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Song - Artist -
Only Teardrops - Emmelie de Forest -
The Republican National Convention this week is, I think, an excellent moment to remember the ideological origins of the Grand Old Party.
At its founding in 1854, the Republican Party emerged out of the ruins of the Whig Party and other smaller factions. Largely these were people agitating for the end of chattel slavery and the Southern aristocracy born of it (or at least preventing the expansion of this model into the nascent western states - "Free Soilers"). People who wanted to see the United States move in the direction of modernity and equality.
So, in a word, modernizers - the Republican Party was a political organization with global historical implications at the moment of its creation. The party that carried the banner of social and land reform even through the darkest moments of the American Civil War.
And remember, fellow UConn students, you can thank the policies of the Republican Party for the school you attend. UConn is what's traditionally referred to as a "Land Grant College," created via the Morrill Act of 1862.
Justin Smith Morrill was a long-serving congressman (sitting in both the House and Senate) from Vermont and key player in the formation of the Republican Party. He believed that government had a role to play in promoting education and funding institutions which could research and develop practices beneficial to society. Agriculture was the primary concern of these colleges, which was appropriate in an era where a majority of the population was engaged in it.
Morrill was also a proponent of tariffs, in order to shield American industry and business from exactly the kind of slave-labor economies which were eventually dismantled in the Southern states. (Today we still face competition from what could charitably be called subsistence-wage economies, so I would argue that the need for this has not necessarily abated). The tariff also raised revenue for the federal government which could then be invested in beneficial infrastructure across the nation.
Today we call Republicans the "conservative" party. But what is conservatism? Lincoln was said to have once asked aloud "is it not adherence to the old and tried?"
Their economic thought was not utterly original. Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, was an advocate of protective tariffs and a national bank during the first administration of President Washington. Hamilton's ideas were famously carried on by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky who identified these core notions as pillars of the "American System." That is "three mutually reinforcing parts: a tariff to protect and promote American industry; a national bank to foster commerce; and federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other 'internal improvements' to develop profitable markets for agriculture."
Lincoln, the first Republican President, identified himself as a "Henry Clay tariff Whig."
Interestingly, Clay identified unfettered free-trade as the "British System." Indeed it was British economists like David Ricardo of the East India Company who promoted that anti-mercantile system most successfully (currently the amalgamated British-American power-bloc promotes this system through vehicles like the World Trade Organization).
Today we have almost no protection for domestic industry, and our national banking system is largely in private hands. There's little talk, really none among Republicans, about improving and expanding national infrastructure. The understanding that ease of travel and transport facilitates trade, in addition to increasing the quality of life for most citizens, seems to have been lost.
Indeed the Republican Party today is almost an inverse of its original form: aggressive proponents of military adventurism abroad and reactionary cultural tendencies at home. Cynically exploiting chauvinism among the masses as they pursue a policies of international free-trade in order grant the ruling class access to the vast pools of slave labor and tax havens outside our borders.
Perhaps as an organization the Republican Party is a lost cause; however, the practical notions and lofty ideals held by its early members are not, and must not become so.