Episode 078: Rachel Shelden, Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War

Shelden Washington Brotherhood

The United States is in midst of a political and cultural divide.

The last time the United States faced this deep of a division, the nation descended into Civil War.

Can history help us solve our present-day political and cultural crisis?

Today, we investigate whether the past might help us with the present with Rachel Shelden, author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Rachel SheldenIn this episode, we explore whether the social and political life of antebellum Washington D.C. contains lessons we can use to solve the political and cultural crisis facing the 21st-century United States with Rachel Shelden, an Assistant Professor of American History at the University of Oklahoma and author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War.

During our investigation, Rachel reveals the political parties and divisions that existed in the United States during 1840s and 1850s; Social society in Washington D.C. during the antebellum period; And, whether life in antebellum Washington D.C. offers any lessons that might help us solve the political divisions confronting the United States.

What You’ll Discover

  • The political parties of the 1840s and 1850s
  • Political divisions in antebellum American society
  • Life in antebellum Washington D.C.
  • How antebellum congressmen and senators lived
  • The F-Street Mess
  • The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
  • Social society in antebellum Washington D.C.
  • Where women fit into lawmaking and Washington D.C. society
  • African Americans in Washington D.C. society
  • Washington drinking culture
  • Religious life
  • Abraham Lincoln and the Young Indian Club
  • How antebellum congressmen and senators dealt with intense, personal political debates
  • Buncombe speechmaking
  • Lobbyists and the Compromise of 1850
  • How southern secession affected Washington D.C. social society
  • Jefferson Davis’ departure from Washington D.C.
  • Lessons from antebellum Washington D.C. that might help today’s politicians solve our political divide
Washington, D.C., ca. 1860


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion what might have happened if in 1858, John J. Crittenden had supported Abraham Lincoln for the senate instead of Stephen Douglas? How would the course of history be different?


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