By William Anthony Hay
“With partisanship so often denounced today, opinion appears split between viewing political parties as a necessary evil or just evil. Those sentiments have deep roots. Josiah Tucker, an 18th-century Anglican divine and political economist, juxtaposed party with the common good in his 1781 Treatise Concerning Civil Government, while Adam Smith called “faction and fanaticism” the greatest corrupters of moral sentiments. George Washington’s Farewell Address warned that party spirit “serves always to distract public councils and enfeeble public administration” and also “foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” None of these seem much of a recommendation.
Yet party seems an inescapable part of representative government. How else can support be mobilized effectively? The success of Britain’s government, Lord Castlereagh told the House of Commons in 1817, derived “from that conflict of parties, chastened by the principles of the constitution, and subdued by the principle of decorum.” His Whig counterpart Thomas Creevey privately agreed that “without it nothing can be done.” However deplored in theory or threadbare in operation, party became part of the political furniture both in Britain and the United States…”
William Anthony Hay is an Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. He specializes in British History, International Relations, and the Atlantic World over the long eighteenth century. Elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2009, Professor Hay is a past-president of the Southern Conference on British Studies. Before coming to Mississippi State, he directed a program on European politics and U.S. foreign policy at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Professor Hay also writes regularly for publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, and Modern Age. His latest book, Lord Liverpool: A Political Life (The Boydell Press, 2018) takes the career and outlook of Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, one of Britain’s longest serving prime ministers as a way to explore the crucial transition from the Georgian to the Victorian era.
Professor Hay is a JMC fellow.
Max Skjönsberg is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of History at the University of Liverpool, working on a collaborative project on “Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic.” He has previously lectured in history and political theory at the University of St Andrews and the University of York. An intellectual and political historian of the eighteenth century, he has published articles in the Historical Journal, Journal of British Studies, History of Political Thought, Modern Intellectual History, and History of European Ideas. He is interested in concepts of political party in eighteenth-century discourse and his research incorporates a contextual reading of thinkers such as Lord Bolingbroke, David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Edmund Burke, and others. In addition to being awarded the 2013 Skinner Prize from the University of London, he was David Hume Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh in 2018, and received the Parliamentary History Essay Prize in 2020.
Dr. Skjönsberg is a JMC fellow.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.