Cover image for The field of blood : congressional violence and the road to civil war
Title:
The field of blood : congressional violence and the road to civil war
Author:
Freeman, Joanne B., 1962- author.
ISBN:
9780374154776
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
450 pages ; 24 cm.
Abstract:
The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War. In The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery. These fights didn't happen in a vacuum. Freeman's dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities--the feel, sense, and sound of it--as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

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Summary

Summary

The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War

In The Field of Blood , Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn't happen in a vacuum. Freeman's dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities--the feel, sense, and sound of it--as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.


Author Notes

Joanne B. Freeman is assistant professor of history at Yale University. She recently appeared in the PBS American Experience documentary "The Duel", exploring the fatal 1804 clash between Burr and Hamilton.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks bludgeoned Senator Charles Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor. He was avenging an insult to his relative in a speech Sumner gave about ""bleeding Kansas."" Supposedly, members of the press and public were shocked by this violent act in Congress, but Freeman, professor of American Studies at Yale, indicates that this attack was only the most publicized incident in a rising tide of violence between legislators. In most cases, slavery triggered the conflicts. Those ranged from in your face shoving matches to the brandishing of firearms to an all-out brawl. According to Freeman, these weren't all simple flashes of temper. Rather, southerners pursued a strategy of physical and verbal intimidation, believing that Yankees lacked the manliness to defend their honor. This aggression reflected the mounting violence at large over slavery. Freeman also observes that increased press coverage of Congress and ""sensationalized"" journalism exacerbated the intensity of lawmaker emotions. This is a finely researched and well-written examination of the often overlooked legislative breakdown that preceded the Civil War.--Jay Freeman Copyright 2018 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

History professor and podcaster Freeman (Affairs of Honor) excavates a little-discussed aspect of American history in this scholarly but brisk and accessible account. She draws extensively on the journals of Benjamin Brown French, who, as a clerk in the House of Representatives, had a front-row seat to the posturing, name-calling, dueling, and brawling that regularly erupted in Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War. While members historically sparred along party and regional lines, the issue of slavery combined with bullying insults to various members' masculinity led to frequent intimidation and violence. The journals also detail French's transformation from an early Jacksonian Democrat to a weary Republican ready for the South's departure, paralleling the evolution of other Northerners' thinking. French's long-standing friendship with the unmemorable Franklin Pierce provides fresh insight into the political culture of the time, and the descriptions of the tragicomic Cilley-Graves duel and the horrific caning of Charles Sumner are detailed and thoughtful. Freeman writes from the northern point of view, and the Southerners read as a monolithic group of bullies. Freeman grants followers of modern politics a look back at another fascinating, impassioned period of change in which Congress became full of "distrust, defensiveness, and degradation," mimicking the constituents at home. Agent: Wendy Strothman, the Strothman Agency. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Benjamin French, a New Hampshire native, spent more than three decades living and working in Washington, DC, first as a clerk and then clerk of the House of Representatives. Little escaped his attention, and several details were recorded in his voluminous diary. This unique source, used to great effect by historian Freeman (history, Yale Univ.; Affairs of Honor), helps to uncover the rowdy and violent behavior in the House that mirrored the wider society in the decades preceding the American Civil War. Behind the fistfights, guns, knives, and duels lied a deeper threat the author describes as a process of disunion. Southerners, with their deeply ingrained code of honor, who viewed criticism of slavery as a personal affront, bullied House members who crossed them, using duel challenges or procedural rules to silence debate. Freeman traces how regional and party differences solidified into two intractable and hostile camps. Congressional violence was but a telling symptom of the deepening sectional and political divide preceding the Civil War. VERDICT A thought-provoking and insightful read for anybody interested in American politics in the lead up to the Civil War.-Chad E. Statler, Westlake Porter P.L., Westlake, OH © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Author's Notep. xiii
Introductions: Tobacco-Stained Rugs and Benjamin Brown Frenchp. 3
1 The Union Incarnate for Better and Worse: The United States Congressp. 21
2 The Mix: of Men in Congress: Meeting Place of North and Southp. 45
3 The Pull and Power of Violence: The Cilley-Graves Duel (1838)p. 75
4 Rules of Order and the Rule of Force: Dangerous Words and the Gag Rule Debate (1836-44)p. 112
5 Fighting for the Union: The Compromised 1850 and the Benton-Foote Scuffle (1850)p. 142
6 A Tale of Two Conspiracies: The Power of the Press and the Battle over Kansas (1854-55)p. 177
7 Republicans Meet the Slave Power: Charles Sumner and Beyond (1855-61)p. 208
Epilogue: "I Witnessed It All"p. 265
Appendix A A Word About Words: Party Abbreviations and Sectional Loyaltiesp. 287
Appendix B A Note on Method: Constructing Fights and Deconstructing Emotionsp. 289
Notesp. 293
Selected Bibliographyp. 395
Acknowledgmentsp. 429
Indexp. 433

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