Editor’s Note: For the past 200-plus years, We the People have had a lot to say about the Constitution. In each installment of “Say What?” we offer a quick quote—be it wise, quirky, or otherwise memorable—from past or present conversation related to our favorite founding document.
“But, gentleman, let us forget party, and think of our country. That country embraces both parties. We must endeavor, therefore, to save and benefit both.”
Who said it
Gouverneur Morris, one of the framers of the Constitution, in a letter to the Committee of Correspondence in Philadelphia, August 27, 1816
Morris was commenting on the waning power of the Federalist Party, one of the first parties in American politics. In his letter, he describes a political scene in which “the voice of reason” is “drowned in factious vociferation.” Hm, sound familiar? That’s right: lamenting the state of party politics is nothing new. In fact, we were warned of partisan divisions from the beginning, as with Washington’s Farewell Address. And when we look to the Constitution, we see that political parties are mentioned nowhere—they evolved a bit later on their own (well, with some help from James Madison).
Today plenty of people are talking about the downsides of partisan bickering, including emerging groups like Americans Elect, which urges citizens to “Pick a president, not a party.” Perhaps Gouverneur Morris would agree: after all, this is the man who gave us not “We the Parties” but “We the People.”
Holly Munson works in Public Programs at the National Constitution Center.