The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
An America’s Founding and Future Lecture
Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University
If you think the conflict in today’s U.S. Congress is at a historic extreme, Yale historian Joanne Freeman helps set the record straight. In The Field of Blood, Freeman explores the history of graphic, physical conflict on the floor of the U.S. Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War, when legislative sessions were punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and even all-out slugfests. Congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives and many were beaten, bullied, and coerced into compliance on the issue of slavery. One representative even killed another in a duel. But beyond simply exploring the shock value of the level of menace and impropriety that these historic encounters represented, Freeman suggests that these physical altercations were not coincidental to the war that was to come, but rather an integral part of the road to war itself.
Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, is a leading expert on early American politics and culture. The author of the award-winning Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, and editor of Alexander Hamilton: Writings and The Essential Hamilton, Professor Freeman is particularly well known for her expertise in dirty, nasty politics. Her most recent book, The Field of Blood: Congressional Violence and the Road to Civil War—a New York Times notable book of 2018 and a finalist for the Lincoln Prize—explores the impact and legacies of physical violence in the U.S. Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Long committed to public-minded history, she has been a historical advisor for writers, documentary filmmakers, the National Park Service, and a playwright: Lin-Manuel Miranda used her work in writing Hamilton. A co-host of the popular American history podcast BackStory, she is a frequent commentator on PBS, NPR, CNN, the BBC, and MSNBC, and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Magazine, Time Magazine, and Slate Magazine, among others. Her Yale online course, The American Revolution, has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in homes and classrooms around the world. Professor Freeman earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.