The period from 1850 to 1876 was the most transformative era in
American history. During the course of this tumultuous quarter
century Americans fought a bloody civil war, tried to settle the
issue of state versus central government power, recognized the
dominance of the new industrial economy over the older agricultural
one, and ended slavery, long the shame of the nation. At the same
time, a major political realignment occurred with the collapse of
the "second American party system" and the emergence of a new
party, the Republicans.
But the defeat of slavery-the chief catalyst for the birth of the
Republican party-was at best a limited success. The Constitution
had been rewritten to abolish slavery and guarantee equal
protection under the law, but social equality for African Americans
and expanding freedom for others remained elusive throughout the
nation. For these triumphs and enduring tragedy, the Republican
party, which became in time and memory the party of Abraham
Lincoln, bore primary responsibility.
This collection of six original essays by some of America's most
distinguished historians of the Civil War era examines the origins
and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first
generation. The essays consider the party in terms of its identity,
interests, ideology, images, and individuals, always with an eye to
the ways the Republican party influenced midnineteenth-century
concerns over national character, political power, race, and civil
The authors collectively extend their inquiries from the 1850s
through the 1870s to understand the processes whereby the second
American party system broke down, a new party and politics emerged,
the Civil War came, and a new political and social order developed.
They especially consider how ideas about freedom in the 1850s
coalesced during war and Reconstruction to produce both an expanded
call for political and civil rights for the ex-slaves and a concern
over expanded federal involvement in the protection of those
rights. By observing the transformation of a sectional party born
in the 1850s into the "Grand Old Party" by the 1870s, the authors
demonstrate that no modern political party, even the one that
claims descent from Lincoln, has surpassed the accomplishments of
the first generation of Republicans.
Jean H. Baker, Professor of History at Goucher
College, Maryland, is author of Mary Todd Lincoln: A
Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at
Columbia University, is author of Reconstruction: America's
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, winner of the Bancroft
Michael F. Holt, Langbourne M. Williams Professor
of American History at the University of Virginia, is author of
The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian
Politics and the Onset of the Civil War.
James M. McPherson, Professor of History at
Princeton University, is author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The
Civil War Era, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Mark E. Neely, Jr., McCabe-Greer Professor in the
American Civil War Era at Pennsylvania State University, is author
of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil
Liberties, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Phillip Shaw Paludan, Naomi Lynn Professor of
Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is
author of The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, winner of the
Brooks D. Simpson, Professor of History at Arizona
State University, is author of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over
Published in cooperation with The Library Company of
Subjects: Political Science
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