Anonymous to MVB, 12 May 1818
Anonymous to MVB, 12 May 1818
TO MARTIN VAN BUREN,
Attorney-General of the state of New-York.
In endeavoring to renew the stale contest between the great parties of this country, have you been accustomed to reflect on consequences?— Permit me to lay before you some of the evils of party spirit, which, like the arch apostate always strives at evil, though sometimes foiled and producing its opposite. I speak not now of its baleful influence on the destinies of nations. I do not point to the monumental relics of empires that once flourished; to the devastation wrought by the mingled passions and animosities of contending citizens. Human power has its destined limits. When sometimes it has been accumulated for ages, when it grasped at the circumference of a world, and seemed based on lasting foundations, it has been scattered abroad like the chaff before the whirlwind. If history be trusted, such is the condition of all human glory. The turbulence of passion lays waste the works of wisdom, energy and virtue. But I would refer you to the immediate, and unavoidable effects of party spirit on society.
Do you, sir, see any thing lovely in unhallowed passions and prejudices, roused into activity by a mere name; in the array of one half of the community against the other; in the conversion of friendship into hatred and those of the same household into the bitterest enemies? Have you not sometimes laid aside the politician, and assumed the man? Then you must have seen the charities of life lamentably wounded by the civil dissentions that have distracted this country. You witnessed a deplorable perversion of intellect, when the energy, the sagacity and the penetration which might have effected something valuable in business and the arts, were employed for purposes of dissention and violence. You also saw the common weal giving place to public emolument, and the demagogue of a day riding into the chair of state on the waves of popular violence, and smiling like the spirit of a tempest, at the convulsive agitations of the surrounding elements. Too long have we writhed under the guidance of this sinister policy, and been almost unconcerned spectators of scenes equally ruinous and disgraceful; the struggles of rival candidates, the denunciations of party, the forgeries the falsehoods and impositions; a mighty puppet show, all guided by a knot of familiar spirits behind the curtain. Nor has party spirit been without its effect on the general taste of the country.— Why has this nation been reproached in Europe for its destitution of science and literary taste? I acknowledge there are other causes, but one, doubtless, is the influence of party politics, that all absorbing vortex where time is more than lost, and talents more than misapplied. We have been quarreling about what few of us understand, and been angry and stubborn without knowing why. We have been hunting down private character, and dragging to light follies and sins long forgotten and repented of. We have been speculating and theorizing on our political institutions, when most of us are totally ignorant of their nature and interests; when, had we devoted only a small portion of that zeal and talent to the purposes of science and literature, our national character in this respect, would not have been the laughing stock of the old world.
In addition to this, sir, you are well aware that civil discord is the element of knaves and hypocrites. It is not then that the man of modest, prudent integrity, finds his proper level in the estimation of his country. Far different is the hero of popular favour. The artful, the impudent, the obstreperous, emerge from the obscure corner of society, desert the lowly stations for which the God of order designed them, trample down rule and right and justice, and finally enjoy the fat honours and offices, for the discharge of which they have no integrity or rule of action but interest, and no talent but the despicable cunning that could outwit a mob, and throw odium on their betters. Like the frogs of Egypt, Sir, you have heard them croaking round our land, and seen them winding into every office; and, like them, they have been sent as a curse to blight our prosperity, and punish our dissensions.
What think you of that vile herd, which lashed up the surge of popular phrenzy, against the brightest character which this country or any other has produced? a worthy return for the sufferings and efforts of that wonderful man! It is matter of consolation, in this respect, that he has long since been where the weapons of dissimulation and envy could no longer assail him; for even his detractors had the grace to join the world in admiring him when dead, whose integrity and influence they feared while living. Had I been one to scoff at the venerable Washington, had I, Sir, used that liberty, for which we are indebted to him under God, for the purpose of wounding his magnanimous heart, and contributing to bring down the grey hairs of the war-worn patriot with sorrow to the grave, I would place sackcloth on my loins and the seal of everlasting silence on my leps.
It was the spirit of party, Sir, that rose against Washington, and that has inflicted on us all the evils which I have enumerated; a kind of magic, that drags forth all that is violent and unamiable in the human character into action. It is the spirit of party that has weakened our councils, misguided our talents, perverted our taste and lowered our reputation in the eyes of the civilized world. It is the spirit of party that has broken in upon our domestic enjoyments, like the angel of desolation, which has sundered those ties that are no less the sources of national strength than of individual felicity, and which has been depricated by all the virtuous and patriotic, as the grand reservoir of evils to be apprehended by a government like ours. It is the spirit of party whose path is lined with the ruins of those republics that have been, and that menaces the overthrow of those that are. And if there be any truth in history, any confidence in the opinions of sages, any presages from the character of our nation, it is party spirit that will one day sever this union; and array its members against each other with more vengeful feelings and with other weapons than those with which the conflict has been hitherto carried on. This, Sir, is not an isolated opinion; it is not the dream of a visionary: while human nature remains unchanged, while goverments are the things of human origin, nothing lies more within the reach of calculation, or approaches nearer to moral demonstration.
How, sir, do you reconcile with this view of the subject, your late attempt to rouse the declining hostilities of party? In doing so, you stab at the vital interests of your country. And what were your motives while discharging this amiable office, when you recite the conduct of your political antagonists, with severe amimadversions, and break forth into eulogies on your political friends? You expressly avow your intention. You would build up and strengthen the partition wall. But I relinquish these enquiries. On some future occasion your motives shall go through the ordeal; and if you come out unhurt and the smell of the flame has not even passed over your garment, I will join you hand in hand, in again distracting our common country, with all the violence and faction that have ever prevailed.