Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Booknotes: The Last Lincoln Republican

New Arrival:
The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880 by Benjamin T. Arrington (UP of Kansas, 2020).

The latest volume from UPK's American Presidential Elections series (which includes Michael Holt's excellent study of the 1860 election) is Benjamin Arrington's The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880. In it Arrington, the site manager at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Ohio, suggests that the Garfield presidency, which was tragically cut very short by an assassin's bullet, would have been history-altering on a significant national scale.

From the description: "Of all the great “what if” scenarios in American history, the aftermath of the presidential election of 1880 stands out as one of the most tantalizing. The end of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln had thrown the future of Lincoln’s vision for the country into considerable doubt; the years that followed—marked by impeachment, constitutional change, presidential scandals, and the contested election of 1876—saw Republicans fighting to retain power as they transitioned into the party of “big business.” Enter James A. Garfield, a seasoned politician known for his advocacy of civil rights, who represented the last potential Reconstruction presidency: truly, Benjamin T. Arrington suggests in this book, the last “Lincoln Republican.”"

Arrington's narrative marks the 1880 election as "a political drama of lasting consequence and dashed possibilities." More from the description: "A fierce opponent of slavery before the war, Garfield had fought for civil rights for African Americans for years in Congress. Holding true to the original values of the Republican Party, Garfield wanted to promote equal opportunity for all; meanwhile, Democrats, led by Winfield Scott Hancock, sought to return the South to white supremacy and an inferior status for African Americans. With its in-depth account of the personalities and issues at play in 1880, Arrington’s book provides a unique perspective on how this critical election continues to resonate through our national politics and culture to this day."

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