In the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, the United States Congress erupted into violence; there were well over 100 physical fights on the floor of the House and Senate, including fistfights and duel challenges, Bowie knives and pistols, and a few all-out brawls with dozens of congressmen throwing punches. Most of these fights don’t appear in the period’s equivalent of the Congressional Record, yet they had a powerful influence on the workings of Congress. “Bullying and pistoleering” was an effective way of silencing one’s opposition – a tool of debate that Southerners deployed with gusto. Exploring this violence sheds new light on the delicate balance between congressional politics, the press, and the American public, and offers new insights into the coming of the Civil War.
About Professor Freeman
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. Her most recent book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (Yale University Press), 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 current project, The Field of Blood: Congressional Violence in Antebellum America, 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.
A fellow of the Society of American Historians, Freeman has won fellowships from, among others, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Dirkson Congressional Research Center, the American Historical Association, and the Library of Congress. She is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, and was rated one of the nation’s “Top Young Historians” in 2005.
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