People Versus Rulers

Charles James Fox. By: Karl Anton Hickel.

For many colonists and early Americans, politics was a contentious, yet simple subject. Many believed that politics “was nothing more than a perpetual battle between the passions of the rulers, whether one or a few, and the united interest of the people.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 18.

Thomas Gordon, an Englishman and a Whig, wrote that “[w]hatever is good for the People is bad for their Governors; and what is good for the Governors, is pernicious to the People.” Id. quoting John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letters: Or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects, 5th ed. (London, 1748), II, 249.

These beliefs defined the Whigs, the Americans who identified with the British Whig political party led by Charles James Fox. The British Whigs were adamantly opposed to a strong monarchy. Later, in the 1830s, a movement would emerge in America called the Whig Party, which was opposed to a strong presidency.

The American Revolution developed these views in a uniquely American way. The British Whigs were focused on restraining the power of one of the mightiest empires, led by a monarchy, the world has ever known. They hoped to displace the Tories, the political party who supported the powerful monarchy. Colonists in America who embraced the Whig ideology realized that to prevent such a dilemma from playing out in America, those colonists had to develop new systems and institutions that prevented such a concentration of power in the government.

Despite the colonists progress in creating those systems and institutions, the dynamic that Whigs identified between rulers and their people still resonates today. Many modern Americans believe that government officials will inevitably only cater to the interests of government officials, not the common people. Some say it is human nature and no amount of political theorizing can conjure up a system that prevents it from happening.

One has to wonder, does the American system’s representative nature not curtail that dynamic from occurring? Has America effectively addressed rulers only looking out for rulers?

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