With the acquittal of President Trump and his feud with Speaker Pelosi, I think we can agree it’s been a tough few days. Listening to friends, colleagues, family members and news reports about how bad our political divide is, reminded me of a book I read a few months ago. The book titled The Field of Blood (Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War) by Joanne B. Freeman is an account of Congress in the 1800’s.
In this well researched and informative book, Ms. Freeman with shocking detail, rendered a portrait of American politics in its rowdiest years. She tells us with convincing facts, that today’s hyper-polarized political environment cannot compare to the turbulent environment in Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War.
Legislative sessions were punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks and all-out slugfests. Congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives at rivals. One representative even killed another in a duel. Bullying, intimidation, and threats were the norm. Massive fistfights were not uncommon and spittoons were often thrown at each other. Representatives spit on the floor and put their mud crusted dirty boots on their desks.
Decorum did not exist.
By 1860 many Congressmen armed themselves, some carrying pistols. They were sent by their constituents fully expecting bloody combat in the halls and on the floor of Congress itself! After revisiting Ms. Freeman’s book, I thought about some other interesting facts in our nation’s history that might help to put today’s environment in context. Since the founding of our country here is a partial list of some of the turbulent events that occurred:
- The U.S. fought 12 official wars resulting in the deaths of over 1.2 million people. This does not include other country’s losses. The Civil War alone claimed 620,000 lives.
- There have been 47 serious economic crises and recessions resulting in billions in economic losses. The stock market crash of 1929 alone resulted in a loss of $396 billion in today’s dollars.
- Over 100 natural disasters occurred resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of deaths. Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for 300,000 destroyed homes, over 1000 deaths and $250 billion in losses.
- Four US Presidents were assassinated. Several others were victims of attempted assassinations. Political and civil rights leaders were also assassinated.
- We have had scores of diseases and plagues resulting in thousands of deaths.
- We fought against slavery and fought the war for civil rights.
- We survived the great depression of the 1930s and the dust bowl.
- We’ve endured terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of thousands and economic losses in the billions of dollars. The 911 attack resulted in 2996 initial deaths and $40 billion in insurance losses. Unfortunately, the death toll from 911 is climbing. Many First Responders continue to die from toxic air exposure.
And the list goes on….
What I outlined is only a snapshot of some turbulent historical events in our nation’s past. But despite our trials and tribulations, the United States of America is home to some of the greatest achievements known to mankind. We are still here and still strong. The fact that we receive more requests for immigration than all other countries of the world combined, tells me that we are still looked at as a place of opportunity and justice.
The strides we made from the 1800s to now are quite amazing when you put things in context. At our core we are a good country, albeit not a perfect one. While perfection is a lofty goal, it is seldom achieved. We will always have challenges. We need to keep getting better. While we may not look to any of our political leaders for this inspiration, we can start with ourselves. Let’s work on mending the fences. Let’s learn to respect each other again.
Let’s treat each other as human beings.
So, if you’re feeling like it’s all over and we won’t make it, roll back the clock and take a look at where we’ve been and what we’ve endured. Our people are strong and our country is strong. We will be ok. So, let’s keep our heads on straight and remember−we’ve been through worse.
Stephen Phillip Monteiro is a law enforcement, security and intelligence consultant. He’s held senior leadership positions with consulting firms in Washington, DC and is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Visit his website/blog: http://www.thegoodamerica.com to leave your comments.