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When George Washington left the presidency in 1797, he left the nation with a bit of advice: Do not form political parties. Washington felt that political parties were devisive, that they brought upon the nation ill-founded jealousies, that they kindled animosity, that they opened doors to foreign influence and corruption. But however credible and sound Washington's advice may have been, it was not heeded. Every president since Washington has been influenced by his party loyalties, and even in Washington's day, political parties were in the process of being formed.

Two of the most influential men, holding two of the most influential positions on Washington's cabinet were at the helm of the emerging political parties. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson were hammering out their political ideologies, even as they were helping to form the new government. Cabinet meetings were tense and heated. Conflicts arose over the nature of the new government -- Who was it for? Should the government favor big business or agriculture? Should state or federal government hold more power? The answers Hamilton offered were certain to contradict Jefferson's.

It would be difficult to find two men with backgrounds as different as Hamilton and Jefferson. Their lives and experiences shaped their beliefs and, in a way, their beliefs have shaped ours.

Alexander Hamilton's mother was the maid of a wealthy plantation owner in the Carribean. His father was the wealthy plantation owner. When Hamilton's father heard about his maid's pregnancy, he forced her to leave. As many people did in those days when they had nothing and nowhere to go, Hamilton's mother went to America. She struggled to make a living. Life was no easier for a single mother then than it is now. Hamilton lived in poverty. He had nothing -- no material things, no education and really no hope. But Hamilton got lucky. When he turned twelve, his father had a change of heart; he didn't want his son to be illiterate. He paid for Hamilton to attend the best boarding schools in Europe. When Hamilton was ready to attend college, his father sent him to America's finest universities. He gave his son all that money could buy and this was enough to get the intelligent, willing boy on his feet. Hamilton apprenticed himself to a New York financial investor and proved to be an absolute whiz with finances. The boy who had nothing quickly became very wealthy.

Alexander Hamilton never forgot where he came from, but he tried his hardest to make sure that no one else knew. Some men who start with nothing and then succeed return to those who are in a similar situation and try to help. Some grow to despise the poor and resent the fact that these people do not do what they did. Alexander Hamilton was like this. He never associated with the poor and only surrounded himself with wealthy friends. He became very involved in local, and then national, politics. His business sense and European views on social structure made Hamilton a popular politician in business-based New England. This support enabled Hamilton to tailor a political party around his personal views.

Hamilton's party, known as the Federalists, favored a strong central government, a strong national bank, and an alliance with Britain (the nation with the strongest economy at the time). The Federalists passed protective tariffs to help American industry and considered the government's top priority the economy. The party died out after its defeat in the election of 1800, was reconstructed in the 1820's using the name Whig, and was the seed of the modern-day Republican party which formed in 1860.

Thomas Jefferson's life was much different than that of his rival. Jefferson was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents were wealthy, slave-holding plantation owners in Virginia. They gave their son everything he could possibly have wanted -- a top-notch education, travel throughout Europe, a loving family, a beautiful home. The carefree life Jefferson's parents provided allowed him time to pursue intellectual, artistic and political goals. Jefferson was a very learned, brilliant man and was far superior to most men of his day. But Jefferson's parents instilled in their son ideas that stayed with him throughout his life and career. They taught him that he wasn't better than others who didn't have what he had. They taught him charity and compassion, responsibility and empathy. Jefferson carried these ideas with him as he wrote, "All men are created equal," in the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson was a natural in politics. He was comfortable with wealthy gentlemen and poor farmers alike. And though Jefferson held powerful positions, he generally acted as a common man. When Jefferson was President of the United States, it was not uncommon for a visitor to the White House to be greeted by the president himself in his bathrobe and slippers. The president would make foreign dignitaries wait to see him while he spoke with an American farmer.

Just as Hamilton's political beliefs were influenced by his background, so, too, were Jefferson's. The party Jefferson formed was called the Democratic-Republicans, but went by the name Republicans because the words democrat and democracy were considered frightening. They favored strong state government since these were closer to the people. They opposed a national bank fearing the power this would give to the central government. They opposed the protective tariff and any other policies that would hurt the "little guy." In 1828, the party became known as the Democratic party and was essentially the root of today's party of the same name.

The beliefs and goals of these parties have changed and grwon even as the nation itself has changed and grown. It does not seem that the "spirit of revenge" which Washington believed political parties fostered has formed. However, it seems likely that Washington would be disappointed with recent elections. When Washington left office, he also offered two other bits of advice: Do not become involved in entangling foreign alliances and do not overtax the American people.

So much for following his advice!