The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 24, 2019

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Why I Am a Conservative: Stephen J. Tonsor
Stephen Tonsor (from MA 49:3, Summer 2007) - 10/02/08

Now, as I step into my garden, I realize what a profoundly conservative activity gardening is, and how much pulling a weed and hrusting a trowel into the soil affirm the conservative order.


Stephen J. Tonsor

Of course we are all born “little Liberals” or “little Conservatives” as others have observed, but the road to such identity is often complex and complicated.

My political awareness began at age four. My father, an early student of radio, had a set with earphones. When Al Smith was nominated for the presidency in 1927, my father placed the earphones on my head and let me hear the cheering at the nominating convention.

In 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover, my father fetched my brother and me from St. Bernard’s School and drove us to Alton, Illinois, where, close on the observation car at the rear of the Roosevelt train, we saw the future president who—important to us— introduced us to his sons.

These early encounters with the Democratic Party did not mean the family was “Liberal” and, indeed, as the increasing world crisis and the sputtering economy developed, my family turned increasingly away from “Democratic” politics. Although my father maintained his Democratic Party loyalty, my mother made crepe paper sunflowers and met with women’s groups supporting Alf Landon as presidential candidate.

In the autumn of 1941 I went off to Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. I was seventeen years old. I had rejected Antioch College because the dean who interviewed us had a pedicure. Blackburn’s president, “Prexy” Hudson, was a black-hearted Republican and a member of the Union League in Chicago.

At Blackburn College I met and romanced Rose Epstein, who was the secretary to the professor of German. Her father, Fritz Epstein, was a major figure in the Conservative movement yet to be born, and served at the Harvard Library, the Library of Congress, and, later, the Hoover Institution. The son, Klaus Epstein, was an early contributor to Modern Age.

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By This Author
Adams, Brooks
Adams, Henry

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