The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War | Wilson Center
6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

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

After more than fifteen years of research, historian Joanne Freeman - a leading authority on early American political culture - has uncovered roughly seventy physically violent incidents in the antebellum Congress, most of them long forgotten.  Fistfights, guns and knives, out-and-out brawls: essentially censored out of the period's equivalent of the Congressional Record, these incidents show how violence was a tool of debate in the polarized pre-Civil War Congress, and reveal how new technologies like the telegraph increasingly tangled the give-and-take of national politics at a time of trial.

Joanne B. Freeman, professor of history and American Studies at Yale University, is 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. Her most recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, was a New York Times notable book of 2018 and a finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln prize.  A co-host of the popular American history podcast BackStory, she is a frequent commentator on PBS, NPR, CNN, and MSNBC, and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  Her online course, The American Revolution, has been viewed in homes and classrooms around the world.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest and the George Washington University History Department for their support.



  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Eric Arnesen

    Professor of History, The George Washington University