Tags: Richardson | Continetti | Republican | slave

Did the GOP Make Men Free?

By    |   Wednesday, 15 Oct 2014 07:54 AM

Heather Cox Richardson, a historian of the 19th century and professor at Boston College, appeared on C-SPAN's After Words program to discuss her new book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party with Matthew Continetti, editor of The Washington Free Beacon.

She explained that she selected the Republican Party as a topic because as a scholar of 19th century politics and economics it is necessary to understand the GOP. She had been interested in writing this book since 1987 and is looking forward to moving on. She expressed the hope that readers would find this book "fun and digestible."

Beverly Gage, a history professor at Yale who reviewed the book for The Washington Post, called it "a stretch" for the author to blame the Republicans for what Richardson sees as bouts of reaction that led to economic crises in 1893, 1919 and 2008.

Richardson defended her thesis to Continetti as that of a historian, not of an advocate of a political point of view, that she was just trying to describe "what happened."

Richardson professed to be surprised by some of the results of her studies. She ended up impressed by the significance of the Panic of 1893 and found herself debunking the long-term importance of Watergate, which she started out thinking would be a more prominent topic than it has turned out to be with 40 years of distance.

The principal thesis of the book is what the author sees as the conflict between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, between America as a land of equal opportunity and government that, according to Richardson, stressed the protection of property. She sees the GOP as the vehicle for the resolution of what she contends is a still-unresolved conflict between two principles she accepts a legitimate.

Continetti challenged Richardson's thesis and asked why she did not frame the issue instead as a conflict between equality and liberty. In response she pointed to the Constitution and the emphasis it placed on property rights. She added that Daniel Boone's refusal to be contained by the Appalachians as a boundary to expansion created a conflict between upwardly mobile poor and the established slave-owning planter class. She referred to the Northwest Ordinance, inspired by Jefferson, as a basis for the principal that no class should be able to amass undo power that would enable it to subvert the principles of democracy.

When Continetti introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act into the discussion, Richardson lit up and gushed that this is her favorite event in American history, a statute she memorized, and one of the few dates she can readily recall. The Act was passed in May 1854, negating the Missouri Compromise and establishing a foothold for slavery as the nation expanded. She described a meeting in Washington led by Edward Dickinson, a congressman from Massachusetts, coincidentally the father of Emily Dickinson, that spawned the Republican Party as a party that would stand against slavery.

The book also introduces readers to the conflict between Abraham Lincoln and James Henry Hammond, a congressman from South Carolina, over their competing visions of the culture that would develop as the nation expanded. For this writer the conflict would lead to the tyranny (pronounced "tie-ranny" by President George W. Bush) that Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw and the establishment of a government by junta that Jefferson sought to forestall and preclude.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
Heather Cox Richardson, a historian of the 19th century and professor at Boston College, appeared on C-SPAN's After Words program to discuss her new book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party with Matthew Continetti, editor of The Washington Free Beacon.
Richardson, Continetti, Republican, slave
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2014-54-15
Wednesday, 15 Oct 2014 07:54 AM
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