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The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War

Tekijä: Joanne B. Freeman

Muut tekijät: Katso muut tekijät -osio.

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
4451355,208 (4.24)12
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.… (lisätietoja)
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So much of what we learn from Dr. Freeman’s “The Field of Blood: Violence in the Congress and the Road to Civil War” is relevant to today’s Congress that I shudder to think of what could happen were US legislators today allowed to pack guns on their bodies in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, as they were allowed to do in the 19th century.

Many of the ingredients for civil war in the 19th century are there again: refusal to compromise between party factions, incentives to back up strong words with stronger medicine (“Lock her up!”), and powerful outside interests to keep the warring factions apart.

Few Americans today recall that their early representatives fought physically in the houses of Congress, that they sat and spat tobacco juice from their chairs sometimes hitting, sometimes missing their targets, and that they legislated well into the night sometimes so thoroughly intoxicated that they spread themselves out over their desks.

In some ways, the American Civil War had several dress rehearsals in Congress: men fought and yelled and bullied each other. Southerners bullied some northerners into duels, caned them when they wouldn’t yield, and insulted them to feed the frenzy.

They fought on the floor of the House, they attacked one another outside the Capitol on the streets of Washington, and they abused them while at a meal or drinking session in public houses.

The institution of slavery was the source of many disputes and they did not wait very long after Confederation before they came front and centre to the operation of government.

The American experiment grew quickly: many new states came into being not long after the original ink was dry. With new states inevitably came the question of whether they were to be free or slave states. John Quincy Adams, only the sixth US President, stayed on after his Presidential term in office (1825-1829) in the House of Representatives and repeatedly fought the “gag rules” intended to prevent a discussion to ban slavery in the United States.

I picked up this work because I am thoroughly engrossed in the question of why were southerners so intent on perpetuating violence against their former slaves. This volume held some hints.

For one thing, the culture of a code of honour prevented southerners from forgetting that their birthright had been stolen from them. They continued to believe that the blacks were inferior to them and it enraged many that after the 1860’s blacks were equal to them before the law.

But it is also so because violence was so common and in many ways acceptable behaviour when one was wronged. This culture seeped into the American response to aboriginal groups no less than against the imported black population.

And that undercurrent of violence feeds present obsession with the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.

Violence came with the untethered frontier, but it was not only the frontier where men were expected to defend the homestead. It happened wherever personal or state rights were believed under threat.

The presence of bullying and violence in the national capitol led me to ask a question Dr. Freemen does not broach in this book: given the culture of intimidation present, how good were American legislators during this period? There was no parallel experiment in operation during the same years, although we Canadians and our Australian cousins had similar institutions of self government on the frontier.

That Civil War actually broke out leads us to the conclusion that they ultimately failed, either because they were poor legislators, or because the early framers of the Constitution stacked the deck against them. Because States’ right were so integral to the system, Civil War was bound to develop eventually.

And that very same structure today inhibits US governments from acting in concert with other nations to slow global warming. That goose called “sovereignty” will cook us all. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
Very good. Follows Benjamin Brown French of New Hampshire through his detailed dairies the years in congress leading up to civil war and his transformation from sympathetic 'live and let live' attitude to slaveholders to yankee abolitionist by witnessing the thuggery of southern congressmen. ( )
  BookyMaven | Dec 6, 2023 |
"The United States is no longer to be triumphed over as if it were a coward and dared not protect himself!"

Essential book on the origins of the Civil War that establishes the importance of violent clashes in Congress to the emotions and mentalities of either side. Southerners asserting their honor by violently resenting anti-Slave Power denunciations, and Northerners and Whigs first suffering attack then Republicans priding themselves on fighting back, were issues of critical public importance as the conflict developed, and helped create an atmosphere in which backing down became unacceptable. ( )
  fji65hj7 | May 14, 2023 |
Ugh. All of these research books that take up an inordinate amount of space with footnotes. 65% of the book this time. Anyway.

This is a look into fighting in Congress (more specifically the House, and even more specifically in the period of roughly 1833 to 1860). Freeman has chosen B.B. French, a Democrat clerk in the House, as her looking-glass into the personalities in the House at this time.

The style of writing is probably pretty close to how I would have liked to have written my history papers. This means there's a little too much emphasis on specific events, when I would like a broader overview of what's going on, and all of the trends in Congress. I'd like more quantitative data.

Freeman obviously read all of these accounts (seriously, hundreds of pages of footnotes), but it would have been nice if she could have uncoupled from French a bit more to show other points of view. He was a very behind-the-scenes guy, and wasn't really being accosted or challenged because he wasn't a Congressman, so his opinions for or against dueling weren't really with the expectation that he would have to face them regularly (unlike Giddings or perhaps John Quincy Adams). ( )
  Tikimoof | Feb 17, 2022 |
I thought her premise was interesting but it was just buried in piles of stories of physical violence and threatened violence and the culture of duels and actual duels and more. I did think the diaries of B. B. French would prove to be a interesting connection point but she kept diverting away from them and I lost the thread more than once. I would have enjoyed it more if it was more focused and a bit more chronological. By the end it did just feel like a slog.
  amyem58 | Jan 2, 2022 |
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Tekijän nimiRooliTekijän tyyppiKoskeeko teosta?Tila
Freeman, Joanne B.Tekijäensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetvahvistettu
Freeman, Joanne B.Kertojamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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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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