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Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more traditional elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".

The first established use of the term in a political context originated in 1818 with François-René de Chateaubriand during the period of Bourbon Restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Historically associated with right-wing politics, the term has since been used to describe a wide range of views. There is no single set of policies regarded as conservative because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. Thus conservatives from different parts of the world—each upholding their respective traditions—may disagree on a wide range of issues. Edmund Burke, an 18th-century politician who opposed the French Revolution but supported the American Revolution, is credited as one of the main theorists of conservatism in Great Britain in the 1790s.

According to Quintin Hogg, the chairman of the British Conservative Party in 1959: "Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself". In contrast to the tradition-based definition of conservatism, some political theorists such as Corey Robin define conservatism primarily in terms of a general defense of social and economic inequality. From this perspective, conservatism is less an attempt to uphold traditional institutions and more, "a meditation on—and theoretical rendition of—the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back".

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Alan Keyes speech.jpg
Alan Lee Keyes (born 1950) is an American conservative political activist, author, former diplomat, and perennial candidate for public office. A doctoral graduate of Harvard University, Keyes began his diplomatic career in 1979 at the United States consulate in Mumbai, India and the United States embassy in Zimbabwe. President Ronald Reagan appointed Keyes as Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations; in his capacities as a UN ambassador, among Keyes's accomplishments was contributing to the Mexico City Policy. He ran for President of the United States in 1996, 2000, and 2008, and was a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992, and 2004. Keyes served in the U.S. Foreign Service, was appointed Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations under President Ronald Reagan, and served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs from 1985 to 1987. Keyes also hosted a radio talk show, and a television commentary show on the MSNBC cable network.

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Now let us look at the ballot. We are told that this is an innovation, an unjust and an un-English measure. Much, I confess, is to be said on both sides, and I have not formed my opinion without deliberation, and I can see in the great constitution of my country a glorious and admirable structure, to which I would fain add two wings. Under the old system of representation I should not have thought ballot necessary, because that system was anomalous, and ballot could be of little use in a borough that had no electors. But if you will change, if you will give a constituency to every town returning members to Parliament, and if you will give to that constituency the legitimate right which the constitution contemplates, and which is a freeman's claim, you must add to the elective franchise vote by ballot. My gallant opponent, the breath of whose overpowering and convincing eloquence still hovers about the atmosphere of Wycombe, paused long before he indulged in the tirade which lately obtained so much notoriety through the medium of the 'Times' newspaper, I say to the son of the Prime Minister, that if the Whig ministry had not altered the representative system of the country, we should not have called for ballot ; but I now say, that in proportion as the electors increase in number, so does the necessity for the ballot. I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few. I alike detest the despotism of an oligarchy and the pre-eminence of a mob. I shall ever seek to confer the greatest happiness upon the greatest numbers, and I conscientiously believe that in advocating triennial Parliaments and vote by ballot, I am labouring to promote this desirable end. As a statesman I should say that it is impossible to refuse popular demands well matured and energetically supported. If so, let the people be fitted to discharge the functions reposed in them ; and, as the means to this great end, I would unflinchingly advocate the repeal of the taxes on knowledge, because, though we admire and enjoy the liberty of the press, yet we feel its tyranny. Now, taxed as it is, it requires a large capital to carry on a newspaper, and its interests once established by a large circle of readers, and by an immense supply of advertisements, it bids defiance to the small capitalists who would embark in an untaxed competition, but are now overwhelmed by the oppressive impost laid on by Government.

— Benjamin Disraeli, speech at High Wycombe, England (27 November 1832)

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The US Republican Party emerged in 1854, growing out of a coalition of anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats who mobilized in opposition to Stephen Douglas's January 1854 introduction of the Kansas–Nebraska Act into Congress, a bill which repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise prohibition on slavery in territory north of the 36° 30′ latitude line, and so was denounced as an aggressive expansionist pro-slavery maneuver by free soil and anti-slavery Northerners.

Two small cities of the Yankee diaspora, Ripon, Wisconsin and Jackson, Michigan, claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party (in other words, meetings held there were some of the first 1854 anti-Nebraska assemblies to call themselves "Republican." Ripon held the first county convention on March 20, 1854. Jackson held the first statewide convention on July 6, 1854; it declared their new party opposed to the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a state-wide slate of candidates.

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