Conversations at the Washington Library is a weekly podcast about early American history and the people who teach it.

What comes to mind when you think about Congress in the nineteenth century?

Perhaps you imagine great orators like Henry Clay or Daniel Webster declaiming on the important issues then facing the republic.

And yes, in 1856, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks attacked Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate.

But Congress generally was model of solemnity, right?

Well, you would be wrong.

As Dr. Joanne B. Freeman of Yale University argues in her latest book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, the federal legislature was often a very dangerous place.

The peoples’ representatives caned their political opponents, engaged in fisticuffs, and resorted to dueling.

And as Freeman finds, these violent delights had violent ends.

About Our Guest:

Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History, specializes in the politics and political culture of the revolutionary and early national periods of American History.  She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.  She is the author of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (Yale University Press), which won the Best Book award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, and her edited volume, Alexander Hamilton: Writings (Library of America) was one of the Atlantic Monthly’s “best books” of 2001.  Her most recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, explores physical violence in the U.S. Congress between 1830 and the Civil War, and what it suggests about the institution of Congress, the nature of American sectionalism, the challenges of a young nation’s developing democracy, and the longstanding roots of the Civil War.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.

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