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In the early hours of 9 May 1970, Richard Nixon made an impromptu visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The president met with anti-war protestors rallying in the nation’s capital, discussing both his love for the monument and the disparate problems which the US faced. Later that day, Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s combative vice president, gave the dedication address at Stone Mountain – three giant reliefs of Confederate luminaries carved in stone near Atlanta, Georgia. This dramatic contrast captures perfectly the duality and contradictions of Nixon’s GOP: a party which was trying, literally and figuratively, to stand in the shadows of both Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. 

My IHR paper analyses the role and importance of Civil War memories within the Nixon administration (1969-1974). This period followed the dramatic racial upheavals and political revolutions of the 1960s, during which historical references regularly suffused public and partisan debates. It considers how Nixon and his allies utilised Civil War allusions to advance their political goals. In particular, I examine the Lost Cause invocations which Nixon, Agnew, and Dixie partisans employed to promote the continued growth of southern Republicanism. Moreover, this paper foregrounds Republican groups and individuals who resisted Nixon’s (racially) conservative designs. In particular, it examines GOP progressives like the Ripon Society and Edward Brooke, assessing whether they relied on similar or different historical narratives. Overall, my work demonstrates how Civil War memory was central to Republican intra-party conflicts during the Nixon administration, offering valuable new insights into the political transformations and divisions of the long civil rights era. 

This paper forms part of the final chapter of my book manuscript, which I will be submitting around September 2024. (I have signed an advance contract with a US university press). The chapter is a continuation of the rest of my manuscript, which analyses Civil War memory and the Republican Party between 1960 and 1968. After studying how rival Republicans used contested and competing historical allusions while the GOP was out of the White House, this section reflects on the role of Civil War memory within Nixon’s presidency. It develops themes and conclusions drawn earlier in my work. These include the importance of Lost Cause narratives in the emergence of a two-party South, Nixon’s utilitarian relationship with Civil War (especially Lincoln) memory, and the value of emancipationist references to Black and white GOP progressives. This paper/chapter sustains the overall argument of my work: that Republicans used Civil War memories instrumentally to support, oppose, and shape the GOP’s transformation into a racially conservative party during the civil rights era.

Timothy Galsworthy is Lecturer in History/Military History at Bishop Grosseteste University.

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