Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

by Rachel A. Shelden
Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

by Rachel A. Shelden


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Traditional portrayals of politicians in antebellum Washington, D.C., describe a violent and divisive society, full of angry debates and violent duels, a microcosm of the building animosity throughout the country. Yet, in Washington Brotherhood, Rachel Shelden paints a more nuanced portrait of Washington as a less fractious city with a vibrant social and cultural life. Politicians from different parties and sections of the country interacted in a variety of day-to-day activities outside traditional political spaces and came to know one another on a personal level. Shelden shows that this engagement by figures such as Stephen Douglas, John Crittenden, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Stephens had important consequences for how lawmakers dealt with the sectional disputes that bedeviled the country during the 1840s and 1850s--particularly disputes involving slavery in the territories.
Shelden uses primary documents--from housing records to personal diaries--to reveal the ways in which this political sociability influenced how laws were made in the antebellum era. Ultimately, this Washington "bubble" explains why so many of these men were unprepared for secession and war when the winter of 1860-61 arrived.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469610863
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/16/2013
Series: Civil War America
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 296
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Rachel A. Shelden is assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: The Washington Fraternity in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 1

Prologue: The Politician's Landscape in Antebellum Washington 9

Chapter 1 A Perfect Tower of Babel: The Culture of Congress and the Wilmot Proviso 14

Chapter 2 Odd Fellows, Teetotalers, and Young Indians: Washington Associations and the Election of 1848 41

Chapter 3 Behind the Curtain Where Great Men Relax: Capital Social Life and the Compromise of 1850 63

Chapter 4 An F Street Mess: Federal Living Arrangements and the Kansas-Nebraslut Act of 1854 96

Chapter 5 The Most Immoral and Corrupt Place in the Union: Vice, Violence, and the Caning of Charles Sumner 120

Chapter 6 We Know No Lecompton Here: Cross-Partisan Relationships and the Fight over Kansas 144

Chapter 7 Like Taking a Last Leave of a Brother: The Washington Community Faces the Secession Crisis 167

Epilogue: The Washington Brotherhood in War and Peace 192

Notes 201

Bibliography 249

Index 275

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Shelden pulls back the facade of sectionalist pistol-wielding and Bowie knife-brandishing to reveal the surprising brotherhood that existed within the antebellum Washington community.—Mark E. Neely Jr., McCabe-Greer Professor of Civil War History, Pennsylvania State University

In her striking new book, Rachel Shelden goes behind the scenes to show readers a Washington, D.C., in the years before the Civil War that rarely reached the public eye. She highlights sociable day-to-day life in boardinghouses and hotels, where Northerners and Southerners took their measure of each other and often became friends. When secession suddenly brought their world to a screeching halt, many of the dismayed principals tried vainly to stem the torrent."—Daniel W. Crofts, The College of New Jersey

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