Preserving the White Man’s Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism
By Joshua A. Lynn
In Preserving the White Man’s Republic, Joshua Lynn reveals how the national Democratic Party rebranded majoritarian democracy and liberal individualism as conservative means for white men in the South and North to preserve their mastery on the eve of the Civil War.
Responding to fears of African American and female political agency, Democrats in the late 1840s and 1850s reinvented themselves as “conservatives” and repurposed Jacksonian Democracy as a tool for local majorities of white men to police racial and gender boundaries by democratically withholding rights. With the policy of “popular sovereignty,” Democrats left slavery’s expansion to white men’s democratic decision-making. They also promised white men local democracy and individual autonomy regarding temperance, religion, and nativism. Translating white men’s household mastery into political power over all women and Americans of color, Democrats united white men nationwide and made democracy a conservative assertion of white manhood.
Democrats thereby turned traditional Jacksonian principles—grassroots democracy, liberal individualism, and anti-statism—into staples of conservatism. As Lynn’s book shows, this movement sent conservatism on a new, populist trajectory, one in which democracy can be called upon to legitimize inequality and hierarchy, a uniquely American conservatism that endures in our republic today.
Joshua A. Lynn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Eastern Kentucky University and has previously taught at Yale University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He studies nineteenth-century politics, culture, and political thought in the United States. His research focuses on the intersection of political culture with constructions of race, gender, and sexuality. Professor Lynn is also an historian of American conservatism. He is currently working on his second book, The Black Douglass and the White Douglas: Embodying Race, Manhood, and Democracy in Civil War America. It will examine the long-running feud between Frederick Douglass and Stephen A. Douglas and their competing conceptions of race, gender, and democracy.
Professor Lynn is a Jack Miller Center Fellow.
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