Nelson Rockefeller, racial politics, and the undoing of moderate Republicanism

Research output: Other contribution


“Nelson Rockefeller, Racial Politics, and the Undoing of Moderate Republicanism” examines shifts in the political terrain of the 1960s as related to social issues such as civil rights, crime, and welfare. The political career of Nelson Rockefeller, four-term Governor of New York (1958-1973), three-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and iconic twentieth century moderate Republican, serves as a lens for understanding many moderate and liberal politicians’ struggle to navigate racial politics before and after the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Rockefeller’s transition from racially liberal advocate for the end of Jim Crow to early adopter of punitive drug laws that disproportionately affected racial minorities provides insight into the difficulty faced by liberals, both Republican and Democratic, when race became central to the political debates of the 1960s. This work reveals that liberal support for racial parity fractured and further entrenched inequality when the nation’s focus shifted from equality under the law to the more complex and intractable issues of equality in economic opportunity, housing, schooling, and criminal justice. “Nelson Rockefeller, Racial Politics, and the Undoing of Moderate Republicanism” examines shifts in popular opinion alongside the actions of politicians and political activists to provide a new perspective on the passage of legislation and implementation of social policies. Charting Rockefeller’s political prospects through the reactions of his constituents also creates opportunities to understand the eclipse of the moderate Republican tradition without focusing on the rise of conservative Republican icons of the 1960s. This study relies upon varied sources such as the public and private papers of Nelson Rockefeller, constituent letters, documents produced by the Republican National Committee, popular periodicals, polling data, public hearings, oral histories, and visual artifacts to create a work that takes into account people from all castes and classes regardless of party affiliation who felt the effects of Rockefeller’s political activism.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherRutgers University
Number of pages416
StatePublished - Jan 2014


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