The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation

The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation

The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation

The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation

Synopsis

A collection of six original essays by some of America's historians of the Civil War era that examines the origins and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first generation.

Excerpt

This collection of original essays examines the origins and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first generation. The essays consider the party in terms of its identity, interests, ideology, images, and individuals, always with an eye to the ways the Republican party reflected and affected mid-nineteenth-century American concerns over national character, political power, race, and civil rights. Collectively, the authors extend their inquiries roughly from the 1850s through the 1870s to understand the processes whereby the “second American party system” broke down, a new party emerged, the Civil War came, and a new political order developed. They especially consider the ways the belief in “free soil, free labor, free speech, and free men”—the glue holding together the nascent Republican party’s disparate supporters in the 1850s—congealed during war and Reconstruction to produce both a call for expanded political and civil rights for the freedmen, and sometimes others, and a concern over expanded federal involvement in the protection of those rights, while at the same time leading the Republican party to push legislation that opened the West to further settlement and development, advanced commerce, and protected manufacturing. In so doing, the party of many parts—“anti-Nebraska” Democrats, former Whigs, Free Soilers, temperance advocates, nativists and anti-nativists, and others who came together to oppose the extension of slavery in the 1850s and to save the Union in the 1860s—increasingly bore the likeness of a new Whig party. The essays also point to the importance of “decisive moments” and significant individuals that shaped the party’s identity during its formative period.

By observing the transmutation of a sectional party born in the 1850s into the “Grand Old Party” of the 1870s, the authors show, in the end, how the war and its aftermath recast political categories and shifted . . .

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