An Update on my Writing Projects
When I began writing my blog in 2011, I promised to provide an update on my publishing endeavors at least once every summer. This posting will serve as the 2019 update on my three ongoing projects.
1. Congressional Lions
Faithful readers of my blog—all three of my loyalists!—will recognize my recent efforts to complete Congressional Lions, a work-in-progress about the most influential members of Congress in American history. I have blogged about it many times during the past year. Alas, I ran into major problems with the work, and the entire project almost collapsed. It was completely my fault, too. Rats—I can’t blame anyone else.
Here is the entire ugly story: In January 2017, I submitted a book proposal to Lexington Books titled Congressional Lions: Influential Members of Congress and How They Shaped American History. A month later, the press extended a contract offer, which I accepted.
The original plan was to write an introduction, a conclusion, and 34 chapters discussing 38 members of Congress in three different categories: (1) trailblazing legislators; (2) influential congressional leaders; and (3) congressional “firsts” (first woman elected to Congress, first person of color elected, and so forth). I anticipated that the entire manuscript would consist of approximately 120,000 words and could be completed within 18 months.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I discovered as I researched the political figures that, in most cases, I could not do justice to the subject matter in the allotted space. Each chapter was supposed to range between 2,500 and 3,500 words. In some cases, especially when discussing congressional “firsts,” I was able to stay within those parameters. In other cases, I was not.
Consider the chapter on the Great Triumvirate (Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun) as an example. Each man was heavily involved in legislative affairs for the first half of the nineteenth century. Accordingly, I wrestled with the problem of discussing the War of 1812, the Panics of 1819 and 1837, the secession crises in 1820, 1832-1833, and 1850, the 1846-1848 War with Mexico, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, the Tariff of Abominations, and the Fugitive Slave Act, among other topics, in only a few thousand words. It was not possible to discuss the maneuvering and machinations of the Great Triumvirate without abandoning the word count and going for broke. Setting aside the word limitations, I simply wrote as much as I believed was necessary to cover the topic adequately. I assumed that readers primarily would be college students (graduate and undergraduate) majoring in history or political science who were assigned to read the chapter as part of their coursework. This probably would be their first, and only, exposure to the topic, and so I needed to provide sufficient context to help the reader appreciate the nuances of the issue. When all was said and done, the chapter topped 22,000 words. It was one of the longest chapters, but even the shortest chapters frequently exceeded the promised page count.
Fast forward to June 2019. When I delivered the final manuscript, it was almost twice as long (236,000 words) as the original contract envisioned. It was also delivered late—10 months after the original deadline. This was my fault, of course, but I was extremely pleased with the content. I believed that the manuscript filled a niche, and it made a genuine contribution to the field. What to do? What to do?
It was clear that Lexington could not publish the 236,000-word behemoth. At the same time, eliminating 116,000 words for the sake of reducing the word count seemed perverse. It was reminiscent of the scene in the film Amadeus where the emperor tells Mozart to cut the music because there are too many notes. I don’t claim to be Mozart, of course, but I wanted to preserve the contribution of the manuscript while still producing a readable book.
As I expected, my new editor, Bryndee Ryan, said that the press could not publish the long work. I mulled over my options and finally came to a startling conclusion. The only reasonable approach—apart from walking away from the contract, which I did not wish to do—was to divide the book into three volumes. The manuscript would still contain the original three sections, but each section would be a separate, standalone book. With this new conception, the book had to be reorganized. I rearranged Section I (Trailblazing Legislators) and Section II (Influential Congressional Leaders) so that they were more or less equal—about 85,000 to 90,000 words each, plus references and prefatory matter. (I resolved to add one person, Nicholas Longworth, into Volume II. He was an influential speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but I removed his entry from the original manuscript owing to the word count.) I decided to add seven political figures into Volume III (Congressional “Firsts”), both to make the book roughly the same length as volumes I and II, but also to include figures that I had omitted from the original manuscript to lower the word count.
My original Lexington editor, Kate Tafelski, suggested in January 2017 that I consider including several recent political “firsts.” Here is what she wrote: "The only absences I noticed would be Hillary Clinton, since her time as Senator gave her an important political jumpstart towards her eventual historic presidential nomination, and the other 'firsts' we saw in the 2016 election, such as Tammy Duckworth (first disabled member of Congress), Catherine Cortez Masto (first Latina Senator), Ilhan Omar (first Somali-American Muslim legislator), Pramila Jayapal (first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives), and Stephanie Murphy (first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress)."
As long as I was reworking the project into three volumes, I added Daniel Inouye to the list for Volume III. He was the first Japanese-American elected to Congress, and the highest ranking Asian in the history of the U.S. Congress. He was an important congressional “first.”
The newly reconfigured volumes would be organized this way:
Volume I: Congressional Lions: Trailblazing Members of Congress and How They Shaped American History
Chapter 1: James Madison
Chapter 2: Thomas Hart Benton
Chapter 3: Justin Smith Morrill
Chapter 4: The Radical Republicans—Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner,
and Benjamin F. Wade
Chapter 5: Carter Glass
Chapter 6: Robert M. La Follette, Sr.
Chapter 7: George W. Norris
Chapter 8: Robert F. Wagner
Chapter 9: Arthur H. Vandenberg
Chapter 10: Edward M. Kennedy
Volume II: Congressional Lions: Influential Leaders of Congress and How They Shaped American History
Chapter 1: The Great Triumvirate—Henry Clay, Daniel Webster,
and John C. Calhoun
Chapter 2: Stephen A. Douglas
Chapter 3: Thomas B. Reed
Chapter 4: Joseph G. Cannon
Chapter 5: Nicholas Longworth
Chapter 6: Robert A. Taft
Chapter 7: Sam Rayburn
Chapter 8: Richard B. Russell, Jr.
Chapter 9: Everett Dirksen
Chapter 10: Lyndon B. Johnson
Chapter 11: Mike Mansfield
Chapter 12: Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.
Volume III: Congressional Lions: “First” Members of Congress and How They Shaped American History
Chapter 1: Hiram Rhodes Revels
Chapter 2: Oscar De Priest
Chapter 3: Jeanette Rankin
Chapter 4: Hattie Caraway
Chapter 5: Margaret Chase Smith
Chapter 6: Shirley Chisholm
Chapter 7: Barbara Jordan
Chapter 8: Carol Moseley Braun
Chapter 9: Nancy Pelosi
Chapter 10: Joseph Marion Hernández
Chapter 11: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Chapter 12: Charles Curtis
Chapter 13: Daniel Inouye
Chapter 14: Gerry Studds
Chapter 15: Tammy Duckworth
Chapter 16: Catherine Cortez Masto
Chapter 17: Ilhan Omar
Chapter 18: Pramila Jayapal
Chapter 19: Stephanie Murphy
Chapter 20: Hillary Clinton
I pitched the revised proposal to Lexington on June 25, 2019. My argument was succinct and, I hoped, compelling: No other works occupy this space. Most books on Congress are textbooks that discuss how the institution is structured as well as its operating rules and procedures. In addition, many of the political figures mentioned in these three volumes are featured in full-length biographies, and/or they merit short entries in encyclopedias. A summary of a legislator’s life followed by an analysis of his or her career accomplishments across the broad expanse of American history is found nowhere else, as far as I know. Congressional history warrants a multi-volume treatment, and an audience exists.
In March 1989, the celebrated historian David McCullough addressed a joint session of Congress to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the institution. During his speech, he observed that “Our knowledge, our appreciation, of the history of Congress and those who have made history here are curiously, regrettably deficient. The plain truth is historians and biographers have largely ignored the subject. Two hundred years after the creation of Congress, we have only begun to tell the story of Congress—which, of course, means the opportunity for those who write and teach could not be greater.”
McCullough’s words are just as true today as they were 30 years ago. Textbooks on Congress and books about individual members continue to appear each year, but a systematic analysis of influential members of Congress is not available. The three volumes of Congressional Lions will not completely erase the deficit in our knowledge, but in highlighting the sometimes forgotten achievements of the men and women who made history as members of Congress, it will contribute to our understanding of the institution. It is step forward.
To my delight (and astonishment), Lexington agreed to publish all three books.Yay! Somehow, someway, I had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
I delivered the manuscript for volume 1 on June 20, 2019. It is in production now. I anticipate that the book will be published in the fourth quarter of 2019. I delivered the second volume on July 30, 2019. The plan is to publish it during the second quarter of 2020. The third volume is about two-thirds finished. It is due on February 15, 2020. The plan is to publish it during the fourth quarter of 2020.
2. Political Scandals
Even as the Congressional Lions project spiraled out of control, I was planning for future books. On March 29, 2018, I pitched a book proposal about political scandals to my editor at Carrel Books. publisher of my book Political Assassinations and Attempts in U.S. History. She responded on April 30, 2018: “I’ve reviewed your proposal and discussed it with my editorial director, and I’m sorry to say that we’ll have to pass at this time. Although it’s a fascinating topic and an extremely well-written proposal, the market is saturated with political and history books now, and we’re becoming increasingly selective about the titles we acquire. I really enjoyed working with you on your last book and hope that we can work together again on another project.”
It was disappointing, but these things happen.On May 1, 2018, I sent the political scandals proposal to Jon Sisk, my long-time editor at Rowman & Littlefield. It took many months before I received a response, but I did not press the issue because I was dealing with my Congressional Lions book. The day after Christmas 2018, however, Jon provided me with the best present I could ask for—Rowman & Littlefield agreed to publish the book.
It should be a fun project. Politics can be thought of as the art of the possible. One feature that makes political solutions possible is the support of an elected leader’s constituents. The covenant between voters and their elected representatives is that the populace will vote a person into a position of power, and the elected official will work in good faith on behalf of his or her constituents. Sometimes, however, political leaders violate the covenant and become embroiled in political scandals.
A scandal is defined as an act generally regarded as morally or legally “wrong,” thereby causing general public outrage. Typically, political scandals take one of two forms: sexual misconduct or corruption (such as a quid pro quo exchange of money for favors). Political scandals have become an indelible feature of the American political system since the creation of the republic more than two centuries ago. This book will examine both the most infamous scandals (e.g., Watergate and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair) as well as more obscure episodes (e.g., the Daniel Sickles and Philip Barton Key II incident, and the Yazoo land fraud) in an effort to understand how these incidents have altered the course of American political history.
The scandalous behavior of elected officials and other public figures who influence the policy process in the United States initially seems to be an odd choice for serious scholarly inquiry. Indeed, for persons who bemoan the death of reasoned political discourse and the People magazine-style nature of current events, such a book would appear to be part of the problem, not the solution. Why dwell on the shortcomings and peccadilloes of public figures when such a project initially seems only to titillate the masses and feed into the public fascination that coarsens political rhetoric and further erodes faith in government?
If examining the misdeeds of public figures were merely an exercise in scandal-mongering, the point would be well taken. Wallowing in sleazy stories and innuendo for no other purpose than the “entertainment” value of such endeavors is unproductive. Yet political scandals have been, and continue to be, commonplace in American political life. They must be examined as part of the political process because, quite simply, they are crucial components of public policy. Scandals take away from the time that could be spent tackling large, systemic problems such as national defense, health care, crime, and poverty, among many other issues. They are part of the fabric of the American experience.
Americans like to mythologize their government, at least in its formative years, as a beacon of liberty, the proverbial shining city on a hill. While the American republic has had its share of virtuous actors, their vices cannot be ignored. Not surprisingly, the causes of political scandals reveal political figures to be human, all-too-human. Scandalous behavior by these all-too-human public figures involves sexual misconduct or political corruption (both of which indicate a burning desire for fame, power, adulation, or simply the thrill of engaging in risky behavior). Sometimes a scandal can include elements of both, although this book will divide the two types of misbehavior for the sake of narrative simplicity.
Political Scandals in American History is designed as a “between” book, which means that it strives to appeal to scholars and yet remain accessible to a popular audience. It will not be an encyclopedia of all political scandals in American history. Rather, the focus is on the most consequential sex scandals and political corruption scandals in U.S. history. Some of the episodes are well known while others are more obscure.
The manuscript is due in October 2020, with publication expected in mid to late 2021.
3. Three Episcopal Clergymen in the Reconstruction-Era South
One final book project is in the works, although, as of this writing, it remains only partially developed. My uncle, the Reverend Loren B. Mead, was exploring the possibility of writing a book about three Episcopal clergymen who were ardent Confederates during the Civil War, yet sought to allow blacks to join the church in the postbellum era. The clergymen were William Porcher DuBose, A. Toomer Porter, and Peter Fayssoux Stevens. Unfortunately, Loren was ill during much of 2017 and 2018. He died on May 5, 2018. Before he passed away, I told him that I would complete the project.
After I agreed to take up the mantle, I performed preliminary research to determine if enough information existed to allow for a book-length treatment. I found enough material. DuBose was one of the most prominent theologians in nineteenth century America. Numerous books and articles have been written by and about him. Porter was less well known than DuBose, but he was still a prominent figure in his own right. Aside from founding the Porter Military Academy (a forerunner of the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston) to educate orphans in South Carolina at the conclusion of the War Between the States, Porter published a lengthy autobiography in 1898. Stevens, superintendent of the Citadel and commander of the corps of cadets that fired on James Buchanan’s relief ship Star of the West in 1861, is a little more difficult to track down. The Citadel has some material on him in its archives, which I have not yet explored. In addition, a lot of work has been published on the Reformed Episcopal Church of the Reconstruction era. Allen C. Guelzo, one of the greatest living historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction, has written extensively on the subject, including a 1994 book.
Thus, when I finish my work on Congressional Lions and Political Scandals, I will turn my attention to Loren’s book. Ideally, I will begin working late in 2020 or early in 2021. Stay tuned.