Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history at Yale, is one of the most talented decoders of the 'rules' and rhythms of early U.S. politics ... Leavened by the author’s wry wit, the book is a page turning triumph of narrative history, deeply researched and persuasively argued. It explains, more lucidly than ever before, 'the wrenching experience of plotting a political path in a nation behind torn in two' ... this is a study that scholars and popular audiences alike need to digest. By charting the long history of political combat and popular misgivings about Congress, the book lends essential context to our own, current moment ... by reminding us that years of violence in Congress yielded to civil warfare that drenched the nation in rivers of blood, the book issues an important caution.
Why do people vote against their own self-interest? ... Joanne B. Freeman helps explain why, in a fascinating book on a seemingly different subject ... The duelists, bullies and brawlers of Ms. Freeman’s tale aren’t figures from the margins of society; they occupy its very center: the Congress of the United States ... Ms. Freeman’s book goes far toward explaining why there was a Civil War. She doesn’t put it so directly, but her evidence makes clear that by the time the war came, its causes transcended slavery. They also transcended states’ rights ... Ms. Freeman’s book is a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is that America survived a period of greater polarization than we experience today. The bad news is that the means of survival included the most destructive war in our nation’s history.
In her absorbing, scrupulously researched book The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman uncovers the brawls, stabbings, pummelings and duel threats that occurred among United States congressmen during the three decades just before the Civil War ... Like other good historical works, The Field of Blood casts fresh light on the period it examines while leading us to think about our own time. Although incidents like the Sumner caning and the Cilley duel are familiar, the contexts in which Freeman places them are not. Nor are the new details she supplies. She enriches what we already know and tells us a lot about what we don’t know.
... superb ... Freeman has written a smartly argued, diligently researched, even groundbreaking book. But many readers will put down Field of Blood with the impression that the Civil War could have been averted had only the nation’s elected officials acted more cordially toward each other and learned to compromise... Yet one of the problems with this line of thinking is that, in emphasizing the tragedy of the war, it downplays what the war accomplished—emancipation—even if unintentionally ... Freeman is certainly right that congressional violence didn’t help matters. And as a political parable for today, Field of Blood works well.
Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman spent many years researching this subject, which she explores in great detail in her compelling and enlightening The Field of Blood ... Freeman masterfully describes the confluence of events that led to the Republicans’ close loss in the presidential election of 1856 ... This realistic look behind the scenes of the corridors of power vividly shows why there were many weapon-wearing congressmen by 1860 ... Freeman’s pathbreaking book should be read by anyone interested in Congress, the Civil War or American history in general.
As historian Joanne B. Freeman recounts in The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War, representatives and senators frequently assailed each other's manhood and menaced each other with bodily harm ... To oversimplify her book, which is based on a close reading of primary documents from the 1830s until the Civil War, Freeman sees this violence as rooted in Southern honor culture and defensiveness about slavery ... The Field of Blood seconds a broader point... [w]hile historical events, such as the outcomes of the American Revolution and the Civil War, may seem preordained to us now, they certainly were not to people living in those times. Nineteenth-century congressmen making those honor challenges, or sidestepping them, were weighing unknowns as they sought to advance their interests, stay electable and preserve the Union.
Benjamin French, a New Hampshire native, spent more than three decades living and working in Washington, DC ... Little escaped his attention, and several details were recorded in his voluminous diary. This unique source, used to great effect by historian Freeman...helps to uncover the rowdy and violent behavior in the House that mirrored the wider society in the decades preceding the American Civil War ... A thought-provoking and insightful read for anybody interested in American politics in the lead up to the Civil War.
In most cases, slavery triggered...conflicts [in Congress]. 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 ... This is a finely researched and well-written examination of the often overlooked legislative breakdown that preceded the Civil War.
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.
A hair-raising history ... Freeman leans heavily on journalists and diarists to deliver a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional government that—minus the literal bloodshed—has been compared to today’s but was probably worse.