"Conservatism as a political and social philosophy promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others, called reactionaries, oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were."
Wikipedia's definition of conservatism is a bit simplistic, but it's good enough for government work: conservatives generally want to keep things as they are, and reactionaries want to return things to the way they used to be. In neither case is moving forward considered to be a good thing. It's the liberals who are always talking about hope and change and leaving the bad old days behind. The tension between the two worldviews has always been present in American life. In recent times America's conservative movement has been defined by its strong religiosity and high esteem for institutions like the military and police, while liberalism pushes toward modernity and social evolution. The push and pull between those two philosophical poles has been a feature of American culture at least since Alexis de Tocqueville made his anthropological field trip back in the 1830s."