They don't make political rhetoric like they used to. "As you are about to pitch your tent in one of the great political camps," said the orator, don't choose the Democratic party. "It is a sad place, young man, for you to put your young life into. It is to me far more like a graveyard than like a camp for the living. Look at it! It is billowed all over with the graves of dead issues, of buried opinions, of exploded theories, of disgraced doctrines."
The speaker was a future president then in his 40s, but already distinguished as an Army general and a leader of his party in Congress: James A. Garfield. He represented the far northeastern corner of Ohio, part of the Western Reserve allotted to Connecticut in the 1780s and then ceded to Ohio in 1800 and settled by New England Yankees who became staunch supporters of temperance, women's rights, abolition of slavery and the Republican party. Garfield's district was one of the most heavily Republican in post-Civil War America and he was first elected to the House in the midst of that conflict, in which he had been promoted to general. He became one of the party's leaders in the House, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and, after Republicans lost their majority in 1874, the equivalent of House minority leader. He was elected president in 1880, the only serving member of the House to have won a presidential election, but was shot by a crazed office seeker and died in September 1881, weeks short of his 50th birthday.
Garfield's career is only one of many recalled by Michael Zak on his Grand Old Partisan website, and in his book which chronicles the GOP: Back to Basics for the Republican Party. Much of American history has been written by partisan Democrats, who lionize their party's ancient champions even when those men's views are quite different from (and repugnant to) both Democrats and Republicans today. Andrew Jackson, a believer in free markets and a foe of crony capitalists, is portrayed as an earlier version of today's Democrats who take something like the opposite stands. Zak presents a useful antidote, a different view of party politics, from an admitted Republican partisan.