Thursday Bookshelf: The History of the GOP

Purchase Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans from

Professor Lewis Gould wrote this concise history of The Republican Party right in the middle of the Bush Administration as the US was embroiled in two wars of choice in the Middle East. Gould’s work takes the party from its inception as a vehicle against the expansion of slavery in the 1850s through triumph in the Civil War, dominance of the late 1800s, the fight with the progressives, the roaring Republican 1920s and onwards.

The late 1800s are described as an era of Republican political dominance that involved several disputes over personality and policy. As the party of Union during the Civil War the GOP has become a hodgepodge of disparate thinkers and factions. Holding the party together was never an easy task.

Reading the history of this period is one of narration with some critical analysis mixed in until the battles between William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt are fully explained in great detail. At this point Gould does a masterful job of discussing the underlying points of tension in a way that is neither partisan to one of the parties nor excessively sympathetic to the other. It is perhaps the most objective reading of the feud that dominated Republican and American politics in 1910s I have seen in any publication. (I will note I will soon read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book that focuses on this subject.)

Gould’s account of the 1920s takes into consideration the collapse the GOP would face beginning with the 1930 Congressional Elections. He begins to take a tone blaming the party’s isolationist and conservative economic wings for putting the party which has dominated American elections since the Civil War on a path to destruction. The alienation of the Midwestern and Plains States progressives, from traditionally Republican territory is told in vivid details as the party became more beholden than ever to Eastern banking and economic interests.

Beginning with the New Deal and culminating in the 1970s, the Republicans were a clear minority party in the United States. Gould takes us through the battles in the Republican Party between the wing that pushed a clear policy of accepting the New Deal and the conservative wing that was obsessed with anti-communism and rolling back the New Deal. As time went on the traditional Northeastern wing of the party that had been so conservative economically in the 1920s pushing Agrarian interests away from the GOP became more moderate and benefited from the Government largess (socialism as they had previously called it) created by FDR’s programs.

Post World War II, Gould continues describing the party’s hard-right and religious bent that formed out of the anti-communist movement with the help of such publications as Henry Luce’s Time and Colonel Robert McCormick’s Chicago Tribune. From there he continues to the turn of the century into the Clinton era where the Republicans convinced that the Democratic President was an illegitimate usurper of the office tried to tear him down every which way.

The narrative ends in the early part of the 2000s. This is a read well worth it for anybody interested in the history of political parties in the United States and the drift of the GOP from governing majority to oblivion back to majority and back towards the margins.

The book is available on Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers as well as in hardcover form. 

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