Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

"The spiritual father of today’s conservative Republican Party, in the assessment of Heather Cox Richardson’s new history To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party, was really a Democrat."

Not so fast, says author Geoffrey Kabaservice. In his latest review of the book for The New Republic, he makes the case that "partisan political allegory is no substitute for history".

He writes:

"Richardson’s thesis has the virtue of imposing a clear storyline on the Republican Party’s 160-year-long history. But her book is only a reliable guide to the party’s ideological development from the Civil War to Theodore Roosevelt, which is her area of academic expertise. Her take on the GOP’s post-Eisenhower history is thinly sourced and unconvincing.

Even in the book’s early chapters, Richardson’s desire to impose a coherent narrative on the Republican Party’s history means that her focus is on Lincoln’s political ideas—which she examines with clarity and insight—rather than on the messier politics of the era. There’s little analysis here of the difficulties Lincoln encountered in trying to maintain a fractious party made up of members who previously had been Freesoilers, Barnburners, Old Whigs, and Know-Nothings, just as in later chapters there is no mention of political movements such as conservationism and prohibitionism, events such as the Bonus March and the Yalta agreements, or political actors such as Gifford Pinchot and Arthur Vandenberg.

Read complete review here