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tv   Book Discussion on Washington Brotherhood  CSPAN  February 1, 2014 9:00am-9:34am EST

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is great to see some familiar faces and some others and great to be at one of my favorite book stores. i have been coming here for a long time and i appreciate the invitation. it is appropriate for us to talk about the role of washington d.c. year in the capital in the midst of the sesquicentennial of the civil war, commemorating 150 years of the civil war, it lasted four bloody years and
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took the lives of 700,000 americans, north and south and when we think about this civil war it is typically with the sense of the divisive relationship between north and south and the violence that captured the nation well before the war began. men from the north and men from the south became a angry and angrier, challenging one another with words and with guns over the issue of slavery and washington d.c. has long served as the epicenter of that discussion. when we think of the coming of the civil war almost common picture is of the caning of charles sumner, an anti slavery senator from massachusetts by south carolina congressman preston brooks on the floor of the senate in 1856. i will talk about this in a minute but tonight i want to talk about how the picture of washington as violent and divisive is misleading. instead, the real key to
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understanding washington in the mid-19th century is to recognize that in many ways it operated more like a social fraternity, hence the name washington brotherhood. politicians came to washington from around the country to a city that does not look much like what we saw today. was dirty, dusty, it was not a vacation destination. depending upon the session they would spend between 9 months living together in hotels, boarding houses, scattered across pennsylvania avenue from the capital up to the white house. they talked to each other at parties and balls and state dinners and hotel bars across the city as well as in social religious clubs. i want to highlight two key consequences of this close-knit washington community. first, it produced something like a social land political code in washington, a set of
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norms for political behavior that goes outside the capital he didn't understand. even those people who didn't really like each other much tended to treat each other in the same way you imagine a fraternity, you kept things in the family. second, the experiences of living in washington often insulated politicians from the outside world. they understood the sectional conflicts of the mid-19th century in the context of cross sectional cooperation in washington but this meant in practice in the antebellum period, many southern politicians were simply unprepared for the speed at which secession took hold in the winter of 1860-1861. so depending on your view of washington you might even call this inside the beltway mentality before the beltway even existed. how i want to highlight these
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two features of washington society in the mid-19th century, the role of the social code and the ways in which politicians were isolated with a couple of stories and then hopefully you will have some questions for me. let me start with the social and political code of washington and particularly the co-existed in the capital itself. when we think about congressional policymaking in the 20 first century we think about capitol hill end maybe even the capital itself as the place where politicians give important speeches and hammer out deals. this may surprise you but in the nineteenth century almost none of that happened in the capital itself and there were a number of reasons for this and i will focus on how the representatives here, to make my points all little easier to illustrate. in the antebellum period the house of representatives average 240 men coming from all regions of the country and it was very
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hard to chorale all these men, attentive and sober to listen to a speech in the house of representatives. it was hard to maintain a quorum, a majority of members of the house. there was no system of bells like there is today where you can get people to come in and take their seats, typically except in cases of an important vote for a very famous speaker you only had about two thirds of the house in session. the rest of the politicians were out of town or they were hanging out elsewhere in washington. many of the exciting bars and brothels and other places in the area or they could be in the capital getting drunk at the hole in the wall which was a little tavern in the basement of the capital. if you were unlucky enough to get a seat at the back of the house you probably couldn't hear what was going on.
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remember there were no microphones in the mid-19th century and when you have that many people you are not going to be able to hear as well, the acoustics in the house were not very good. people complain about this and if you in one of the seats at the back you were out of luck. those in the house itself or not necessarily paying attention. this is an important part of thinking about the way the washington politicians understood what was around them. when you are living as a politician in the nineteenth century you did not have a staff of the way you would today. you didn't have people taking care of your correspondence, who were keeping in touch with your constituents so you had to do all of that yourself which meant a lot of times it happened in the capital itself. people would write letters home, they would write letters to their wives. they wouldn't pay attention to what was going on on the floor. they would be corresponding. and if they didn't feel like
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listening they could just talk to their neighbors or sleep or what ever they would want to do. congressmen generally didn't feel bad about ignoring these speeches because the real politicking did not understand in the capital itself. as a result most of what happened in the capital fell into a category of nineteenth century speechmaking congressman called bunk speechmaking. definition of speechmaking was basically giving a speech on a bill or an amendment that basically had nothing to do with what was going on in the house itself but was strictly made for the purpose of pleasing your constituents and every congressman in the nineteenth century made these speeches frequently. this was part of the experience of living in washington and understanding of the way things worked. you wanted to please your
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constituency would make the speeches. it was so well expected that congressmen would make him that sometimes they wouldn't even make the speeches. they would ride the mouth and hands them to the congressional record reporter and the reporter would put them in the congressional record. nobody complained about this his this was part of the experience of working in washington, of working in the house. this was a part of the congressional code. we have to think about how washington operated outside the capitol itself. one more import aspect of this washington fraternal code takes us back to charles sumner. i want to remind you a little bit of the details of the caning of charles sumner, a particularly colorful moment in our history. there had been much fighting in kansas as a result of the kansas nebraska act of 18541856 it had gone particularly violent and
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charles sumner, a massachusetts senator got up in the senate and delivered a speech that was very much accusatory of the south. he called it the rape of kansas, that slavery men were going into kansas and trying to influence the votes there. he also said some pretty nasty things about a man named andrew butler, a senator from south carolina. butler's cousin was serving in the house at this time, preston brooks, brooks did not take kindly to this. he did not hear the speech but he read about it and thought this was a problem so he decided to confront some there. some they're completely unwittingly avoided brooks for some time. they happened to pass each other at times where brooks couldn't go to speak to him and after a couple days of this brooks got very pain-free, he waited for sumner at the back of the
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senate, went up to him once the galleries were clear and struck him over the head with his cane 30 times. sumner fell into the aisle in the senate and had to leave the senate for some months to recover. this is a story that has long been told as something that proves how divisive washington was and certainly it became a divisive outside of washington. it became decisive in the north and in the south but if we look more closely at washington in this period we can see that it is part of a larger culture of violence and vice in the capital that was not so shocking to the people who lived at that time. it was part of the social and political code that i am talking about. as i mentioned washington is not a vacation destination, it was a pretty grubby place to live in the mid-19th century, not very
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suitable for ladies. people talk about this all the time, it was more of a man place. this made it more of a fraternal experience, men engaging in drinking and gambling and other raucous activities without the eyes of their wives on them and want to give you a couple examples of this. we talked about the drinking that happened in the capital but there were also a fair number of congressmen who drank in the house of representatives itself. if they felt like having a drink when listening to speeches they might call a page and have the page bring in some drinks, several congressmen were drunk while serving, while speaking and preston brooks in our story of the caning of charles sumner was also from bubbly drunk still from drinking very heavily the night before when he struck some there. there was a substantial amount of womanizing that took place, some of the most famous congress men from the mid-19th century,
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daniel webster and john c. calhoun were rumored to have women on the side, but this is another example of how it fit within the washington coat, the political and social code because people did not talk about this to the newspapers. wasn't all over cnn. this was something people kept within the family, within the fraternity. there were a number of tourists that happened in washington. and number of examples of people getting involved with each other's spouses and one of my favorite examples of this may sound familiar to some of you, between the wife of daniel sickle, a new york democrat leader famous in the civil war and the u.s. attorney for the district of columbia, philip barton t.. d.c. politicians tried to keep this out of the papers. they didn't talk to anybody about it. not like reporters were reporting on what happened
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between these two lovers but people whispered about it in washington and eventually sickle's found out, he accosted from martin cheese in the middle of lafayette square, shot him and then turned himself in to the district attorney. he very famous now for being the first person to be acquitted because of temporary insanity. this is a good example of how we can learn about this today but something that was kept secret for a long time. as the story tells you violence was also a pretty regular part of the washington experience and not just between northerners and southerners. some might be thinking southerners were the ones who were more violent, not true at all. northerners were just as violent. one of my favorite stories of violence took place between william english, a democrat from indiana, and william montgomery,
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democrat from pennsylvania fees. quince summary of the apparently unhappy about something because when he ran into english on 18th f st. he refused to say hello to his former friend, exclaiming i speak to know puppies, sir. great lexicon in the nineteenth century. english didn't like his reaction. he was a slight man where montgomerie was about 200 lbs. and so he lifted up his cane and montgomery of the head with it. montgomerie felt over and seeing a loose brick on the ground, through it at english, and they got into a pretty serious tussle. this is one good example of northerners getting involved. violence took place in the house of representatives. this would happen between several members of congress. one of the most famous examples
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of this is a republican out of pennsylvania and one from south carolina who became angry with one another on the floor of the house and became so angry that it produced a fist fight of nearly 30 people. they had been fighting for some time when an illinois representative took a swing at a fellow, a democrat from mississippi, he ain't a bit too high end his wig went flying off his head. nobody in the house knew he wore a wig so this was quite amusing. the house starts laughing uncontrollably and the route is over. what does this tell us? this is a pretty common thing in washington. there is a lot of violence but it is part of the regular experience. happens and then it is over and this is the context in washington in which the caning of charles sumner happened, it
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is not a situation where washington politicians becomes so a agree with one another they can't speak to each other. they are over it in three days, not true elsewhere in the country but in washington. the experience of washington politicians helps us to understand this second aspect of the washington fraternity and that is politicians could be isolated from what was going on back home. although some nehr and brooks were from the north and south, respectively, the difference between the two places was not as stock in washington itself. when senators and congress men came to washington was almost impossible to avoid becoming friendly with people from other sections. washington community operated in such a way that politicians were forced into a regular series of parties, balls and dinners that are overwhelmingly cross
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sectional. both men and women, the few women that came to washington were required to participate in the system of washington socializing as part of the etiquette of the day so if you were for example a member of the house of representatives it was your duty to call on members of the senate, cabinet members, justices of the supreme court and the president. you had to call on each of them and they had to call back on you. the results of this was that you had to get to know people, you had to have the opportunity to get to know people from all parts of the country. men where required to show up at state dinners as a show of support for an administration. many would spend evenings dining together particularly as local socialite william corcoran's house in washington where they necessarily encountered men from
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all sections of the country. the living arrangement of washington further highlighted this, hotels were never divided up between northerners and southerners. congressmen lives next door to men from another section and boarding houses were also overwhelmingly cross sectional during this period which meant men who couldn't afford to live in a tel would live in other sections. the result is cross sectional interaction was development of a large number of cross sectional friendships. these friendships did not make men less committed to their home state or there section but it did cloud their ability to fully understand the angle and coming out of the south and north in this time. is to give you a couple of examples and i will let you ask some questions. abraham lincoln and the future vice president of the confederacy alexander stephens became very good friends while working in washington. they enjoy each other's company and lincoln didn't know much of
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the south other than what he learned while working in washington with southerners who were willing to compromise and talk with him. jefferson davis, a future president of the confederacy count the number of northerners as his closest friends including william henry seward, the anti slavery new yorker who will become the future secretary of state in the lincoln administration. seward was even rumored to have nursed jefferson davis back to health during one of his fits of illness. so these friendships and the washington experience helps explain why davis and others were so surprised by the speed at which secession took hold and the sadness with which they met the end of the union or at least what they expected to be the end of the union. there's a great scene at the end of all this, jefferson davis saying goodbye to his fellow
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congressmen in january of 1861, holding up his things, walking out of the capital sweeping the entire way. not the picture we think of jefferson davis but even jefferson davis understood this was a serious moment and a moment he was not necessarily expecting. i leave you with tonight the idea that washington during this period was not the typical divisive and violent place we think of when we think of the coming of the civil war. in many ways it was the exception. it was the kind of place where you could escape some of that divisiveness and as a result, we cannot think about these people as causing the civil war or being emblematic of how the civil war came. thank you. [applause] >> i will take some questions that you need to use the microphone so anyone would like
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to use the microphone and asked a question i would be happy to answer it. all right, brave soul. >> i confess this is really off topic but kind of a logical question on the minds of a lot of people, how did we get to the state we are in now, rather than answering the political explanation for that may be a little of the history of when did this change? it seems into the 60s there was plenty of socializing going on, i am not sure statistically whether anybody really knows now how much across partisan socializing goes on. i am sure some of it does but certainly by all counts it is a different world now. tell us what you know about
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this. >> the nineteenth century was different from the 20th and twenty-first century in terms of these kinds of experiences. the fact that it is all men in this period makes it unique. i would say so one of the things that is key about the politicians in the mid-19th century is that they lived in washington for a long time together. they spent eight or nine months in washington at a time where they don't go home if you are from texas from this period you wouldn't go home because it was hard to get there so being forced into a situation where you are living together and interacting in this way probably had a big impact on the politicians in the nineteenth century. we have a much bigger government now in terms of the number of people who work in washington. you could know 80% of the people who lived in washington at this time because it was really focused on the politics. it was the place where you did politics and almost nothing else so as a result of that there is a focus on what is going on in
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the social relationships in the nineteenth century. now washington is huge and we have all kinds of other things we are doing and as a result it is harder to get to know politicians to the same degree. i am not sure when it broke down or if it broke down. we don't really know what is going on behind closed doors but certainly it looks different from how it did in the nineteenth century. >> unfortunately i missed most of your presentation. but i am very serious about comparing where we are today to ancient civilization. i don't think we are very civilized. we are supposed to be a civilized country but we live with very backward mentality for many things in many areas. i just came back from a month in turkey in and i don't think we
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have come very far. my question to you, and you think we are civilized country in the united states of america? >> it depends what you think civilize is. today we wouldn't describe the nineteenth century politicians as civilized. they were trash talking, drunk and all kinds of violence at that time. that is part of the problem, we have changed a lot of the way we view our day-to-day experience. in the twenty-first century people don't hit each other over the head with a cane if they are mad about something because they will go to jail. not true in the nineteenth century. our perceptions of these things have changed which also is why it has been hard for us to understand the violence context of washington in the nineteenth century because we sort of think it is a violent, it must have been very angry as well. it was not so much in that
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direction. >> i have read your book and also there is research in this period, if you could talk a bit about the differences perhaps in the people, the status if you are a calvert in the house of representatives, your family was nearby, justice campbell, your family was here, your status and your responsibility was different because you had family and you also had a house and you had people -- could you talk of bit about the difference, the influence, what goes along with it when you have your family here and when you are just the guys down at the mess. >> excellent question. one of the things about being a visible politician in the mid-19th century with family or with your wife is you had more
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requirements to get involved with washington society. your wife also had to participate in this complicated calling system only to a greater extent so as a result you were going to be much more visible. if you have a house you were going to host parties, dinners, generally people who hosted parties and dinners would invite people from both sections, generally they would focus more on one person and another. if you were a democrat you were likely to invite democrats but not true of everyone who lived in washington. i mention william corcoran, a famous socialite, banker, someone who contributed a lot to washington. i am sure you are familiar with the ordering gallery, he was one of the most committed to a cross sectional washington community. in part because he knew his livelihood depended on it. as long as he was able to help keep the country together he could make some money, have his
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friends, the on good terms with people from both sides of the country. he tried to facilitate that kind of cross sectional interaction. he always invited people from both sections of the country to his house. never passed up a dinner at corcoran's. he had all of the best food. for the people in boarding houses in particular, you had some pretty nasty meals, you never passed up the dinner at corcoran's. a lot of this is about getting as involved as possible in the washington community which allow you to stay longer, allowed you to have more influence, allowed you to get to know people. if that answers your question. >> i have two things, not requested, more things i am curious to get your thoughts on. you make some fantastic and important points. i remember of in yet i read in the book and i don't remember
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the author, jefferson davis is instrumental in getting the capital dome built and how interesting this was, the paradox of at the time the country is falling apart that is this sort of testament to the strength of the union going up and it is driven largely by the most southern southerner of all. that is one, sort of a small one. i'm interested in your thoughts and relation to that, what does this tell us about the coming of the civil war if anything? is it forestalling it? hastening it? to washington dropped the ball? is there something they could have done about it? get your thoughts on that. >> i would say the key to your second question is washington couldn't prevent the civil war. they are not responsible for it necessarily although probably some of those speeches contributed to the anchor but they couldn't prevent it.
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it was a grass-roots movement by people who were objecting to the political system and particularly rejecting the political system jefferson davis had been a part of. you hear the rhetoric today to vote we got to get rid of washington insiders, same thing in the nineteenth century. washington insiders thought the worst thing ever to happen to our country so i would say they didn't so much drop the ball as they were oblivious to the ball. they didn't know what they were doing when it came to that and they tried to create peace, tried several times to create some sort of compromise before the civil war came. but they weren't able to do anything about it. jefferson davis is a great example of the washington community. he is a career politician, he is very much committed to washington society, have all kinds of friends from all kinds of places and very much interested in building on that for the future. there are not that many people
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in the nineteenth century who are going to be around forever in washington. jefferson davis was planning on it so this is an important moment for him in the sense that it is the death of everything he believes in and so this explains a little bit how he is able to make the transition to the confederacy because of his political system has died he has to replace it with something else but it is a really sad moment for him. >> my question is what role do you think the washington brotherhood plating reconciliation after the war where there isn't these -- jefferson davis lives out his life, no trials? does that continue after the war? did they come back? >> it does continue after the war, it continued during the war which is really something but it does continue after the war.
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there is a willingness among politicians that existed before the war to reconcile because people are willing to seek you fought against me but we knew each other back then. the civil war brings an enormous number of new politicians to washington who don't know about this washington code and that is where some of the division exists. there are some examples of people who are around before who are willing to but most, especially the republicans to come to washington after the civil war haven't been in congress so they don't know these guys which i think does have an impact. other questions? >> thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] >> the book "washington brotherhood" is available at the register. i think you should buy it.
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>> happy to sign anything, thank you for coming. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> you are watching booktv on c-span2. here is our prime time lineup for tonight. at 7:00 p.m. eastern, q wilford talks about america's greatest game, the cia's secret area bus and shaping of the modern middle east. at 8:00 p.m. the second arab awakening to. at 9:00 eastern a look at the life of general arnold. at 10:00 p.m. afterwards with angela stent author of the
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limits of partnership, u.s./russia relations in the twenty-first century. we wrap up tonight's prime-time programming at 11:00 p.m. eastern with tim hartford. his book is the undercover economist strikes back, how to run or will in an economy. that all happens tonight on c-span2's booktv. >> fred siegel argues the roots of modern liberalism can be found in the writings of post-world war 1 figures like sinclair lewis -- sinclair lewis, sinclair lewis and h.l. mencken, he argues they despise the business class and mainstream american values and culture. this is about an hour. >> thank you. if you don't mind i am going to sit rather than go to the


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