Review: ‘Conservative Heroes’ profiles 14 politicians who wanted limited role for government

President Grover Cleveland does not get a lot favorable publicity these days, if he is remembered at all.

But Garland S. Tucker III, a Raleigh business executive, hopes to help remedy that with his new book, “Conservative Heroes.” Cleveland is one of 14 American conservatives who are profiled in Tucker’s book.

Many are well-known figures, such as Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and William Buckley. But Tucker hopes to rescue some forgotten figures from the dusty pages of history, such as Cleveland in an effort to remind readers of America’s conservative tradition.

Cleveland, a conservative Democrat who served two separate terms (1885-89, 1893-97) fought for the Gold Standard and opposed Free Silver, vetoed a record 584 bills, implemented civil service reform at a time of widespread patronage abuse, worked to reduce tariffs, and interceded in a Pullman Strike.

“As a reformer in a corrupt era, Cleveland breathed new life into the old Jeffersonian concepts of economy, limited government, strict constructionism, and personal liberty in the face of an ascendant, combative progressivism,” Tucker writes.

Tucker is the chairman and CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation and writes history in his spare time. His first book on the 1924 presidential race, “The High Tide of American Conservatism,” received favorable national attention. He is also involved in politics, recently holding a fundraising luncheon for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a GOP presidential candidate, at his home.

For a conservative like Tucker, the mark of an excellent leader is one who advocates limited government. So he champions Cleveland, not Teddy Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge, not Franklin Roosevelt.

Tucker suggests that historical writing has been overly influenced by liberals such as Arthur Schlesinger, Henry Steele Commager, Allan Nevins, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. More attention, he suggests, should be paid to conservative historians such as Paul Johnson, Clinton Rossiter, Nial Ferguson, Russell Kirk and Amity Shlaes.

Two North Carolinians are included in Tucker’s profiles – Nathaniel Macon and Josiah Bailey.

Macon, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and friend of Thomas Jefferson, was an influential if largely forgotten figure. He served 40 years in Congress, where he believed the federal government should do very little indeed. He also helped shape North Carolina during the 19th century, contributing, in my opinion, to the Tar Heel State earning the reputation as “the Rip Van Winkle State.”

Bailey, a senator from Raleigh, was initially a New Deal supporter, but became disenchanted with the growth of federal programs and particularly with Roosevelt’s plan to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 15 members.

Bailey played an instrumental role in devising the Conservative Manifesto in 1937, laying out opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal program as well as enunciating 10 conservative principles. The Manifesto would serve as a conservative rallying point for its post-New Deal revival.

Christensen: 919-829-4532;

Twitter: @oldpolhack


Conservative Heroes

Garland S. Tucker

ISI Books, 224 pages