The Republican Party’s “roots lie in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in spring 1854, when it became clear that elite southern slaveholders had taken control of the federal government and were using their power to spread their system of human enslavement across the continent,” historian Heather Cox Richardson’s Letter from an American began. She traces the party history sympathetically as a champion of liberty and government intervention in the economy, investing in infrastructure to help average Americans in the 19th and early 20th century.
She mentions the party’s advocacy for huge investments in the transcontinental railroad, the land-grant college system, and the Homestead Acts which promised free land to settlers of the West. They were key to expanding opportunity in the U.S. In the 1950s, she notes that President Dwight Eisenhower was a major supporter of the Interstate Highway System.
But the Republican Party has mostly abandoned that noble heritage, she argues. “In this moment, Republican lawmakers seem weirdly out of step with their party’s history as well as with the country,” she writes.