men, and officers of the State. From this uneasiness arises their licentious humour and their envy of the rich, and powerful–The latter of these factions arises from the love of property, and the desire of preserving it. The reason why these appeared distinct, at the time above mentioned, was this; that then the populace tho’t they might, without fear of punishment, shake off subjection to those laws, which obliged them to fulfil their obligations to men of property. And perhaps some even wished to seize on that wealth which was not their own. While the men of wealth judged from the countermanding of the troops, that the laws were not sufficient to defend them in the possession of that property which they had acquired. Thus both parties, with mortal animosity against each other, agreed in reprobating the then present system of government.

Here it will be instructive to inspect the basis on which each party is formed. That of the first is composed, (unless we have been deceived in our attentive observations) of men of some, but small property, much embarrassed, and devoured by the interest of their debts. That of the latter, of men of large estates, especially those which consist in money. And to these parties are joined many, not immediately interested; but as their relations in life, their dependence, their mode of education, or caprice may lead them. They, we think, properly speaking, are the factions of the m[e]n of large estates, and the men of small estates; but for convenience, we shall call them by names, invented long ago, the democratic and aristocratic factions. And they will exist, as long as uneasiness at embarrassments will dare to express itself on the one hand; or the love of property have scope to exert itself on the other–nor can they be stilled so long as laws, and not men, claim dominion. They will not be silent, till despotism render all subjects of government as silent as the grave.

The tears of a patriot are worthily shed for dying laws. Nothing represents mankind to a true philosopher in so pityable a situation, as their rising in wrath, against those laws, which defend to them their lives, their liberty, their religion, their possessions, and all that is dear to the human heart.

Yet for a professed politician, to turn pale at the rise of parties, while the laws are preserved, is as much out of character, as for a veteran soldier to tremble at the discharge of cannon. Parties are the materials of which the most perfect societies are formed. As in the making of PUNCH the ingredients are perfect contradictions; and each in excessive quantities, would disturb, if not destroy, the human frame, but the composition is generally thought excellent. The most opposite interests rightly blended, make the harmony of the State.

Parties give life to the moving powers of the State, and when properly checked and balanced, are productive of much good. The dishonest, and ambitious, excite the rage of parties, to promote their own designs; but the patriot directs their force, like that of fire, to the profit of the State, and not to its destruction. Fire in its own nature tends to dissipate the most solid bodies. But the skilful artist suffers it not to proceed so far. When the iron becomes pliable by means of heat, he shapes it according to his wisdom; and then leaves it to cool. Thus a patriot deals with parties.

Parties always keep alive, an attention to public measures. While men are immersed in their own concerns, public officers may act as they please. The materials of which the Commonwealth is composed, become like the waters of a stagnant pool. They must be ruffled by the hurricane of parties, before they will become wholesome.

Parties produce great attendance and carefulness respecting elections. Among the various evils, arising from the disturbances of the last year, this hopeful symptom appear’d. The people were never so attentive to elections before. And, if the effect was not in every case, what a judicious person would wish for; it ought to be ascribed to the agitation of their minds at the time of election. This great attention to elections, if continued, will one day produce excellent effects.

Parties keep any one interest from swallowing up the rest. m The idea of an opposite party influence, renders every part of the community anxious to secure itself. And a warm emulation is excited. Each wishes to recommend itself by illustrious deeds, which shall increase the numbers of its advocates. Each interest equips itself with all kinds of powers, for reducing the exorbitance of other parties, and strengthening itself. The chieftains, seek to excel in all the arts of policy. Each separate interest marks out, and publicly exposes the errors and illegal proceedings of the rest. The history of England, will convince any impartial observer, that, since the rise of the memorable factions of the whigs and tories, the government of that country has been much more mild and favourable to the interests of the whole community, than before.


But here lies the danger of parties. Two factions of nearly equal strength, violently played off against each other by ill designing or mistaken men, would either mutually destroy each other, and suffer a third power to prevail, or the contest would terminate in the utter extinction of one, and the insolent triumph of the other. Either event would introduce a most insupportable tyranny. Hence the necessity of a third power sufficient to check the exorbitances of each. Of aristocracy and democracy our State has enough. The partisans are animated sufficiently against each other. Have we a third power sufficient to restrain them? This is the question. But it must be answered at some future day, if you have the candor to read the speculations of ATTICUS.


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