“Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!”–John Quincy Adams
” To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and by the bitterness of their invectives.”
I’ve been thinking about these words from Alexander Hamilton quite a lot this election season. He was referring to the angry debate over the newly proposed Constitution, but in many ways his description of the political climate in 1787 sounds a lot like 2016. Indeed, the quote above, originally published in a New York newspaper over the pseudonym “Publius,” could come straight out of the op-ed section of one of today’s newspapers, except for the fact that columnists can’t use words like “declamation” and “invective” any more and hope to be understood.
In the same essay (which we now remember as Federalist #1), Hamilton went on to sound a word of warning that I also keep thinking about during this bizarre presidential campaign:
. . . a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”