Academic journal article The Historian

To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Academic journal article The Historian

To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Article excerpt

To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party. By Heather Cox Richardson. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014. Pp. x, 393. $29.99.)

The Republican Party has evolved over the 160-odd years of its history. In the late nineteenth century, the party advocated a protective tariff, black civil and political rights, and a strong central state. One hundred years later, the party supports free trade, is indifferent to minority rights, and opposes most extensions of federal authority. Heather Cox Richardson recognizes this evolution but also contends that the party has oscillated between two ideological poles. Both poles date back to the founding of the nation in that, Richardson contends, the Declaration of Independence enshrined equality and upward social mobility in the pantheon of American rights while the adoption of the Constitution sanctified private property. She contends that these two founding documents thus involve mutually contradictory policy commitments.

The history of the Republican Party, Richardson argues, can best be described as an oscillation between these poles. Commitment to equality and upward social mobility dominated Republican politics from 1854 until 1876, from 1901 until 1920, and from 1933 until 1960. Property was dominant from 1876 until 1901, from 1920 until 1933, and from 1960 until the present. Much more important to her argument than these dates (which are only approximate) are the three great Republican presidents that epitomized equality in their thought and policy commitments: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. Each presided over a period in which economic inequality was reduced and upward social mobility increased. In the other periods, these things trended in the opposite direction as the nation's economic elite concentrated wealth in their own hands. …

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