Columbia Professor Foner's sound and scholarly study is dedicated to the proposition that neither the ""irrepressible...


FREE SOIL, FREE LABOR, FREE MEN: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War

Columbia Professor Foner's sound and scholarly study is dedicated to the proposition that neither the ""irrepressible conflict"" school of Civil War historiography nor the revisionist ""blundering generation"" school has done justice to the role and the ideology of the Republican Party in assessing the causes and the nature of the North-South conflict. By dealing in broadly defined ""ideologies,"" Foner is able to incorporate useful elements from both schools of thought: ideology includes the beliefs and perceptions about America's past, present, and future that set North and South on a collision course but also the hatreds and fears that fostered misunderstanding and political blundering. Essentially, however, Foner falls within the ""irrepressible conflict"" camp: secession was the only action consistent with the South's ideology (not developed in detail here); the Republican decision to maintain the Union was inherent in their ideology (dissected quite minutely in the body of the book). By positing that the Republican ideology incorporated the basic values of the Northern public and provided the moral consensus for Northern mobilization, Foner reduces Northern sentiment to Republican beliefs. His careful analysis of the growth of the Republican party and its political positions revolves around the central tenets of ""free soil, free labor, and free men."" Throughout he illuminates the diversity of views within the Party and its leadership and the distinctive ideological contributions of its different elements--radicals, former Democrats, and moderate and conservative Whigs. The ambivalent and contradictory Republican responses to the troublesome issues of race and nativism are examined in depth, and related to the Republicans' paramount faith in a society of small-scale capitalism. Unlike some other current reevaluators of the American past, Foner is not concerned exclusively with demonstrating the ubiquity of white racism; he is alert to the positive contributions as well as the moral limitations of political anti-slavery. Nonetheless, contemporary appeal may expand what would otherwise be a largely academic audience.

Pub Date: April 23, 1970


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1970

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