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Dissertation

"A Generational Divide: The Reconstruction of American Party Politics, 1865-1912."

Abstract

American historians have traditionally divided the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era; however, the arbitrary periodization of each era obscures more than it reveals.  My dissertation argues that the Republican and Democratic Parties--like the American nation--passed through a period of reconstruction.  Using the four-way presidential elections of 1860 and 1912 as bookends, I examine national politics through the lens of the two generations of politicians—the Civil War and Progressive generations—who oversaw the United States’ transition from an agricultural to an industrial political economy.  The Civil War generation’s inability to address the excesses of industrialization called into question classical liberalism’s emphasis on unfettered individualism, leading  a younger generation of Republican and Democratic reformers to abandon party orthodoxy.  Touching of an internecine intergenerational struggle that spread from Democrats, in 1896, to Republicans, in 1912, both parties coalesced around competing visions of a federal regulatory state that took shape, ultimately bringing the reconstruction of American party politics to its conclusion.

Future Projects

  • Protectionism and "Economic Nationalism": I am currently working on a journal article exploring the roots of modern American economic nationalism during the 1880s and 1890s.  The article will focus on the Republican Party's emerging alliance with industrialists as the nineteenth century drew to a conclusion.  In particular, it will interrogate how the collapse of Reconstruction governments in the South served as a tool to cement an alliance with industrialists, provide the party with an advantage in Congress and the Electoral College, and convince workers and farmers that the same policies which fostered exploding class disparities were the source to widespread economic mobility.

 

  • Biography of New York Senator Roscoe Conkling: Following the publication of my dissertation, my next book project will be a political biography of New York Senator and Stalwart Republican leader Roscoe Conkling.  Although Conkling was one of the most consequential figures during the Grant, Hayes, and Garfield administrations, the last serious study of Conkling was published in the 1930s.  The biography will focus on the role that he played as a member of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, his role in trying to undermine civil service reform during the Hayes and Garfield administrations, and his extraordinary fall from power on the eve of President James Garfield's assassination before becoming a corporate lawyer and devising the legal theory of "corporate personhood."