• Joe Pace

Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #72: The Republican Party, Its History, Principles, and Policies


That cover, though.

At first I contemplated sharing this as an April Fool's Day installment of this series, a little fun in a world that seems to take itself far too seriously far too often.


And then I read the damned thing.


Much of the contents of this book were originally written for the 1888 and 1892 presidential campaigns, both of which saw Democrat Grover Cleveland contesting with Republican Benjamin Harrison (one win apiece). The edition in my library dates from 1898, updated in advance of that year's congressional campaign. President McKinley himself contributed to the book, as did Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, our own NH Senator William Chandler, and a bevy of other Republican luminaries of the day.


Much of the book is given over to tracing the history of the United States and the forces that gave rise to the Republican Party from the ashes of the Whigs and Free-Soilers and others at mid-century. This is clearly a campaign document, not serious history, with claims of credit for one side and charges of failure by the other. The language is hyperbolic in the extreme. And yet, and yet, it is so deeply instructive to explore the stated ideology of the Republican leadership 120 years ago, and to consider how far that party has strayed from its roots.


This Republican party boasted of "honest, wise, safe, liberal, progressive American counsel...from the free men of the free North" as opposed to the "unwise, unsafe, Illiberal, obstructive, un-American counsel" from those other guys. Some examples:


Concern over black voters deprived of suffrage in the South:

"In a political system based like ours upon the absolute equality of all men before the law, if the humblest citizen is deprived of his rights, without redress, the government ceases to be republican in form. If injustice is inflicted upon one, all are the victims. It is not a local question."


Education:

"The obligation rests upon the State to see that every citizen has an education."


Wages:

"The obligation rests upon the State to pursue such policy as will keep the standard of wages up to the highest possible point."


Pensions:

"The government is abundantly able to provide for men in their declining years - to care for those who are destitute and suffering."


While their policies on social justice were far more liberal, Republicans have always been the party of big business. The biggest difference between then and now is that in the 19th century corporations wanted a robust national government that would dig canals and seize land for railroads and control currency rates. Now, corporate hunger isn't for infrastructure improvements but for deregulation, cheap labor, and low taxes. Republicans hated taxes then (mostly the tobacco and other excise taxes) and wanted to rely solely on a protective tariff for national revenue. I'd say the Trump team is turning back the clock to those days, though he seemed to miss the memo on shared prosperity through education, high wages, and strong pensions.


Our glorious leader does seem to share his adopted party's feelings on immigration - the following passage would fit right in at one of his ego-stroking pep rallies, except it comes in the form of complete sentences with some words exceeding two syllables: "There is nothing to prevent our onward and upward to the triumphal position awaiting her...except some stupid and wicked policy that shall throw down all barriers and let the hordes of the world in to prey upon her magnificence, as the Goths poured in and devastated the Eternal City."


You know what? Fools then, fools now, April first or not.

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