The Roots of Modern Conservatism

Dewey, Taft, and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party

By Michael Bowen

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1896-8
    Published: August 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6919-2
    Published: September 2011

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Between 1944 and 1953, a power struggle emerged between New York governor Thomas Dewey and U.S. senator Robert Taft of Ohio that threatened to split the Republican Party. In The Roots of Modern Conservatism, Michael Bowen reveals how this two-man battle for control of the GOP--and the Republican presidential nomination--escalated into a divide of ideology that ultimately determined the party's political identity.

Initially, Bowen argues, the separate Dewey and Taft factions endorsed fairly traditional Republican policies. However, as their conflict deepened, the normally mundane issues of political factions, such as patronage and fund-raising, were overshadowed by the question of what "true" Republicanism meant. Taft emerged as the more conservative of the two leaders, while Dewey viewed Taft's policies as outdated. Eventually, conservatives within the GOP organized against Dewey's leadership and, emboldened by the election of Dwight Eisenhower, transformed the party into a vehicle for the Right. Bowen reveals how this decade-long battle led to an outpouring of conservative sentiment that had been building since World War II, setting the stage for the ascendancy of Barry Goldwater and the modern conservative movement in the 1960s.

About the Author

Michael Bowen is visiting assistant professor at John Carroll University.
For more information about Michael Bowen, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

“This is a masterful treatment of a time when the Republican Party was truly a minority party, and an adroit explanation of how it began to lift itself out of the doldrums.”--North Carolina Historical Review

"This book makes a necessary correction to our understanding of the history of conservatism and the Republican party, and it will be useful for scholars, graduates, and upper-level undergraduates."--Journal of American History

“[A] judicious and timely account.”--The Historian

“Bowen offers a convincing account of the demise of Dewey’s moderate Republicanism and Taft’s Old Guard.”--Kansas History

“Explore[s] in insightful ways American political developments during the 1940s and 1950s. . . . [It] merit[s] wide attention.”--International Social Science Review

"A detailed, interesting, even intriguing investigation. . . . Through careful analysis of archival material, news and magazine accounts, and the writings of other scholars, Bowen tells a lively and largely well written story about ideas, politics, egos, and both good and bad decisions."--Florida Historical Quarterly