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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  161 ratings  ·  49 reviews
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
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Bill  Kerwin
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics

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
Anne Morgan
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Steve Majerus-Collins
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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 ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jessica Jackson
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Daniel Casey
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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.

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Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Michael Webb
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Bill Lucey
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephen Morrissey
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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
David Bales
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
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 ...more
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: antebellum-u-s
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 ...more
Katie Bee
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-books-read
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
Douglas Armstrong
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jessica Stokes
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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 ...more
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, politics
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
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is an interesting history of the lead-up to the American Civil War, focused on events in Congress. I liked Freeman's writing style, but the organization of the 1st half of the book was kind of confusing for me. It was not told in a chronological order, which led to a lot of repetition of events and descriptions, and disrupted the narrative flow. I'm glad I read it, but I think it could have been made a lot more compelling with a bit more editing.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Professor Freeman has a wonderful and lively writing style. This is a fascinating book, that sheds new light on a dark chapter in American history. Seen from the vantage of 21st America, a riven Congress that cannot accomplish a single thing, it is startling to learn how poorly Congress functioned in the antebellum years, and Professor Freeman's insights and trenchant analysis illuminate and educate the reader. For Civil War buffs, this is a a must-read.
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well researched and written book about the little known environment in Congress between 1830 and 1860. Public records glossed over the extent and description of the violence, mental and physical, that took place in the Capital building with a Congress that was being torn apart with the slavery expansion issue. A real eyeopener to a different time where the "honor code" ruled the day in politics.
Trashy Dreams
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
More interesting than entertaining, if that makes sense. I think I was hoping for a ____ vs.____ kind of thing. Instead, it was a pretty straightforward, chronological take, based mostly on French's writings and observations of congress. Overall, still a great insight into a part of history that never really gets any kind of direct attention.
Gerry Connolly
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Joanne Freeman has uncovered the dark underside of violence in past Congressional history. Fisticuffs, duels (including one fatal), brawls and canings were part of Congressional debates between the 1830’s and 1860. Largely used by the southern slavocracy to intimidate and quell debate, its practitioners couldn’t silence Adams, Sumner, Fessenden and other abolitionists. So the civil war ensued.
Alex Charow
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a phenomenal look into the minutiae of life in the antebellum Congress and a great explanation as to how violence in Congress was tied to personal, party, and sectional honor in the years before the Civil War. Looking forward to reading Freeman's other work on politics in the early Federal era.
Oct 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Pretty good! Learned some things about pre-Civil War times that I hadn't really understood. Interesting, too, that I saw the author on a weekend news show a couple days ago. She was talking about then vs. now and what we might learn: trust our processes to get us out of this ditch. The book hadn't touched on that.
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A thorough examination of the threats and acts of violence by congressmen in the decades leading up to the civil war. I was impressed by the author's ability to find the historical records detailing these events, especially when so many lawmakers tried to hide, downplay, or rewrite them. Only four stars because the book was very repetitive when discussing the motives behind the violence.
Matthew Ericson
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Freeman's book is an incredible read. The means by which she created a narrative using Benjamin French. Her research was exhaustive and her footnotes extensive. This book is a must read for every student of antebellum America.
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Absolutely fascinating. Lost history found. The 30 years before the Civil War, the growing emotional and political divisions, are mirrored in the activities on the floor of Congress. Power struggles, bullying, threats, shifts in power, verbal fighting, physical fighting. Interesting times.
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