You are here

Preserving the White Man's Republic

Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism
Joshua A. Lynn

BUY Ebook · 288 pp. · ISBN 9780813942513 · $39.50 · Apr 2019

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 Lynn is one of those rare historians who can take an old subject and make it new by discovering unusual documents and crisply new insights. Preserving the White Man's Republic is timely, beautifully written, and original; antebellum Democrats fashioned a white nationalism that propelled the process of disunion and left a lasting legacy of racism inextricably linked to conservatism. Lynn does a sparkling kind of political history—about ideas—that the field dearly needs.

David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

A fine work of scholarship. Its many strengths include solid research and a rich and nuanced reading of Democrats’ ideology in a crucial period in that party’s existence.

Matthew Mason, Brigham Young University, author of Apostle of Union: A Political Biography of Edward Everett

Joshua Lynn's tightly-argued and engagingly written book connects the fundamental components of Jacksonian democracy--republican equality, majoritarian politics, and hostility to an overbearing government--to later manifestations of American conservatism. In the process, he demonstrates persuasively that the Democratic Party of the late 1840s and 1850s (the "interbellum era" between the Mexican War and the Civil War, as Lynn refers to it), with its racism, reactionary elements, and pro-Southern orientation, did not abandon its original Jacksonian roots.

Christopher Leahy

Lynn (Eastern Kentucky Univ.) looks at Jacksonian Democrats from a stimulating perspective as he examines the twists and turns that changed the party's original democratic and egalitarian ethos to one of overall conservatism.... [T]he author's voluminous research and his forceful arguments, abetted by the use of insightful quotations, merit wide scholarly attention. Summing Up: Highly recommended.


About the Author(s): 

Joshua A. Lynn is Associate Professor of History at Eastern Kentucky University.

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books