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tv   Political Partisanship in the U.S.  CSPAN  March 29, 2016 11:52pm-1:01am EDT

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artifacts, they're fantastic shows p shows. >> i had no idea they did history. that's probably something i'd enjoy. >> it gives you that perspective. >> i'm a c-span fan. coming up on american history tv, in primetime, programs about the history and politics of congress. first a look at the history of political parties. then lectures in history on the culture of the antebellum congress. after that, 19th century african american senator blanche k. bruce, followed by the history of the joint committee on taxation. it's often argued our current political parties are the most divisive in history. proffers joann freeman who studies early american politics and brian balogh, who specializes in the 20th century disagree. up next, they talk about the
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evolution of political parties and partisanship from the founding era to the 21st century. this was hosted by the national history center and it's one hour long. in a few weeks, a united states senator will rise in the senate chamber to read through the entire text of george washington's farewell address. this is a tradition the senate has been performing annually since 1896. other than the senator who is speaking, the only other people who will be in the chamber will be the senator who is the presiding officer, a handful of clerks and a few visiting tourists in the gallery. but the rest of the public can watch this on c-span. if you do watch it, you will hear our first president warn in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. he goes on to say, this spirit unfortunately is inseparable from our nature. having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.
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it exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled or repressed. but in those of the popular form, it's seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy. so i think it's a little comforting when we consider 20th century -- 21st century partisanship to know that partisanship vexed our first president george washington, just as it's continued to vex every one of his successors. since we often hear questions about whether or not this time period is the single most polarized partisan era in american history, the national history center today has invited two prominent political historians to discuss the historical evolution of partisanship and help us measure our current times against the past. harkening back to the 19th century, joanne freeman is a professor of history and american studies at yale university, where she
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specializes in politics and political culture, of an era when politicians went around armed with pistols and canes, which they occasionally used on each other and on members of the press. she is also the author of a livery prize winning book that i highly recommend called "affairs of honor, national politics and the new republic." she's at work with the title "the field of blood, congressional violence in the antebellum era." straddling the late 19th and 20th century, brian balogh a professor at the university of virginia and the miller senator. he is the author of a number of works including "a government out of sight, the mystery of national authority in 19th century" and another one between the cycles, essays on the republican gifford pinchot. and quote, the tangled roots of
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administration in the united states. you may also have heard brian on the nationally syndicated radio show back story with the american history guys. so here today we have two american history guys. >> i'll be an honorary guy. [ laughter ] thank you, for the introduction. this morning, i would like to discuss a period of extreme partisanship and polarization in congress. a period of us against them. a period of do or die politics. a period filled with talk of doom and destruction and even some physical violence. a period in which new technologies broadcast some of those extreme claims to a national audience with ever increasing speed. the polarization, the emotion, the extremes, in many ways i have described our current political zeitgeist but in fact, i'm talking about the late 1850s. a period when the struggle for
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the soul of the union, a struggle grounded on the problem of slavery, ultimately ripped the nation in two. and what i'd like to do this morning is briefly discuss that political crisis of the 1850s with an even briefer glance at an earlier and equally polarized crisis to explore some broader patterns in american partisanship. i will add as don suggested in talking about the 1850s, i will drawing on a bhook book that i just completed in manuscript form. right now, the working title has migrated. but field of blood will always be there, because it's just too juicy. that's the field of blood congressional violence and the coming of the civil war. and it's a book that reveals a striking thread of physical violence in the u.s. congress, on the floor of the house and senate, between roughly 1830 and 1860.
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involving not only the infamous caning of charles sumner but including roughly 100 physical clashes in the house and senate, including fist fights, knives and revolvers and the occasional mass brawl with dozens of congressman rumbling, in essence. usually in the house. i'm going to come back to that rather dramatic assertion in a moment. for now, i'm going to leave you hanging and give you a little bit of context. i will start by saying that obviously, part of what i'm implying here is that today we're hardly experiencing the first or most polarized moment in our political history. over the last few years, a number of press outlets have wanted me to state for the record things have never been worse. and i can't say that. as a historian, i cannot say that. in many ways the 1850s was worse. and indeed, intense partisanship dates back to the dawning of the republic. one might argue the first crisis of intense partisanship took place during the government's first decade in existence.
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the 1790s and the late 1790s was a period of extreme partisanship culminating in the chrissis -- crisis-ridden election of 1800, a do or die battle between federalists and republicans that ultimately elected thomas jefferson president. the crisis of the late 1790s had much in common with the present. there was rampant fear at least among the federalists of a foreign threat. federalists feared the social upset of revolutionary france would corrupt or destroy the infant american republic. and given that the republicans who were french friendly seemed to be risking the life of the republic, the federalists in power on the national stage, dedicated them services to destroying the republicans as a matter of national survival and, of course, also partisan advantage. republicans in turn believed the federalists were destroying the republic by trying to convert and corrupt it into an
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aristocratic monarchy and the federalist attempts to use the power of the state to crush their republic opposition drove that point home. republicans also dedicated themselves to destroying the -- their foe, the federalists, with equal fervor. when i say destroying, i actually mean that quite literally.
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