The turnout was greater than expected for the first convention of the Republican Party on July 6, 1854. So on that langorous summer day, hundreds of people wandered to the edge of the village of Jackson, Mich., to assemble in the shade of a grove of majestic oaks. Ever since, Republicans have been returning to the spot in search, as it were, of their roots. Although most of the trees have disappeared over the years, there were enough limbs left to furnish the gavel for the 1972 G.O.P. National Convention. But Richard Nixon may be the last President to...

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