The Conservatives

The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Conservatives
    Book Description:

    This lively book traces the development of American conservatism from Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Daniel Webster, through Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover, to William F. Buckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan, and William Kristol. Conservatism has assumed a variety of forms, historian Patrick Allitt argues, because it has been chiefly reactive, responding to perceived threats and challenges at different moments in the nation's history.

    While few Americans described themselves as conservatives before the 1930s, certain groups, beginning with the Federalists in the 1790s, can reasonably be thought of in that way. The book discusses changing ideas about what ought to be conserved, and why. Conservatives sometimes favored but at other times opposed a strong central government, sometimes criticized free-market capitalism but at other times supported it. Some denigrated democracy while others championed it. Core elements, however, have connected thinkers in a specifically American conservative tradition, in particular a skepticism about human equality and fears for the survival of civilization. Allitt brings the story of that tradition to the end of the twentieth century, examining how conservatives rose to dominance during the Cold War. Throughout the book he offers original insights into the connections between the development of conservatism and the larger history of the nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15529-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    From the late 1970s to the early twenty-first century, American conservatism was constantly in the news. Conservative intellectuals challenged nearly all the liberal verities of the 1950s and 1960s. Powerful conservative think tanks served up a steady stream of policy proposals, and politicians from both major parties took notice. New media outlets like CNN and Fox began to approach the news from an openly conservative vantage point, and by the 1990s some politicians were disavowing liberalism because even use of the “l word” appeared to cost them popular support.

    At the grassroots level such organizations as the Moral Majority and...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Federalists
    (pp. 6-26)

    In the history of the early republic, the term Federalist had two meanings. Both are important in the history of American conservative thought. First, Federalists were the politicians and thinkers of the 1780s who wrote the Constitution and argued in favor of using it in place of the Articles of Confederation. Their experiences since 1777 had convinced them that the Articles were too weak to hold the new nation together and that a stronger instrument of government was necessary. Their antagonists, the anti-Federalists, argued that the Constitution would rob citizens of their new liberties and would subordinate the states to...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Southern Conservatism
    (pp. 27-45)

    The south of the early republic was dominated by Jeffersonian Republicans, the Federalists’ great rival, though many of them also were profoundly conservative. Their conservatism was different from that of Hamilton, Adams, Ames, Otis, and Marshall, however, just as Southern conservatism has been distinct from its Northern counterpart throughout much of American history. At times the two have appeared to be almost polar opposites. While the Federalists struggled to establish a strong central executive and a national economic policy, believing them necessary to national survival and prosperity, their antagonists in the South opposed both. In their view a strong central...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Northern Antebellum Conservatism and the Whigs
    (pp. 46-66)

    Historians have long regarded the defeat of John Quincy Adams in the election of 1828 and the turbulent inauguration of President Andrew Jackson the following spring as symbolic moments in the development of American democracy. Men and women of all classes paraded to Congress with Jackson, listened to his inaugural address (given outdoors for the first time), and then, by the thousands, attended a White House reception, trampling flowers, drinking heartily, and making a boisterous assertion of their equality. Conservatives deplored the spectacle; one lady described it as “a rabble, a mob, of boys, negroes, women, children, scrambling, fighting, romping,”...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Conservatism and the Civil War
    (pp. 67-96)

    Think of the civil war as a conflict between two types of conservatism. Conservative Southern slaveholders, aggravated for thirty years by abolitionists and then horrified by John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and the election of Abraham Lincoln, came to believe that only by separating themselves from the Union could they preserve their society and their way of life. Calhoun’s works had convinced them that they were justified in doing so, and when they formed the Confederate States of America (CSA) they looked backward not forward, solemnly invoking the authority of the Founding Fathers. Lincoln, meanwhile, tutored by Webster and...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Conservatism After the Civil War
    (pp. 97-125)

    Industrialization and new technologies revolutionized the United States after the Civil War. Railroads linked previously remote areas, reducing cross-country travel times from months to days, and making possible for the first time the settlement and farming of the Great Plains. Large-scale production and refinement of oil provided a cheap illuminant and, later, fuel for automobiles. The mass production of high-quality iron and steel opened up new possibilities for high-rise buildings, strong light bridges, and a more durable urban infrastructure. Entrepreneurs and financiers grew rich in directing these changes; a few, such as John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Conservatism in the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 126-157)

    Two world-changing events of 1917 had profound effects on American conservatism. The first was America’s entry into World War I, and the second the Russian Revolution. From the first flowed, eventually, the American commitment to the role of superpower, and from the second came the great polar antagonism of the Cold War. Fear of socialism and communism, a persistent theme in conservative literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, crystallized in reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution but would not become an obsessive concern for American conservatives until after World War II. Of more immediate concern was whether America...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The New Conservatism, 1945–1964
    (pp. 158-190)

    The triumph of world war ii was the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The tragedy of World War II was that the only way to defeat one ruthless tyrant, Hitler, was by forming an alliance with another, Stalin. The Anglo-American-Soviet alliance during the war was full of strains and mutual suspicions. No sooner had the Allies overthrown the Third Reich than they began to fall out. Stalin believed that the Americans had betrayed him by postponing the Second Front (D-Day), finally engaging on continental Europe only in the summer of 1944, by which time German and Russian armies...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Movement Gains Allies, 1964–1980
    (pp. 191-223)

    Between 1964 and 1980 the Democratic New Deal coalition broke up. White Southerners, often socially conservative, began to vote Republican when black Southerners began to vote Democrat. Numerous blue-collar Northerners (the “hard hats” or, later, “Reagan Democrats”) also switched parties in reaction to the era’s political controversies over social, gender, and lifestyle issues. The upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s seemed politically radical at the time, but their long-term beneficiaries were conservatives. The conservative intellectual movement gained important allies in the sixties and seventies, the neoconservatives, former Cold War liberals who started to fear that society was deteriorating...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Reagan Revolution and the Climax of the Cold War
    (pp. 224-254)

    Conservatives felt exhilarated by Ronald Reagan’s election victory in 1980. Would he now enact their long-awaited transformation of American politics? No, because different conservatives wanted different things, and to gratify one group would be to disappoint others. He could not simultaneously legislate on behalf of family cohesion and roll back the heavy hand of government. Neither could he slash federal expenditures and taxes while elevating America’s military might to impose unbearable pressure on the Soviet Union.

    The 1980s was a decade of triumph and dismay for American conservatives. Not only did the movement have to find a way to deal...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Conservatives After the Cold War, 1989–2001
    (pp. 255-276)

    Two years after the berlin wall fell, Germany was reunited and the Soviet Union dissolved. Russia lurched toward democracy while its old satellites became new self-governing post-Soviet states. The Cold War, a central fact of world politics for nearly half a century, had ended without the long-dreaded exchange of nuclear weapons. China, North Korea, and Cuba retained a vestigial loyalty to Marxism, but the old claim that sooner or later communism would conquer the world had completely evaporated.

    Conservatives rejoiced, but the vanquishing of their great foe presented dilemmas as well as delights. After all, anticommunism had been the glue...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 277-280)

    The attack on the world trade center and the Pentagon in September 2001 opened a new era in American political history. American armies invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrew old regimes, and struggled to create new ones, along lines proposed by the contributors to William Kristol and Robert Kagan’sPresent Dangers. As I write these words, neither campaign has reached a satisfactory conclusion, and the wars have provoked a sharp debate among conservative intellectuals, as well as among their critics. Rather than attempt a detailed analysis of this most recent controversy, whose outcome remains so uncertain, I end this account with...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 281-314)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 315-325)