tv [untitled] May 12, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm EDT
howard? where do you find -- >> now with charlotte fortin's diary it's published. you can get your hands on it. also with memoir by susie king taylor. maria stewart was a political essayist and speaker. so her speeches are available. in fact, the book that i really recommend for anybody wanting to study early negro writings was edited by dorothy porter and it's called "early negro writings." and dorothy porter use -- dr. dorothy porter was the head archivist for many years and that work i think is something that should be -- anybody is curious on this subject should have it in their library and some of maria stewart's diary and you get to hear their voices.
>> great, thank you. >> well, thank you very much for your time. and may you all have fun researching. as commemoration of the 1350 -- 150th war continues join us for programs featuring the civil war. for more information about american history tv on c-span 3 including the complete schedule, go to c-span.org/history. to keep up with us during the week or to send questions or comments, follow us on twitter. the organization of american historians and the national council on public history recently held their annual meeting in milwaukee, wisconsin.
american history tv spoke with several of this year's attendees. next, yale history professor joanne freeman and university of chicago political science professor william howell describe acts of violence in the u.s. congress leading up to the civil war. and congressional checks on war powers in the modern era. professor freeman is working on a book titled "field of blood, congressional violence in antebellum america." american history tv is at the organization of american historians annual meeting in milwaukee, and we are going to talk next about congress and american politics with joanne freeman who is a history professor at yale. and with professor william howell from the university of chicago and you're a political american politics professor. thanks for joining us today. let's start off, professor
freeman, with a book you have been working on called "field of blood, congressional violence in america." congressional violence, normally when we hear about congress we don't think of violence. >> that's true. the book is really about the couple of decades the 1830s and '40s and '50s before the civil war and it's about actual physical violence. pushing, shoving, pulling of boowy knives, pulling of pistols. mass melees with 20 or 30 guys sort of wrestling each other. part of what i'm talking about in the book is there's a lot more of it than people realized. a lot of it's hidden. you have to search for it and find it. and once you do, you sort of realize it was -- i mean, america was a violent place, but congress was a violent place too. i'm looking and i'm trying to look at some of the implications. >> what's going on there? why did congress of all places become such a violent place? >> well, in part -- i mean,
america was violent, politics was violent and legislatures tended to be violent. congress in this period is involved in all these sort of major union shaking issues, and part of what's going on with the violence is southerners and southern-born westernersed on the tend to be the aggressors. other time, if you talk about something that has to do with slavery and if you're a southerner and you want to shut somebody up, it's effective to reach for your bowie knife. >> this is part of the context, you brought this up today on congress and politics in general. did you find people sort of surprised at the level of violence of emotion that was going on in congress? we don't see that in congress now. we see emotion. >> that's true. i mean, i do think generally speaking our image of congress in this period is clay calhoun and webster making great words. so yeah, it isn't the image.
they're not surprised that there was some violence because there was the famous caning. and when i say violence of congress, there's 119 other incidents in which people are doing something physical in some way or other. and particularly given that a lot of it is in the house and senate chambers. it doesn't tend to be put in the perrios of the congressional record, it's censored out. people haven't looked for it because they didn't know it was there to look for it. >> professor howell, what was the biggest take away with other historians on congress and politics? >> well, i think the importance of violence -- this something we have been talking about -- not just -- it's a surprise. it was happening as much and that it was such a prominent feature of law making. of speeches that are giving. it isn't just bad men behaving badly.
it sounds like there's a lot -- policy stakes involved. >> it's politics. >> yeah. it was shaping what was going on in congress in important ways. i don't know of any congressional scholars that have looked at this phenomenon. so it's exciting that it's being unearthed. >> this discussion outside of professor freeman, did you have any other professor scholars participating today? >> there were some in the audience. so it was -- >> you asking about the other painer? >> about the other -- the discussion in your session today. were there other congressional historians in that? >> yes. yes, there were. we had another paper looking at the contemporary period and the engagement of congress in foreign policy making. which is in some ways a different topic, but in other ways not so much, right? it's again legislature trying to come to grips and shape big debates and he was looking at trying to constrain the president's ability to wage war abroad. this was about in the big background about slavery. >> and on that particular subject you have written some on
the ability of congress to -- the authority of congress to wage war. what is the law now in terms of -- what is congress' role in declaring a war? >> congress hasn't formally declared war since world war ii and since world war ii there have been sorts of understainci where the presidents have sent units abroad. and there are other classes where congress authorizes the use of military force. but often authorizes it and really in broad ways. so this has led a number of scholars to conclude that congress has altogether abdicated the war making as unbound. that's overstating the matters quite considerably and it ignores a lot of the interesting politics that occur across the
various branches of government about war. but it's the -- it's a striking feature of the modern era. that congress is not out in front defining military policy. in ways that it once was. >> a book reviewer looking at rachel maddow's book "drift" about military american power wrote this on war powers. especially in the last half century the decision to go to war has become too easy. congress's constitutional prerogative to declare war has been routinely ignored. only a tiny fraction sends a family member to war, permitting them to remain oblivious to the grisly human price. does that make it easier for congress to advocate and call the shots? >> at the front end -- in determining whether or not to initiate military force, but that doesn't mean that congress isn't an important player in
shaping presidential decision making about whether or not to go. let me try to be clear. during this period, when we -- there's been widespread abdication, wars have done a number on three presidents. right? truman's approval ratings are in the high 20s because of the korean war. johnson decides not to run again in '68, precisely when the vietnam war is seen as a full blown war. and bush. a big reason why he loses both chambers of congress in 2006 and why we have a president obama and not a president clinton is because of the unpopularity of those wars. in all those instances, members of congress played an important role in shaping the domestic debate about the ef ficacy of military action. there are things that congress can do that are not up to the standards of the constitution. it's not about congress declaring or not declaring, putting a tight leash around the
president, but they can make military action incredibly costly. therefore, really relevant to the domestic politics of war. >> are you saying that congress and by doing -- almost by advocating congress has become more powerful by letting the president take the fall -- >> no i wouldn't go that way. i don't want to claim they are -- i'm not a constitutional law scholar. my sense is that congress is not fulfilling the basic constitutional obligations in matters involving war. that isn't to say that they're irrelevant. and so they're not doing a lot of the formal things. but what they do do is when a military action goes awry, what they can do is give all kinds of speeches and hold hearings and launch investigations and talk about the incompetence of the president of putting our troops in harm's way.
an that that kind of behavior has real political cost to a president. >> we'll tie this back into congress this year. professor freeman you're editing a volume on alexander hamilton for the library america. >> i did, yes. >> you did. how do you suppose as one of the founders he would view -- and one who didn't participate in congressional violence, but had a duel. >> unfortunately. yeah. >> how would he -- what was his view on the role of the legislature and the executive in terms of the war powers? >> i mean, hamilton was very much a fan of a strong executive. to an extreme degree in the time period to the degree that some people accused him of being a monarchist in trying to introduce a king into the new republic, because he wanted a strong executive. on the one hand you could say he's in favor of something or would have been in favor of something that would have been presidential power. but on the other hand, in that
time period, i think america had to think differently about war because the government was new. we basically didn't have much of an army. we didn't have much of a navy. we didn't have a way of fighting a war without deliberating setting about to do something. as much as i think he'd like the enhancement of presidential power, he was in some ways a realist about what should or shouldn't be happening in war. i think generally speaking, we had an almost war with france. the quasi war. i don't know. kind of a gyp of a name for a war. and the quasi war -- >> it was called the quasi war? >> yeah. it was almost war with france. there's a case in which a number of people were pushing -- sort of pushing for war than they might have been otherwise. but still, that would have involved a lot of building up of military forces which would have involved having congress become involved. the quasi war remained a quasi
war. but still, war was a charged issue in a brand new country. >> i think you're pointing out something really important which is that in order to launch a military action you had to build the capability first. which requires all kinds of political coordination in ways that when you have a standing army and you have all kinds of military capability, and you're in an era when the president can unilaterally make decisions about when or whether we'll wage war, that this is -- this is something where congress is less of a constrain. the president doesn't have to say let's start raising taxes so we can get the armaments that we need in order to wage war. >> but congress does have the responsibility to authorize and appropriate for those departments for the war department. >> right. >> in that case, a defense department. >> the challenge to the president of going before congress and saying, you know,
write this check so i can launch a new military action is significantly greater than the one that involved the president going to congress and saying, write this check so that we can put -- we can protect our troops who are in harm's way today. the latter is an easier debate to have from the president's standpoint. >> did we take the decision out of -- this may be more of a constitutional question, but the first president, our military leader was the leader of the military war. do we give the right to declare war to the executive based on george washington, based on his experience? >> i wouldn't say that's why that's happened. i would say it's hard to imagine someone else who could have been the first president given the degree of power that the executive had. maybe part of the case is because washington was there and because he was so trusted, because at the end of the war he gave up power and went home.
the best way to be trusted with power is to surrender it and leave and as the leader of a victorious army, history says he should have done something to take power and he didn't. so because he was such a trusted figure, i think it made it easier for us to have that first executive. you know, i don't think he gets a lot of credit for the difficulties of being the first executive and having to be the guy setting precedents in any number of ways. you know, he goes to congress for the first time to have -- basically have a treaty read and get advice and concept. he wants to hear what congress says. there are carriages outside, it's noisy, people can't hear. they ask for it to be read a second time and washington is being impatient. someone says, president washington we might like a day or two to talk about this and he erupts. he says it defeats the whole purpose of coming here. he storms out and never goes back.
that's it, i'm not going back to congress. in his mind, he said i'm not doing that again, it was humiliating, i wasted my time. setting that precedent of behavior that are affecting -- that might affect policy. >>n't it is moments like that that begin to show the rise of congressional power? that congress declares its authority to -- whether overtly or just by implication, hey, we want a few days to consider this treaty to advise and consent? >> no, a great example of that. it's one little guy who writes in his diary, he's kind of scared. he stands up in front of george washington, wie need a little time. it was an example of how new and experimental it was. >> you're writing your book on congressional violence. you're writing of a period ahead of the civil war. you talked about the statesman, calhoun and webster. those individual members of congress, did they fill a
advantage yule of executive leadership that may have been missing ahead of lincoln's election? >> i don't know if i'd go that far. there are strong positions of congressional leadership. clay is a great example of that. shaping policy to an extreme degree in congress. i don't know if i would say it's filling a vacuum, but congress is a force and a presence and there are people in that period who are asserting and shaping what they envision congress as being. again, still an einvolving institution. >> part of the reason it stopped filling a vacuum is because the federal government is so much smaller. our expectation -- their expectations of the federal government were so much more reduced than it was -- >> right. >> than it is today. where today it's hard to -- the federal government is involved in all kinds of our lives, all sorts of dimensions and the
president in particular is seen as the central -- the central personality to whom we turn. to whom we invest all our hopes and aspirations. so imagining today's world wherein the president wasn't doing that and there would be a vacuum. these are different times. >> as you look at 2012, you look at the balance of power among the three branches, where do you think it's the strongest these days? >> well, i think that in today's politics, if you're looking for a single branch of government to provide the kind of leadership that's required to address deep social problems the only branch of government that can provide it is the presidency. that congress is dysfunctional in this regard. the rise -- the congress already as a collective decision making body has a hard time of attending to problems that don't
have obvious solutions. i'm thinking of things like that -- a comprehensive energy problem or deal with global warming? things of this sort of scale. it's -- and then when you build on top of that rising polarization between the parties, it's at historic highs right now. >> you call it dysfunctional. is there another period of time was it dysfunctional then or more than in years past? >> there was a lot of polarization that's between the parties right now is at historic highs. that in conjunction with the rise of the personal vote that is parties are weaker and the connection between individual members and their districts are what often matters most for the electoral prospect, members of congress getting re-elected. this has made it very hard for members of congress to coordinate effectively with one another.
and so when we see congress exercises influence, it's true of military action and true of health care policy. you know, they're the naysayers, buts, a great thing to do, but we're going to make what was reasonly straight forward policy intervention and weigh it down with all kinds of provisions and compromises and that is good for potentially good for deliberation but it is not good for leadership. >> i would also add as far as the dysfunction question is concerned is the 1850s, part of what happens is the national party system collapses and things become focused around section as opposed to party and that's a problem if slavery is the big issue and another thing that happens towards the late 1850s is and i think it is relevant today as well, congress functions partly on the floor, partly in committees and partly in private, in communication and
negotiation and sort of asides. there is a sort of social level and which a lot gets done and a lot of agreements are reached or arrangements are made and i think congress is particularly dysfunctional when that is operating and i don't mean anyone, i mean people opposing politics and being able to informally chat over dinner, you know, the cross partisan dinner parties where people are, you know. >> they're not happening. >> you're not seeing any of that. that's a piece of the institutional congress that's being stripped away. >> what you see in its place are individual members of congress grandstanding to empty chambers, right, giving big speeches, taking a clear stand, and nobody is in the chamber. there is no real meaningful deliberation that's going on. it is beyond disagreement. it is lack of meaningful engagement. >> public or private. >> is part of that because of
the modern world and the communication and somebody can go out in front of c-span and morning hour speeches and give a speech and nobody is there and in early days in congress and giving speeches was not only policy was also entertainment, and people would come to see speeches being made and great or atars as you mentioned. >> that's probably part. i suspect there are a variety of things in play and another big thing is money in politics and the amount of time they have to spend today simply raising money and creates less time for them to engage with one another. when you have to spend a lot of time raising money and taking out clear positions that your con sfit wents will like and generate a basic set of accomplishments that you can point to, there is not much time left over in a day for members of congress to meaningfully deliberate, openly deliberate with one another. >> and i think technology, because technology is the link between congress and the public,
does have also as you suggested an influence. i mean, i am really intrigued by the moment we're having with people sitting and tweeting in congress and the fact that anything, any politician says, can become international within a milly second and what's interesting is in the late 1840s you get the telegraph and nationalized press and it is a different technology and they're equally sort of freaked out the implications of it so there is an incident in 1850 that one senator pulls a gun on another senator? the senate chamber and nothing happens and they're both restrained and the moment passes and they're about to happily charge on with what's going on happen and someone, a new hampshire congressman stands up and says i feel the need to say something. i hope you all realize even as we sit here they're beginning to read all over the country we just slaughtered each other in the senate, so everyone is sort of like, oh, okay, it is
instant, and it is the press which means nothing happened but that's not what they're going to read in the newspapers. it is an interesting kind of similar moment in which the technology is opening possibilities and people haven't entirely figured out how to harness that in the best possible way. >> do you think we're well served by having members serve long-terms and. >> other states you don't. >> state houses and things like that. >> exactly. and my understanding is literature suggests that the big problem with term limits, you can see the argument for them, right? we want people who will lead and not panhandler. that's the idea and free you up from electoral considerations because you get to serve one time for six years and you're out of there. on the other hand and this is a
big on the other hand, particularly with the congress, we are asking people when they go to congress to take positions and write laws about which they know very little and we ask and in order for them to learn something, they have to invest in expertise and if what you do is you say you'll be here for six years and you're out of here, there will be less incentives for them to invest that that expertise required to enact good policy and instead it is, look, you have six years. run. go as fast as you can and if you think about just having nothing but freshman members of congress as a way of dealing, go back to the transient social problems, another layer of difficulty, right, dysfunction for a national legislator to overcome. >> yet through the bulk of the 1800s probably certainly the legislators were, quote, citizen legislators and went back for long stretches of time. >> and big and constant
turnover, especially in the house, a lot of one term, so there were. i don't know what the percentages. there was a very high percentage of freshman congressman who beamed in and beamed out and what that meant is some of the people who weren't, who actually were re-elected did have some institutional importance not even just on issues but institutionally speaking. >> knowledge. >> right. >> going back to your book on congressional violence, you talked about finding sources and things about things that frankly a lot of people don't know about, so it is pretty interesting. where were you finding these sources? these are in the congressional record some of them are. the record of the time was really created by newspapers and a lot of this isn't in there or if it is in there, it is kind of coated like you will see a bracket in comment and it will say the discussion became unusually excited at one moment and having researched around for
a while i now know what that means is probably someone punched somebody or called someone a liar to the face and had to be held back, there was probably a physical moment there, and you don't see it, so historians, it is not like they're new to historians, historians have been using the criminal end in all kinds of interesting ways but they haven't necessarily known all of those little coated buried things actually might boil down to violence. when you start there and see a moment you think i wonder what the noise in the corner they're mentioning it and you go to newspapers and you look at the moment and hopefully you find something in a newspaper and if not you go into diaries and letters and sooner or later if you keep triangulating evidence in most cases you can figure out, oh, that's what happened. the fact that you have to do that, you know. >> on the one hand you're documenting a lot of violence and on the other hand an effort
to not speak openly about it. >> absolutely. >> this tension between we're going to engage in violence regularly but it will often be hushed away, put in a corner. >> yeah. >> trying to make sense that far. >> we have a couple minutes left and i want to find out from both of you what's the value coming to a gathering of colleagues like this for you? what do you take away from these events? >> we were just talking about this. for me it is generally speaking these kind of conferences are amazing because they're big and on one hand you get to connect with people in your field that you don't see except at conferences and you can see them in a group and you can sort of get a sense of what's new in the scholarship and that's exciting and part of it also is meeting these people in other fields in totally different time periods and engaging conversation and getting feedback in a way there is no other way you can get that kind of feedback and i have been basically sitting in a room by myself writing for a long time. by coming here and actually talking in public about the
project and getting feedback is kind of amazing and the fact the feedback is from a range of scholars on the panel and in the audience is wonderfully useful because you get all sorts of questions you would never think of yourself and, really, can help you conceptualize a project. >> do you go back into that dark room. >> and chain myself to my desk, yes. >> i agree. i think we get into patterns as individuals and disciplines and you can work for a long time in isolation and obvious question or concern doesn't occur to you and then as a discipline this is the first time i have been to a history conference. i am a political scientist. no political scientist is talking about the role of violence in congress although i know there is a huge audience so you will make a big splash whether you like it or not and to simply be opened up to