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

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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 Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, Freeman shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions often w The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, Freeman shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions often were punctuated with 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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The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, Freeman shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions often w The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, Freeman shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions often were punctuated with 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    I watched every minute of the Kavanaugh hearings, appalled at the procedural bullying of the Republicans, the cries of anguish from the female protestors, and I said to myself: could the atmosphere in Congress ever have been worse than this? It was then that I remembered my history, how—sometime in the late 1850’s--an abolitionist U.S. senator was caned by a Southern member of the House, beaten within an inch of his life on the Senate floor itself! If you read Joanne B. Freeman’s excellent histor I watched every minute of the Kavanaugh hearings, appalled at the procedural bullying of the Republicans, the cries of anguish from the female protestors, and I said to myself: could the atmosphere in Congress ever have been worse than this? It was then that I remembered my history, how—sometime in the late 1850’s--an abolitionist U.S. senator was caned by a Southern member of the House, beaten within an inch of his life on the Senate floor itself! If you read Joanne B. Freeman’s excellent history The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, you will learn all about this May 22, 1856 attack by Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) upon Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA). You will learn about Sumner’s fiery speech against slavery, a speech including derogatory references to Senator Andrew Butler (D-SC), Brooks’ second cousin, and of Brook’s resolve to avenge the honor of his family, his state, and his culture’s “peculiar institution.” And you will also learn about Republican anger, the intensity of their “resistance,” their determination to no longer be intimidated into silence by the bully boys and duelists of the South: Northern congressmen were rising up and their chief weapons were the right of free speech and their willingness to fight for that right. Massachusetts Republican Chauncey Knapp's constituents said as much in June 1856 when they saw him off as he headed back to Washington. Just before Knapp boarded the train, a small assembly of people gave him a parting gift of use in Congress: a revolver inscribed with the words “Free Speech.” You see, the Caning of Sumner was not an isolated incident, but a culmination, and because it was a culmination, it also functioned as a powerful symbol. Southern congressmen, ever quick to defend their honor, had been threatening their Northern counterparts with duels, street fights, and public beatings for a quarter of a century, and the Northerners—unaccustomed to the barbarous aspects of chivalry—endeavored not to offend their prickly neighbors from the South. And of course the thing that offended these gentlemen most was any criticism of slavery. When abolitionist agitation intensified in the early ‘30’s, the violence began to increase, and starting in 1836 a series of “gag rules” were passed to prohibit anti-slavery petitions from being read or discussed on the House floor. John Quincey Adams and Joshua Giddings of Ohio were the only congressmen who routinely defied this rule, probably because Adams was too old to attack physically and Giddings, the “anti-slavery toreador” was just too big and formidable to mess with. Still, the threats, the challenges and the fist fights continued. And the antebellum Whigs and Republicans, blocked at every turn by Southern bullying and procedural boondoggles, finally--like the progressive women of today--got mad as hell and refused to take it anymore. Joanne Freeman does an excellent job of painting, in vivid detail, the chaotic atmosphere of the House of Representatives: the widespread tobacco spitting, the drunkenness (particularly notable during evening sessions), the bowie knives and pistols routinely carried onto the senate floor. She also does a good job of sorting out—from conflicting accounts, many of which euphemize the violence—what precisely happened in the halls of Congress, the D.C. streets and dueling fields beyond. Her most valuable source for such information is the diary of William Brown French, who served as a congressman, Clerk of the House, and Commissioner of Public Buildings, and observed congressional doings closely from the 30’s to the 60’s. One of the best parts of the book—besides the chapter on the Sumner Caning—concentrates on the only congressional duel in which a House member was actually killed, the Cilley-Graves Duel of 1838. Her account of how these two young men, neither of whom wished to fight or knew how to shoot, each constrained by his code and poorly counseled by his friends, stumbled inevitably toward destruction is at once pathetic and tragic. It was also a harbinger of things to come. Almost as good, though, are some of the comic melees. The Benton-Foote Scuffle (1850) is amusing, but my favorite is the donnybrook precipitated by Galusha Grow (R-PA) and Laurence Keitt (D-SC) in 1858, during one of those notoriously alcoholic evening sessions, an event which transpired directly in front of the Speaker’s platform, “featuring roughly thirty sweaty, disheveled, mostly middle-aged congressmen in a no-holds barred brawl, North against South. I will begin my account, in Homeric fashion, in medias res: . . . John “Bowie Knife” Potter (R-WI) and the fighting Washburn brothers—Cadwallader (R-WI), Israel (R-ME), and Elihu (R-IL) stood out in the rumble, with barrel chested Potter jogging straight into the scrum, thowing punches as he tried to reach Grow. At one point, he slugged Elliot Barksdale (D-MS), who mistakenly reeled around and socked Elihu Washburne in return . . . . Potter responded by grabbing Barksdale by the hair to punch him in the face, but to his utter asthonishment, Barkdsdale’s hair came off: he wore a toupee. Meanwhile, John Covode (R-PA) had raised a spitton above his head and was looking for a target . . . . Within a few minutes, people had settled back in their seats—thanks, in part, to the hilarity of Barksdale’s flipped wig—and the House went back to arguing until its adjounment at 6:30 a.m.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War is an entertaining, well researched, and well-written examination of physical violence in U.S. Congress in the decades leading to the Civil War. Most of it stems from diarist B.B. French, who managed to be on hand or on the fringes for every major political and historical event of his lifetime. A New Hampshire native, French was highly active in D.C. politics, knew politicians and presidents, and often had a r Joanne B. Freeman's The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War is an entertaining, well researched, and well-written examination of physical violence in U.S. Congress in the decades leading to the Civil War. Most of it stems from diarist B.B. French, who managed to be on hand or on the fringes for every major political and historical event of his lifetime. A New Hampshire native, French was highly active in D.C. politics, knew politicians and presidents, and often had a ring-side seat to the debates and violence on the floors of Congress. Not merely a cataloging of duels, brawls, canings, and insults, Field of Blood examines the reasons behind the violence- both personal and cultural. Violence and duels were seen as honorable, manly codes of conduct in the South and barbaric and uncivilized in the North. Southern politicians would often use bullying and threats of violence to hold power in Congress. Politicians were seen as closely representing the constituents, their state, and their region and "fighting for the people's rights" was often taken very literally. Insult an individual and you insulted the region. Insult the region and you insulted the individual. Honor was often called into question and (usually) representatives settled things outside the halls of Congress. It was an interesting dynamic that the patriot French watched: people believed Congress to be solemn, serious, full of great men giving great speeches- if they saw what French saw, the general public might think very differently. Freeman presents readers with a little looked at slice of American history leading up to the Civil War, bringing 19th century political figures to life with a humorous and down-to-earth style of writing that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end. Americans who believe today's political standoffs and partisanship are unprecedented may appreciate reading the literal stand-offs of the past, when people sent guns to their Congressmen so they could fight for their constituents' rights and pistols, rifles, and bowie knives were regularly carried "just in case." For anyone who imagines 19th century Congressmen as staid and boring old men, Freedman will introduce you to a whole new side of American politics. A great read!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I love reading about the Civil War, but most of my reading takes place primarily through the years 1861-1865, right in the thick of it. It was fascinating to read about the years leading up to the war, starting around the 1830s, tracing significant events of Congressional violence up to and even through the Civil War. Freeman does a phenomenal job of portraying events and circumstances through the protagonist B.B. French, which helps to focus the writing and clarify some of the confusion of an i I love reading about the Civil War, but most of my reading takes place primarily through the years 1861-1865, right in the thick of it. It was fascinating to read about the years leading up to the war, starting around the 1830s, tracing significant events of Congressional violence up to and even through the Civil War. Freeman does a phenomenal job of portraying events and circumstances through the protagonist B.B. French, which helps to focus the writing and clarify some of the confusion of an inflammatory political state. The way Freeman writes, it's almost as if she traveled back in time and has chronicled the situation with herself as an eye-witness; it is clear that she has done an enormous amount of research in order to fully capture the time period. One of the things I appreciated the most about this book was it's clear message that "battlefield violence wasn't a break from politics as normal; the outbreak of warfare wasn't a thing apart from the coming of war. Congressmen had been rehearsing civil warfare for years. Congressional violence framed the opening of war" (268). Especially in today's political atmosphere, I feel there is an instinct for people to think of history as a time when society was more put-together and civilized, especially since history is full of important looking white men in fancy clothes. However, Freeman makes it clear that history is and always has been full of people who are merely human, who make very human mistakes and have very human tempers. She remarks of this trend by stating, "In the case of Congress, later generations overlooked its ugly undertow, envisioning its history as a succession of great issues discussed by great men speaking great words, with nary a trace of the tobacco-stained rugs" (282). This book was an enlightening read that I highly recommend to anyone who is, like me, fascinated by history, the Civil War, and political history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Myles

    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 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve Majerus-Collins

    Joanne B. Freeman deserves credit for wading into the realities of the pre-Civil War Congress to find something beyond the eloquent speeches and forlorn compromises that are dimly remembered precursors to the nation's bloodiest struggle. She began looking into the fascinating duel that led to the untimely demise of a young Maine congressman and discovered decades of violence beneath the Capitol dome -- not just duels and canings, but a constant undertone of threats real and imagined. Slavery was Joanne B. Freeman deserves credit for wading into the realities of the pre-Civil War Congress to find something beyond the eloquent speeches and forlorn compromises that are dimly remembered precursors to the nation's bloodiest struggle. She began looking into the fascinating duel that led to the untimely demise of a young Maine congressman and discovered decades of violence beneath the Capitol dome -- not just duels and canings, but a constant undertone of threats real and imagined. Slavery was at the root of nearly all of it, manifested through the weird code of honor that permeated Dixie. I remember reading Bertram Wyatt-Brown's wonderful history Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South back in my college days, when I lived in Virginia and desperately sought to understand the motivations of Dixie. It was a revelation, an astounding look at a way of life that has almost completely died off. What Freeman has done is to show how that culture manifested itself in the political world of Washington, how it was used as a weapon in the growing battle over slavery. You wouldn't think on its face that slavery, which we as a nation are still trying to come to grips with more than 150 years after its demise, could underlay so much fussing and feuding in the corridors of Congress and the streets of the nation's capital. But it did, in spades. That Freeman dug up the evidence -- surprisingly thin, by the way, given all the violence that she shows -- is a service to her country, a revelation that in our time, too, ought to shed light on politics. You wouldn't think, though, that Bowie knives and revolvers on the floor of the House would be so little noticed in previous histories. But there it is. Anyway, thank you, Professor Freeman, for doing the work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Excellent! Entertaining, multi-faceted, and full of relevance to our current discourse.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    First I would like to state that I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the author for giving me this opportunity and honor in being able to read this book. When I received this book I began reading it at once. I really enjoy the authors writing style, the author pulls you into the book from the very beginning and makes it so you don't want to put the book down. It kept me on the edge of my seat reading from cover to cover. Thi First I would like to state that I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the author for giving me this opportunity and honor in being able to read this book. When I received this book I began reading it at once. I really enjoy the authors writing style, the author pulls you into the book from the very beginning and makes it so you don't want to put the book down. It kept me on the edge of my seat reading from cover to cover. This book was a very interesting read. I really enjoyed it! Everything was shown from very different perspectives. I do believe i will never look at chewing tobacco quite the same again. . This book is incredible. I loved it cannot wait to read more from this author. A must read!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Jackson

    As a public historian/tour guide at the US Capitol, I will cherish this incredibly well-researched book as new foundation stone in my effort to educate the public about the tumultuous history of Congress.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Casey

    Freeman breathes life into a past all too frequently disconnected, romanticized, and distorted. Her prose moves with easy and while she may have a vast store of insight to drawn from, she keeps her book from every feeling dense or overly academic. Instead, Freeman allows readers to see how personal slights turned into regional resentments which then turned into political tactics leading to war. The Field of Blood is fascinating study of the social climate of the time. read full review here: http Freeman breathes life into a past all too frequently disconnected, romanticized, and distorted. Her prose moves with easy and while she may have a vast store of insight to drawn from, she keeps her book from every feeling dense or overly academic. Instead, Freeman allows readers to see how personal slights turned into regional resentments which then turned into political tactics leading to war. The Field of Blood is fascinating study of the social climate of the time. read full review here: https://misanthropester.com/2018/11/2...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    In the early days of our republic, serving as an elected official in either house of Congress could prove to be a mortal hazard. In antebellum America, the carrying of knives and guns on one’s person was common, as was drunkenness and gambling. Add to this already volatile mix the sectional tensions regarding the slavery issue, and, as author Joanne B. Freeman clearly shows, the cup of violence soon runneth over. The generally well-known incident of Representative Preston S. Brooks (D-S.C.) beat In the early days of our republic, serving as an elected official in either house of Congress could prove to be a mortal hazard. In antebellum America, the carrying of knives and guns on one’s person was common, as was drunkenness and gambling. Add to this already volatile mix the sectional tensions regarding the slavery issue, and, as author Joanne B. Freeman clearly shows, the cup of violence soon runneth over. The generally well-known incident of Representative Preston S. Brooks (D-S.C.) beating Senator Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) with a cane is only one example of Congressional passions run amok. Many more are outlined within these pages. This book is more than a mere recounting of duels, fistfights, and other bloodshed within the hallowed halls of our nation’s capital. Using the diary of one Benjamin Brown French, a minor bureaucrat that nevertheless was acquainted with 12 presidents and kept a diary over the course of 42 years, Freeman traces the trajectory of our decent into civil war. Brown had a ringside seat to the daily mayhem and he duly recorded such in often pithy remarks in what eventually ran to eleven volumes. As both French and Freeman show, despite the turmoil, speeches were made, compromises agreed to, and laws were passed. It is a fascinating record of American politics before it became professionalized, as handshakes now have replaced handguns. While duels and derring-do among our elected officials of yesteryear may be news to some in the here and now, it comes as no surprise to students of American history or American politics. Over twenty years ago, in the pages of the four volume reference work The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress (Bacon, Davidson, and Keller, eds., Simon and Schuster, 1995), there may be found a lengthy article entitled “Violence in Congress.” In part, it reads, “Congress in the 1800’s was no place for the timid…From frontier states came rugged individualists, some more accustomed to settling disputes with fists or weapons than with gentlemanly compromise. From the south came a number of hot-tempered aristocrats schooled in the manly arts…and alert to any slur on their honor. From the north came a veritable human menagerie, including agitators whose moral zealotry stirred constant turmoil and discontent.” (Vol. 4, page 2062). By all accounts, not a pleasant place to conduct the people’s business. And yet, Congress, and the nation, endures. As good a story as is being told, however, it is marred somewhat by the author’s workmanlike style. The sometimes pedestrian prose makes for a bit of a slog in places. That quibble aside, this is a thoroughly researched volume, with copious citations to sources consulted and an ample bibliography for further reading. Freeman, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University, specializes in early national politics and political culture. She has previously written Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, which has received excellent reviews. This book is highly recommended for all those who wish to know more about how our government operated back in the bad old days.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Webb

    For a record of the activities of Congress in the period before and leading up to the Civil War, this succeeds in being a breezy and engaging read without sacrificing scholarship along the way. Freeman's contention is that the road to the Civil War was paved with sectional strife that was manifested most clearly in Congressional interactions, primarily in the House. While most of the surviving documentation excises it, Freeman contends, and has convincing evidence, that the House was a place of For a record of the activities of Congress in the period before and leading up to the Civil War, this succeeds in being a breezy and engaging read without sacrificing scholarship along the way. Freeman's contention is that the road to the Civil War was paved with sectional strife that was manifested most clearly in Congressional interactions, primarily in the House. While most of the surviving documentation excises it, Freeman contends, and has convincing evidence, that the House was a place of frequent physical conflict and threats. In essence, this started out as party-based conflict between the Democrats (who at that point were a country-wide party that had internal splits between the southern and northern membership) and the opposition parties (which started as Whigs and eventually became the Lincoln-Republicans). Over time, the split moved from being regional to sectional, and as attitudes hardened the violence increased to the point where Congressional members routinely wore sidearms in the Capitol building out of fear of becoming embroiled in an armed dispute that they weren't prepared for. Freeman contends that some of these difficulties were created by the free press innovation of the day: the telegraph, that made it much more difficult for representatives to deliver significantly different messages to the voters in different sections of the country. The other side of the increasing conflict, to her, was that over time, as violence increased, the voters back home increasingly supported and put into office people who were actually prone to these sorts of actions. When combatants were being awarded with honorary canes and knives from their constituents, it is easy to see how strife and violence could continue to increase. Freeman argues that the actual final straw to the CW conflict itself was that Southern members had been threatening disunion for so long in response to Abolitionist messages that they were no longer being taken seriously. Overall, I thought this was a solid work that has echoes of the present era. The theme of sectional differences and increasingly rigid divides certainly has echoes in the present times. Freeman's scholarship seems solid; she does rely on one narrator as a big primary source (B.B. French) but she states in the notes that for any actual conflicts covered that she used a triangulation method of major sources and requiring corroboration from at least 2 of the 3; and this stands as adequate given the nature of the sources and the difficulty in researching a topic of this type. This is recommended for anyone interested in political history who has a decent base understanding of the Civil War era.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bill Lucey

    After reading Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman’s magnificent book, “Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War,” I was stunned to learn just how much physical violence took place within the halls of Congress before the Civil War, especially during the 36th Congress (1859-1861). Through her scrupulous research, Freeman reports that between 1830-1860, there were 70 violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers, nearby streets, and dueling meeting grounds After reading Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman’s magnificent book, “Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War,” I was stunned to learn just how much physical violence took place within the halls of Congress before the Civil War, especially during the 36th Congress (1859-1861). Through her scrupulous research, Freeman reports that between 1830-1860, there were 70 violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers, nearby streets, and dueling meeting grounds. Freeman, moreover, found clashes involving canings, fistfights, brandished pistols, and brick throwing, among others. According to Freeman, fights and brawls became so frequent, that many congressmen strapped guns and knives each morning before heading off to the nation’s capital. Ever since the Sumner canings, Northern congressmen were strongly encouraged to arm themselves. Freeman documented more than a dozen fights in the 36th Congress. Freeman’s Field of Blood couldn’t have been published at a more timely moment in U.S. history. When I think of the deep, spiteful divisions that gripped the country over slavery, I wonder if the sharp division over immigration in 2018 will have a similar harmful effect, to such an extent that it irreparably rips the country in two? Back in July, a Gallup poll showed that immigration was the most important issue gripping the country with 22 percent of Americans citing it as the top problem. And on Monday, just eight days before the midterm elections, President Trump said he's prepared to deploy at least 5,200 active-duty troops to the southern border to confront migrants, preventing them from entering the country, citing national security concerns. "With malice toward none, with charity for all,'' Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, fell from the heavens at just the right time to heal the nation during one of the most tumultuous times in the nation's history. It was only a few months ago when Rasmussen Reports published a survey showing that nearly a third of U.S. voters expect civil war within 5 years. As the nation, the U.S. Congress, and the American voters, come to terms with the present crisis of immigration, many are looking for the leader who will bridge the great divide tearing this country into smithereens before another Civil War takes place. Who will that leader be before it’s too late? Bill Lucey October 31, 2018

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Morrissey

    Joanne Freeman delivers a sweeping, vivid, and colorful history of the bruised and bloody days of the antebellum Congress, stretching from the Jackson years through the firing on Fort Sumter. Relayed through the diary entries and musings, sometimes poetic, of B.B. French, this narrative tells of the brutish and nasty personal politics that infected the Capitol before war broke out at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. While many Americans are familiar with the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Joanne Freeman delivers a sweeping, vivid, and colorful history of the bruised and bloody days of the antebellum Congress, stretching from the Jackson years through the firing on Fort Sumter. Relayed through the diary entries and musings, sometimes poetic, of B.B. French, this narrative tells of the brutish and nasty personal politics that infected the Capitol before war broke out at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. While many Americans are familiar with the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks, many (as I was) are likely ignorant of the many prior clashes that pitted Congressman against Congressman, often divided along sectional lines. Freeman paints a picture of duel-happy Southerners berating and beating Northern anti-slavery-mongers, including yelling down Representative John Quincy Adams and sometimes wielding bowie-knives and pistols against the more impassioned defenders of Black freedom. The duel between Cilley and Graves, both members of the House, is told in exquisite detail, establishing the theme of Congressional violence and its place in the increasingly-polarized political atmosphere of antebellum America. As the reader travels along the tobacco-stained floors of the Capitol with French, we are also privy to the New Hampshire native's changing politics, as he evolves from a died-in-the-wool Jacksonian Democrat to a staunch abolitionist and Republican. As the Republican Party coalesces and calcifies sectional feelings, French is there to report on the growing hostility in Congress, and how formerly doughfaced Northerners are less willing to submit to bullying and violence at the hands of certain Southerners. Freeman does a great service in this history: Congress should not be remembered as the stoic forum of orators such as Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, but perhaps more for its reflection of the rough-and-tumble world of 19th Century America. Congress, as the author reminds us, is a reflection of its constituents. Violence and polarization at the Congressional level are blurry but real reflections of how voters feel at home. There is no good "answer" in this book to how to salve a divided Congress. But it is worth reading, if only to remember that the nation has been divided, good men bloodied, good causes bullied for decades, and yet the Republic still endures. That is what French strove for, and what we should all strive for as well.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Strong

    I really enjoyed reading this book, and sharing stories from it with my history-buff son and husband. In the pre-Civil War period, Congress (especially the House) was apparently a seething hotbed of violent emotions, violent speechifying, and sometimes outright physical violence. An ill-chosen word could get a man challenged to a duel, and then he had to weigh the consequences of either accepting or refusing that challenge. With fellow lawmakers, family, and constituents all ready to weigh in, he I really enjoyed reading this book, and sharing stories from it with my history-buff son and husband. In the pre-Civil War period, Congress (especially the House) was apparently a seething hotbed of violent emotions, violent speechifying, and sometimes outright physical violence. An ill-chosen word could get a man challenged to a duel, and then he had to weigh the consequences of either accepting or refusing that challenge. With fellow lawmakers, family, and constituents all ready to weigh in, he had to step carefully through (or around) the dilemma; if he was lucky, he had friends who'd already been through the rite of the duel and could advise him on what was the wisest course to take. Of course, it wasn't just touchy guys with short fuses who rendered the People's Branch so volatile; it was more than that -- the North (I'm simplifying here) felt stifled by the Slave Power (as they called it) in the South, as men from that region would finagle their way to tabling or ignoring petitions and resolutions about the elephant in the chamber, slavery. Eventually, though, the elephant got so big (Kansas and Nebraska size) that it could no longer be ignored or brushed off, and that's when the Northerners decided that, with the stakes so high, it was time to fight back. The framing device is the journal of Benjamin Brown French, the consummate DC insider, who was Clerk of the House, president of a telegraph company, and commissioner of public buildings under Abraham Lincoln. A sort of Zelig figure (or "history stalker", as the author refers to him), he was present at many momentous events of his era, from the scene of beatings in the House to the deathbed of Lincoln himself. His writings were an invaluable resource on violence in Congress, as the official publications of Congress and many partisan newspapers tended to hush things up. I tried to be encouraged while reading -- surely if the Republic could endure through such a physically and morally violent period, it can endure through what we're seeing today -- and I hope this will be a source of comfort in the future.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    If you even remotely follow Congressional activity, from elections to speeches on the floor of Congress, you might wonder if any of the verbal attacks might actually result in physical violence. No doubt, the ratings on any of the news networks might spike if suddenly Elizabeth Warren executed a textbook choke slam on Tom Cotton over criminal reform, or if Chuck Shurmer challenged Mitch McConnell to a duel at dawn near the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Well, if you read this If you even remotely follow Congressional activity, from elections to speeches on the floor of Congress, you might wonder if any of the verbal attacks might actually result in physical violence. No doubt, the ratings on any of the news networks might spike if suddenly Elizabeth Warren executed a textbook choke slam on Tom Cotton over criminal reform, or if Chuck Shurmer challenged Mitch McConnell to a duel at dawn near the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Well, if you read this book, you will learn that in the Halls of Congress in the pre-Civil War days, the legislators and senators actually did translate their verbal assaults into physical ones. This book follows the chronicles a longtime clerk and observer of Congress during the tumultuous times in the pre-Civil War days (Leach), who documented countless tales of verbal and physical altercations between quarreling officials. In some cases, it was mainly verbal bullying, especially between Southern pro-slavery representatives and North Abolitionists. However, there were times when the men came to blows, be it fisticuffs, duels with pistols outside DC limits, or even outright beatings in the Senate. While men such as Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Adams may have left their mark with their words and power of thought that has many longing for a return to a time of learned men, this work will help dispel the notion that it was all high class. It might even make some long for a time when debates could be settled by physical force, vs. hiding behind social media trolls. The work is interesting, but it is primarily based on the works of one man. It might have made more interesting work if it could span through the history of Congress, as there were so many more opportunities for verbal smackdowns (even if the physical ones were limited). Still, this book has its moments. Worth a read at least one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    I received a free Kindle copy of The Field of Blood by Joanne B. Freeman courtesy of Net Galley  and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as I am an avid reader of american history and the description sounded very interesting. This is the first book by Joann I received a free Kindle copy of The Field of Blood by Joanne B. Freeman courtesy of Net Galley  and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as I am an avid reader of american history and the description sounded very interesting. This is the first book by Joanne B. Freeman that I have read. Overall, this is a very good book. It is based on the diaries and notes of Benjamin French who served in the Clerk's office of the House of Representatives in various positions and then in other positions in the Washington, D.C. area from approximately 1840 - 1868. The Congressional Globe (the forerunner to the Congressional Record) was very bland and neutral when it came to the many altercations that occured in Congress during this time. French's diaries and notes gives a much clearer picture of the evnets , but with his slant on the events. It was a time of fist fights, canings, duels and lots of alcohol. I found the author's writing style engaging which made this a fairly fast read. Congress has come a long way in that many of today's statements would have led to either a fight or a duel during the time period covered in the book. (some may think that may not be progress). As a warning the book paints southern congressman as the villians that created this atmosphere. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the seamier side of politics.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Bales

    Mostly a history of violence in Congress as seen through the eyes of Benjamin Brown French, a Zelig-like figure who seemed to be everywhere from 1833 and the Jacksonian Era to Grant's Reconstruction. The histories of Congress tend to play up the soaring oratory of the antebellum period and downplay the overthrowing spittoons, the dirty carpets, the concealed derringers and the dueling. French saw Congress at its worst during this period as personal disputes and feuds boiled over into fisticuffs Mostly a history of violence in Congress as seen through the eyes of Benjamin Brown French, a Zelig-like figure who seemed to be everywhere from 1833 and the Jacksonian Era to Grant's Reconstruction. The histories of Congress tend to play up the soaring oratory of the antebellum period and downplay the overthrowing spittoons, the dirty carpets, the concealed derringers and the dueling. French saw Congress at its worst during this period as personal disputes and feuds boiled over into fisticuffs and worst. The slavery question was exacerbated badly by the acquisition of territory from Mexico. French's boyhood friend Franklin Pierce becomes president in 1853, but French becomes disillusioned by Pierce's acquiescing to Southern extremist demands. French morphs from a Jacksonian Democrat extremely loyal to his party to a strong proponent of the Union by 1860. Close to presidents, he was especially close to Lincoln and was superintendent of public buildings in the District of Columbia during Lincoln's presidency. With no government printing office until 1861, Congressional debates were recorded by private periodicals such as the "Congressional Globe" which were often edited by members of Congress. Insults were usually censored with euphemisms. A fascinating but not necessarily uplifting book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carl

    A scrupulously researched look at violence between members of Congress during the 1830's to the 1860's and the profound effect it had on a nation teetering towards Civil War. These incidents, for the most part, didn't end up in the public record,but most were mentioned in private diaries of the congressmen. Freeman effortlessly coalesces these various accounts into a narrative of how a pervasively violent body created laws for a country on the brink of war, using a southern system of "honor" to A scrupulously researched look at violence between members of Congress during the 1830's to the 1860's and the profound effect it had on a nation teetering towards Civil War. These incidents, for the most part, didn't end up in the public record,but most were mentioned in private diaries of the congressmen. Freeman effortlessly coalesces these various accounts into a narrative of how a pervasively violent body created laws for a country on the brink of war, using a southern system of "honor" to intimidate the north and limit its effectiveness in trying to end or curtail slavery. This narrative is buttressed by the 12 volume diary of Benjamin Brown French. French was a House clerk and eventually the Clerk of the House. He was intimately connected to the House of Representatives fromn 1828 to 1870. Freeman does a marvelous job of building a cohesive view of a crazed institution, beset by Southern Honor, violence and intimidation, stifled any progression against slavery until the Civil War broke out. After the war the violence slowly ceased. A marvelous destroyer of myths that the good old days were better and more civilized than the chaos of 21st century politics. Monumental, exhaustive and absolutely necessary.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kate Schlesinger

    In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman traces Congressional violence from the mid-1830's up to the Civil War. Her research is meticulous and her narrative engaging; the voice is distinct and entertaining, pulling the reader into the world of the antebellum Congress, a world much different from what we might expect. The floors are tobacco-stained, the chamber nearly impossibly loud, and the congressmen almost always on the verge of physical violence. It would have been interesting enough for her j In The Field of Blood, Joanne Freeman traces Congressional violence from the mid-1830's up to the Civil War. Her research is meticulous and her narrative engaging; the voice is distinct and entertaining, pulling the reader into the world of the antebellum Congress, a world much different from what we might expect. The floors are tobacco-stained, the chamber nearly impossibly loud, and the congressmen almost always on the verge of physical violence. It would have been interesting enough for her just to paint this picture, but she also makes a compelling argument about how the South's culture of violence and the willingness of Southern congressmen to commit acts of violence served to further the sectional divide, making discussion of slavery (or pretty much anything else) nearly impossible. By the time the Republican Party rose in the late 1850's, Northerners finally gave permission to their representatives to fight back, and Southerners responded to the loss of their bullying power (among other things) by seceding from the Union. This is a fascinating, little-explored piece of American history that adds depth and dimension to my understanding of the fracturing of our nation in the 19th century, and carries frightening resonance today.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Freeman's work is an excellent overview of the violence in Congress in pre-Civil War America, something I deal with on a day to day basis at work. We always knew that this was a rather chaotic era in American politics, but Freeman sheds light on forgotten and often unknown individuals and incidents that show how tense things were. John Quincy Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, and the congressmen who stood up to the Slave Power like Joshua Giddings, Charles Sumner, and William Fessenden. Freeman provide Freeman's work is an excellent overview of the violence in Congress in pre-Civil War America, something I deal with on a day to day basis at work. We always knew that this was a rather chaotic era in American politics, but Freeman sheds light on forgotten and often unknown individuals and incidents that show how tense things were. John Quincy Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, and the congressmen who stood up to the Slave Power like Joshua Giddings, Charles Sumner, and William Fessenden. Freeman provides the most contextualized and thorough explanation of the Sumner caning that I've read--she put it in the context not only of civil war in Kansas, but she adds the context of Northerners demanding that their members of Congress stand up to Southern threats and bullying, the fear of the Slave Power dominating the national government, and the standards of combat of the day. This is an excellent addition to the historiography of the American Congress, well-written and sometimes entertaining (she brings an appropriate amount of wit and occasional snark, and sometimes troubling. The endnotes are outstanding and are well worth reading along with the book. Her research of both primary and secondary materials is really impressive.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katie Bee

    The instant I heard about this book it landed on my "want to read" list, and it didn't disappoint! A wonderful, richly researched and beautifully written exploration of both the historical record and the messy past that lives between the lines of the historical record. Freeman's choice to use Benjamin Brown French, one-time Clerk of the House of Representatives and longtime Washington observer and diarist, is an excellent one. French's voluminous records not only provide an alternative angle to o The instant I heard about this book it landed on my "want to read" list, and it didn't disappoint! A wonderful, richly researched and beautifully written exploration of both the historical record and the messy past that lives between the lines of the historical record. Freeman's choice to use Benjamin Brown French, one-time Clerk of the House of Representatives and longtime Washington observer and diarist, is an excellent one. French's voluminous records not only provide an alternative angle to often elliptical or censored accounts of Congress's proceedings, but his life provides the perfect structure and case study for Freeman's project. My knowledge of this time period was heretofore limited to the Sumner caning. Freeman's book is a confident, assured, compellingly readable exploration and analysis of the bellicosity of the prewar Congressional landscape, and it was entirely satisfying.

  22. 4 out of 5

    E

    This book basically follows the journal of Benjamin Brown French during his 40 years in Washington, focusing particularly on the violence in Congress. And boy was there a lot of it, both threatened and actual. Representatives had no compunction, it seems, in stalking across the aisle and waving a cane or fist in the face of an opposing member. The Southerners especially had an overwrought sense of honor that caused them to challenge others to duels whenever they felt slighted. It really is remar This book basically follows the journal of Benjamin Brown French during his 40 years in Washington, focusing particularly on the violence in Congress. And boy was there a lot of it, both threatened and actual. Representatives had no compunction, it seems, in stalking across the aisle and waving a cane or fist in the face of an opposing member. The Southerners especially had an overwrought sense of honor that caused them to challenge others to duels whenever they felt slighted. It really is remarkable how little of this is discussed today, save for the Charles Sumner caning at the hands of Preston Brooks. Freeman's style leaves much to be desired. She resorts to dramatic ellipses, one-word sentences, lots of second-person pronouns. Heck, you'd think she was writing a Facebook post, not a piece of scholarly literature. It mars her work, especially her credibility.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Armstrong

    This surprising look at violence that occurred on both floors of Congress (and nearby environs) in the years leading up to the Civil War offers a deeper understanding of how that bloody conflict came to be inevitable. What's remarkable when you read this account is that disunion and war didn't come sooner. The extent of the mayhem (beyond a few high-profile incidents, such as the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner by Rep. Preston Brooks) lay largely concealed for years because such behavior was routi This surprising look at violence that occurred on both floors of Congress (and nearby environs) in the years leading up to the Civil War offers a deeper understanding of how that bloody conflict came to be inevitable. What's remarkable when you read this account is that disunion and war didn't come sooner. The extent of the mayhem (beyond a few high-profile incidents, such as the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner by Rep. Preston Brooks) lay largely concealed for years because such behavior was routinely omitted or glossed over in the official records of Congress. But the private diaries of B.B. French, mined here by historian Joanne B. Freeman, tell it all: duels, fist fights, canings, brandished knives, mayhem galore. French had a front row seat as clerk of the House for many years. Here is the breakdown of the legislative process with its ugliest warts exposed.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Stokes

    I listened to Joanne Freeman read this book and basked in the enthusiasm of her voice, the unfolding of her narrative, and the depth of her research. I want to meet Benjamin French! Through his eyes, I now understand sectionalism and John Quincy Adams much better. Through his diaries, I have better words for my own love of and devotion to democratic principles and procedures. And through the arc of his career, I am more at peace with the evolving nature of my own political opinions. The only thi I listened to Joanne Freeman read this book and basked in the enthusiasm of her voice, the unfolding of her narrative, and the depth of her research. I want to meet Benjamin French! Through his eyes, I now understand sectionalism and John Quincy Adams much better. Through his diaries, I have better words for my own love of and devotion to democratic principles and procedures. And through the arc of his career, I am more at peace with the evolving nature of my own political opinions. The only thing that doesn’t quite work for me is the title, but the book itself is a gem. And the explanation of historical methods in the epilogue is such a find for a history teacher. Thank you for writing, and tweeting about, your book!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Frank Kohl

    Joanne Freeman utilizes the eleven volume journal of Benjamin Brown French as a framework for the workings of Congress for the period 1830 to 1850. French was a close independent observer of the sanitized official Congressional record and even newspaper accounts of the threats, name calling, insults, and implied and actual violence of the floor of Congress, to the point that members regularly carried weapons, Bowie knives and firearms as well as the infamous metal tipped canes. He kept a detaile Joanne Freeman utilizes the eleven volume journal of Benjamin Brown French as a framework for the workings of Congress for the period 1830 to 1850. French was a close independent observer of the sanitized official Congressional record and even newspaper accounts of the threats, name calling, insults, and implied and actual violence of the floor of Congress, to the point that members regularly carried weapons, Bowie knives and firearms as well as the infamous metal tipped canes. He kept a detailed record of who did what to whom, when and why. What motivated him? He wanted to record in written form because he knew his memory would fade. French "knew that past events [would be] stripped of subtleties at the expense of truths in the progress of time."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I had to start and stop this book several times because at first it just seemed like a meaningless tour through random fights, but I a really glad I stuck with it because it got super interesting in the run up to the Civil War. So I guess I wish the intro had laid out the big claims, which is that the "war" began through duels and fights in Congress. And Freeman tells a really vivid and funny and tragic story of the players involved. The south had a strict code of honor and the northerners were I had to start and stop this book several times because at first it just seemed like a meaningless tour through random fights, but I a really glad I stuck with it because it got super interesting in the run up to the Civil War. So I guess I wish the intro had laid out the big claims, which is that the "war" began through duels and fights in Congress. And Freeman tells a really vivid and funny and tragic story of the players involved. The south had a strict code of honor and the northerners were known to back down from duels and fights--and then they didn't. They fought back and they had to to show the south they were serious. It really explores the uses and misuses of violence and threats of violence. And then there are times when I just rolled my eyes and thought "ugh. men!"

  27. 5 out of 5

    Glenda

    The Field of Blood uses the diaries and writings of Congressman French as the foundation for chronicling the mayhem in Congress leading up to the Civil War. Obvious parallels leap from the page/words and, on the one hand, comfort me in thinking about the Union surviving Congressional bullies, while, on the other hand, frightening me with thoughts we have not yet seen how low some politicians will go to protect their personal interests. At the end of this fascinating story, the author offers two The Field of Blood uses the diaries and writings of Congressman French as the foundation for chronicling the mayhem in Congress leading up to the Civil War. Obvious parallels leap from the page/words and, on the one hand, comfort me in thinking about the Union surviving Congressional bullies, while, on the other hand, frightening me with thoughts we have not yet seen how low some politicians will go to protect their personal interests. At the end of this fascinating story, the author offers two appendixes explaining her methodologies and challenges in relying heavily on personal correspondence. This provides a fascinating look into the historian’s mind and is information I’ll share w/ my students. Freeman is an engaging storyteller, and I love following her thoughts on Twitter, too.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Will A

    "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 a "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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    Anyone interested in the Civil War and the events leading up to it should read this book. It is very well researched as evedinced by the fact that almost half the book is notes and source lists. It is also very readable and highly entertaining. While this book in no way sites parrales to the current political state of our nation, I think it is well worth reading as a possible outcome of the current political climate. I mean this for both sides of the aisle and for politicians and constituents al Anyone interested in the Civil War and the events leading up to it should read this book. It is very well researched as evedinced by the fact that almost half the book is notes and source lists. It is also very readable and highly entertaining. While this book in no way sites parrales to the current political state of our nation, I think it is well worth reading as a possible outcome of the current political climate. I mean this for both sides of the aisle and for politicians and constituents alike. Whether we like it or not, as history and this book shows, we are all invested in the outcome.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

    I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thorough and quite informative on the duress and violence in Congress leading up to the Civil War. This book goes much more in depth about the divisiveness in the country. Several of these incidents will be eye-opening, even for the most robust historians. This is a must read for anyone with an interest in US history or politics. Furthermore, the timeliness for this book and our current political climate could not be I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thorough and quite informative on the duress and violence in Congress leading up to the Civil War. This book goes much more in depth about the divisiveness in the country. Several of these incidents will be eye-opening, even for the most robust historians. This is a must read for anyone with an interest in US history or politics. Furthermore, the timeliness for this book and our current political climate could not be better.

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