Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States

Article excerpt

The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States. By Elliot A. Rosen. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2014. Pp. [xvi], 229. $39.50, ISBN 978-0-8139-3554-6.)

"This book situates the genesis of the Tea Party movement in the Age of Roosevelt," explains its author, Elliot A. Rosen, professor emeritus at Rutgers University (p. 1). As promised, this prodigiously researched and gracefully written account provides important context for those who wish to understand the roots of present-day conservatism.

Fortunately, though, drawing a direct connection between past and present is not Rosen's purpose. Had it been, his book surely would have disappointed. While there are similarities between the role played by such conservatives as Irenee and Pierre S. DuPont in the 1930s and that played by Barack Obama antagonists Charles G. and David H. Koch in recent years, much history separates today's conservatives from their forebears. Indeed, today's conservatives are far more adept at donning populist garb, having learned from the mistakes of those whose story Rosen tells so well here.

Rather than a lineage that connects 1930s conservatism to the Tea Party, Rosen provides a thoughtful examination of the battle for the future of the Republican Party that took place following its successive defeats at the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt. On that score, the study succeeds brilliantly. The strength of Rosen's book is its unquestionable grounding in the sources and its balanced analysis. Rosen has spent a lifetime combing the relevant archival collections that source this book--and it shows. His nuanced understanding of New Deal-era politics is informed by the private correspondence of its major actors.

Rosen's research leads to lively reinterpretations of four of the central Republican figures of this period: former president Herbert Hoover, unsuccessful presidential aspirant Wendell Willkie, conservative hero Robert A. Taft, and the influential party bridge-builder Arthur H. Vandenberg.

Hoover's protege Taft comes off as doctrinaire and lacking in charisma --"aloof and hardly outgoing, a less than engaging public speaker inclined to fact-based, tract-like addresses" (p. …

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