Heather Cox Richardson’s provocative “To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party” (Basic Books) is a book that will please left-leaning readers but shouldn’t be ignored by conservatives because it provides insight regarding how liberal outsiders view the GOP.
The Boston College history professor portrays the party’s history as a cyclical continuation of the Hamiltonian/Jeffersonian debate about government’s proper role. She says such Republicans as Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower presided over “progressive” eras of government expansion and spreading the wealth, only to inspire small-government, pro-business backlashes championed by such Republicans as Ronald Reagan. She correlates this cycle with financial crises including the 2008 crash, which preceded the tea-party movement’s small-government backlash within the GOP.
Such internal differences have always been part of Republicans’ history. But Richardson’s premise stems from the notion that Abraham Lincoln and other early Republicans aimed mainly to achieve greater economic equality and curb the influence of the rich — not to safeguard Americans’ freedoms, preserve the Union or end slavery.
Richardson thus views GOP history through a sort of class-warfare prism. That’s a bit much, even for mainstream liberal tastes: