For me as a historian, this is a momentous hour, a time to assess how over many decades we’ve arrived, a second time, at a grievous national impasse - an impending civil war. It differs this time only that the same contentious issue of white supremacy is national rather than sectional. Here is a look back.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington noted, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension … is itself a frightful despotism.” President Adams, too, concluded, “Division of the republic into two great parties (is a) great evil.”

In The Atlantic last January, political scientist Lee Drutman wrote, “If a consistent partisan majority ever united to take control of the government, it would use its power to oppress the minority. The fragile consent of the governed would break down, and violence and authoritarianism would follow.”

Laboring to create a non-partisan democracy, the Founders did not want to repeat mistakes of previous republics. But factionalism developed, assorted parties formed, and it’s now hard to imagine our political system without them.


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