The Field of Blood
The previously untold story of the violence in Congress that helped spark the Civil War
In The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.
These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities―the feel, sense, and sound of it―as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.
Advance praise for The Field of Blood:
“With narrative flair and scholarly gravitas, Joanne Freeman has given us a powerful and original account of a ferociously divided America. For readers who think things in the first decades of the 21st century have never been worse, Freeman’s portrait of a tempestuous and tumultuous U.S. Congress offers a sobering and illuminating corrective. She shows us that the battles of the Civil War began not at Fort Sumter but in the U.S. Capitol, providing a new and compelling angle of vision on the origins of what Lincoln called our ‘fiery trial.’” —Jon Meacham, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The American Lion
“In 1861, Americans grimly set to slaughtering the better part of a million of their fellow citizens. It was the most extraordinary break in the nation’s history—and Joanne Freeman charts its approach in an extraordinary new way. With insightful analysis and vivid detail, she explores the human relationships among congressmen before the Civil War, and finds a culture of astonishing violence. In fistfights, duels, and mass brawls, her innovative account detects steps toward disunion—and changes how we think about political history.” —T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Custer’s Trials
“Joanne B. Freeman’s erudition—and humor—are their own accomplishment, but it’s remarkable a masterful work on the disruptive state of the Union arrives precisely at this time. There could be no better guide. I’m left wondering whether America is in a state of disrepair or still in the process of being born.” —Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
“Those who deplore the hyperpartisanship and decline of civility in contemporary American politics as unprecedented need to know more history. As Joanne Freeman makes clear in this compelling account, party strife, personal honor, and above all the slavery controversy brought unparalleled mayhem to the floors of Congress in the generation before the Civil War. Southern bullying and growing Northern resistance in the House and Senate foreshadowed the battlefields of 1861-1865.” —James McPherson, emeritus professor of history Princeton University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom
“Joanne Freeman puts us on the tumultuous and touchy floor of Congress during its most contentious and momentous years. In a story researched and written with bold energy, she chronicles a young America brawling its way toward war. The personalities and conflicts of long-forgotten duels and fights leap to life, speaking to our own time with surprising relevance.” —Edward L. Ayers, author of The Thin Light of Freedom, winner of the Lincoln Prize
“Joanne Freeman of Yale calls attention to the scandalously frequent role of violence in the United States Congress across 28 tense years culminating in the Civil War. She describes many varieties of Congressional violence, including bullying, fighting in the halls of Congress, fisticuffs, guns, knives, duels and threats of duels. With painstaking research, she penetrates the conspiracy of silence imposed by sources frequently reluctant to publicize the embarrassing truth. The reader is surprised that such an important story should have waited so long to be told.” —Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought
“Congress in the 19th Century was a violent place to work. Legislators let out their sectional rage on each other, throwing punches and wielding weapons, in an institution that made our current politics look downright tame. In her riveting narrative, Joanne Freeman unpacks this volatile world to explain why the relations between elected officials became so brutal.” —Julian Zelizer is a political historian at Princeton University and author of The Fierce Urgency of Now
"[Freeman] excavates a little-discussed aspect of American history in this scholarly but brisk and accessible account . . . 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 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." —Publisher's Weekly
A thought-provoking and insightful read for anybody interested in American politics in the lead up to the Civil War. —Library Journal (starred review)
The Essential Hamilton: Letters & Other Writings
America's most controversial founder—in his own words
A brash immigrant who rose to become George Washington’s right-hand man. A fierce partisan whose nationalist vision made him Thomas Jefferson’s bitter rival. An unfaithful husband whose commitment to personal honor brought his life to a tragic early end. The amazing success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton has stoked an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Alexander Hamilton, the brilliant and divisive founder who profoundly shaped the American republic. Selected and introduced by acclaimed historian Joanne B. Freeman, Library of America here presents an unrivaled portrait of Hamilton in his own words, charting his meteoric rise, his controversial tenure as treasury secretary, and his scandalous final years, culminating in his infamous duel with Aaron Burr.
Selected and introduced by award-winning historian Joanne B. Freeman, here is a reader’s edition of Hamilton’s essential public writings and private letters, plus two vivid (and conflicting) eyewitness accounts of the duel with Burr. Arranged chronologically, this volume contains more than 85 letters, speeches, pamphlets, essays, reports, and memoranda written between 1769 and 1804. Included are Hamilton’s most important contributions to The Federalist, as well as subsequent writings calling for a broad construction of federal power, including his famous speech to the Constitutional Convention, which gave rise to accusations that he favored monarchy. Also included is a selection of his major reports as Secretary of the Treasury, presenting a forward-looking vision of a country transformed by the power of financial markets, centralized banking, and industrial development. Hamilton’s sometimes flawed political judgment is revealed in the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” in which he confessed to adultery in order to defend himself against accusations of corrupt conduct, as well as in his self-destructive pamphlet attack on John Adams during the 1800 presidential campaign. An extensive selection of private letters illuminates Hamilton’s complex relationship with George Washington, his deep affection for his wife and children, his mounting fears during the 1790s regarding the Jeffersonian opposition and the French Revolution, and his profound distrust of Burr.
Alexander Hamilton: Writings
A selection of well-known and not so-well known letters, reports, pamphlets, essays, and memoranda.
Alexander Hamilton, the subject of Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hit Broadway musical, comes to life in his own words in this critically acclaimed collection, edited and introduced by award-winning historian Joanne B. Freeman. One of the most vivid, influential, and controversial figures of the founding of America, Hamilton was an unusually prolific and vigorous writer. As a military aide to George Washington, critic of the Articles of Confederation, proponent of ratification of the Constitution, first Secretary of the Treasury, and leader of the Federalist Party, Hamilton devoted himself to the creation of a militarily and economically powerful American nation guided by a strong, energetic republican government. His public and private writings demonstrate the perceptive intelligence, confident advocacy, driving ambition, and profound concern for honor and reputation that contributed both to his astonishing rise to fame and to his tragic early death.
Arranged chronologically, this volume contains more than 170 letters, speeches, pamphlets, essays, reports, and memoranda written between 1769 and 1804. Included are all fifty-one of Hamilton’s contributions to The Federalist, as well as subsequent writings calling for a broad construction of federal power; his famous speech to the Constitutional Convention, which gave rise to accusations that he favored monarchy; and early writings supporting the Revolutionary cause and a stronger central government. His detailed reports as Secretary of the Treasury on the public credit, a national bank, and the encouragement of manufactures present a forward-looking vision of a country transformed by the power of financial markets, centralized banking, and industrial development.
Hamilton’s sometimes flawed political judgment is revealed in the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” in which he confessed to adultery in order to defend himself against accusations of corrupt conduct, as well as in his self-destructive pamphlet attack on John Adams during the 1800 presidential campaign. An extensive selection of private letters illuminates Hamilton’s complex relationship with George Washington, his deep affection for his wife and children, his mounting fears during the 1790s regarding the Jeffersonian opposition and the French Revolution, and his profound distrust of Aaron Burr.
A Best Book in Nonfiction, 2001, Atlantic Monthly
"Remarkably comprehensive. . . . Perhaps we ought to revise our estimate of who precisely deserves the title of 'father of the Constitution.'" —Gordon S. Wood, The New Republic
"Selected with sense and savvy. . . . Firmly establishes Hamilton's place in the American pantheon." —Joseph J. Ellis, The New Yorker
"A generous and intelligent anthology of Hamilton's writings." —Caleb Crain, The New York Times Book Review
"Anyone interested in politics, finance, diplomacy, history, or the fascination of a strange all-American life will want to have this Library of America volume." —Los Angeles Times
"Indispensable" —Lin-Manuel Miranda, New York Times
Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic
A major reconsideration of early American politics, a profoundly human look at the anxieties and political realities of leaders defining themselves—and their new nation
In this extraordinary book, Joanne Freeman offers a major reassessment of political culture in the early years of the American republic. By exploring both the public actions and private papers of key figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton, Freeman reveals an alien and profoundly unstable political world grounded on the code of honor. In the absence of a party system and with few examples to guide America’s experiment in republican governance, the rituals and rhetoric of honor provided ground rules for political combat. Gossip, print warfare, and dueling were tools used to jostle for status and form alliances in an otherwise unstructured political realm. These political weapons were all deployed in the tumultuous presidential election of 1800―an event that nearly toppled the new republic.
By illuminating this culture of honor, Freeman offers new understandings of some of the most perplexing events of early American history, including the notorious duel between Burr and Hamilton. A major reconsideration of early American politics, Affairs of Honor offers a profoundly human look at the anxieties and political realities of leaders struggling to define themselves and their role in the new nation.
Winner, Best Book for 2001, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic
[Freeman’s] explanation of the rules by which elite politicians fought is important. It allows a fuller understanding of contemporary political writings and of events such as the Burr-Hamilton duel, the elections of 1796 and 1800, even the 1798 Sedition Act. ... Because [the book] lets us see the past as contemporaries saw it and imaginatively understand what they did and why, Affairs of Honor is, indeed, a landmark book that demands the attention of everyone with a serious interest in the history of American politics. —Pauline Maier, Washington Post Book World
"Freeman’s prose is lively, and she balances entertaining narrative with sharp analysis. The last few years have seen a spate of books about the founding fathers and the early republic: Freeman’s elegant study of honor and politics in the new nation will easily tower over most of them." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Sex-tinged scandals, political mudslinging, sectarian division, tabloid exposes: Bill Clinton may have had a bad time, but the Founding Fathers had it worse. . . . Good reading, especially for students of political culture and early American history." —Kirkus Reviews
"[A] romp through the personal notes and public papers of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and others who joined forces against the British monarchy and then fought one another about how to replace it. . . . [It] is both well-researched and well-written, providing a read nearly as lively and idiosyncratic as the Founding Fathers themselves." —Scott Bernard Nelson, Boston Globe
"Affairs of Honor stunningly transforms our understanding of the Founding Fathers and their political culture. This dynamic and penetrating work will be debated—and increasingly appreciated—for many years to come." —Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in The Old South
"Professor Freeman not only sheds new light on that complex code–cult?–of honor in American eighteenth-century life and politics which made inevitable the Burr-Hamilton duel, but she has also, à propos, written the clearest account to date of the presidential election of 1800, in which Jefferson and Burr tied for first place, causing Jefferson to behave with more than his usual subtlety while imputing, characteristically, bad faith to his rival Burr...After two centuries, it is nice to know what really went on in that Dark Age when we had no kindly Supreme Court to determine our elections 5–4." —Gore Vidal
"Affairs of Honor is a landmark work in the history of our national origins. ...[I]n her capable hands, political history is once again alive and well." —Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
"Affairs of Honor is the most important book that has been written on the origins of American politics in many, many years. Joanne Freeman’s work is enormously original, and the scholarship is impeccable. This book is a real breakthrough—we’ll never look at politics in this period in the same way." —Jan Lewis, Rutgers University
Selected Articles and Essays
"Punching the Ticket: Hamilton Biographers and the Sins of Thomas Jefferson," Jefferson's Lives: Writing the Life of Thomas Jefferson (UVA, forthcoming).
"Can We Get Back to Politics? Please? Hamilton's Missing Politics in Hamilton," Historians on Hamilton, eds. Clair Bond Potter and Renee Romano (Rutgers, 2018).
"Will the Real Alexander Hamilton Please Stand Up?," Journal of the Early Republic (Summer 2017): 255-62.
Review, R. Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr: Law, Politics, and the Character Wars of the New Nation, Law and History Review, 2013.
"A Qualified Revolution: The Presidential Election of 1800," Blackwell Companion to Thomas Jefferson (Blackwell, 2011).
“Jefferson and Adams: Friendship and the Power of the Letter,” The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson(Cambridge, 2009).
“Political History and the Tool of Culture,” Blackwell Companion to American Cultural History (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).
"Citizenship and Democracy: America Coming of Age," Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, ed. Helen A. Cooper (Yale University Press, 2008).
“Opening Congress,” The Reader’s Companion to the American Congress, ed. Julian Zelizer (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004).
“Dueling as Politics,” The New-York Journal of American History, 3(2004): 40-49.
“Culture as Politics: Politics as Culture,” Journal of Policy History, 2(2004): 137-143
“Explaining the Unexplainable: Reinterpreting the Sedition Act,” in The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History, ed. Julian Zelizer, Meg Jacobs, and William Novak (Princeton University Press, 2003).
Review, Stephen Knott, Alexander Hamilton & The Persistency of Myth, William & Mary Quarterly, July 2003.
“Corruption and Compromise in the Election of 1800: A Study in the Logic of Political Change,” in The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, ed. Peter S. Onuf and Jan Lewis (University Press of Virginia, 2002).
“The Presidential Election of 1796,” in John Adams and the Founding of the Republic, ed. Richard A. Ryerson (Massachusetts Historical Society, 2001).
“History as Told by the Devil Incarnate: Gore Vidal’s Burr,” in Novel History: History According to the Novelists, ed. Mark Carnes, (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
“’The Art and Address of Ministerial Management:’ Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Congress,” in Neither Separate Nor Equal: Congress and the Executive Branch in the 1790s (Ohio University Press, December 2000).
Review, Thomas Fleming, Duel, and Roger Kennedy, Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character, Reviews in American History, December 2000.
Review, Arnold Rogow, A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, H-SHEAR, Fall 2000.
Review, “Liberty! The American Revolution,” Journal of American History, Winter 1999.
“The Election of 1800: A Study in the Process of Political Change,” Yale Law Journal 108 (June 1999): 1959-1994.
Review, Richard Rosenfeld, American Aurora, H-LAW, Spring 1999.
Review, Simon P. Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street: Festive Culture in the Early American Republic,Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 1998.
"Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel," William and Mary Quarterly 53 (April 1996): 289-318.
Review, Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Presidency of James Monroe, Journal of Southern History (1996).
"Slander, Poison, Whispers, and Fame: Jefferson's "Anas" and Political Combat in the Early Republic," Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Spring 1995): 25-57.
Review, Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, co-authored with Peter S. Onuf, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 69 (January/April 1995).
"Alexander Hamilton, 1755-1804," in New York and the Union, ed. Stephen Schechter, Richard Bernstein (NY State Commission on the Bicentennial of the U. S. Constitution, 1990).
"'Very Busy and Not a Little Anxious': Alexander Hamilton, America's First Secretary of the Treasury," in Well Begun: Chronicles of the Early National Period, ed. Stephen L. Schechter and Richard B. Bernstein (NY State Commission on the Bicentennial of the U. S. Constitution, 1989).