An Update on My Writing Projects
Each summer I provide a summary report card on my recent writing projects. This summer is no exception. I am working on three book projects, as summarized here.
1. “History of Congress” Trilogy
In 2019-2020, I focused on writing and editing my “history of Congress" trilogy. As of this writing, two of the three books have been published. Lexington Books published the first, Congressional Lions: Influential Members of Congress and How They Shaped American History, in October 2019. Congressional Lions recounts the extraordinary public careers of 12 men who proved to be master legislators, arguably the most influential members of Congress in 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
The second volume, Congressional Giants: Influential Leaders of Congress and How They Shaped American History, appeared in May 2020. It covers the lives and careers of 14 members of Congress who served in leadership positions, such as Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, or another formal leadership post. These are the figures covered:
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 Pathfinders: “First” Members of Congress and How They Shaped American History, is completed and has undergone peer review. I am waiting for page proofs from the publisher so that I can proofread the manuscript and prepare an index. Alas, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed production. I anticipate the book will be published during the first quarter of 2021. This volume covers 20 groundbreaking members of Congress such as pioneering women and persons of color. These are the men and women discussed in the book:
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 have blogged about each of these public figures. Although I don’t expect the blog postings to boost sales of these expensive academic tomes, I hope the blogs have entertained and enlightened readers.
2. Scoundrels: Political Scandals in American History
In the meantime, I am finishing up another manuscript that is more salacious than a trilogy on members of Congress. Scoundrels: Political Scandals in American History discusses episodes in American history where public figures acted badly. The book will include 26 chapters, with 13 chapters focusing on sex scandals and 13 focusing on political corruption.
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 scandalmongering, 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 bifurcate the two types of misbehavior for the sake of narrative simplicity.
Scoundrels: 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. These are the cases discussed in the book, some of which I have already blogged about:
Part I: Sex Scandals
Chapter 1: Alexander Hamilton and Maria Reynolds
Chapter 2: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
Chapter 3: The Andrew Jackson Scandals (Rachel Jackson and Peggy Eaton)
Chapter 4: Daniel Sickles and Philip Barton Key II
Chapter 5: Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton
Chapter 6: Grover Cleveland’s Illegitimate Son
Chapter 7: Warren G. Harding, Carrie Phillips, and Nan Britton
Chapter 8: Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe
Chapter 9: Gary Hart and Donna Rice
Chapter 10: Bob Packwood
Chapter 11: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
Chapter 12: Gary Condit and Chandra Levy
Chapter 13: Anthony Weiner
Part II: Political Corruption
Chapter 14: The Yazoo Land Fraud
Chapter 15: The Aaron Burr Conspiracy
Chapter 16: The Caning of Charles Sumner
Chapter 17: Scandals of the 1870s (Salary Grab/Whiskey Ring/Credit Mobilier)
Chapter 18: Teapot Dome
Chapter 19: William “Wild Bill” Langer
Chapter 20: Spiro Agnew
Chapter 21: Watergate
Chapter 22: Abscam
Chapter 23: The Savings & Loan Crisis
Chapter 24: Iran-Contra
Chapter 25: Jack Abramoff
Chapter 26: 2016 Russian Election Interference
The manuscript is due at the publisher (Rowman & Littlefield) in October 2020, and publication should occur in the summer or fall of 2021, assuming the pandemic does not slow things down.
3. Three Episcopal Clergymen in the Reconstruction-Era South
I have one final book project in the works. 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 died in May 2018. Before he died, 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.
After I deliver the Scoundrels manuscript, I intend to take a break from writing books for a few months. In January 2021, I will start working on Loren’s book. With luck and hard work, I will finish the manuscript late in 2021, find a publisher, and see the book published in 2022.