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

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

Joanne B. Freeman. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-0-374-15477-6

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. [em]Agent: Wendy Strothman, the Strothman Agency. (Sept.) [/em]