About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Congress at War: How Republican Reformers Fought the Civil War, Defied Lincoln, Ended Slavery, and Remade America"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
February 25, 2020

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for this afternoon’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from today’s speaker, though, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up soon in the McGowan Theater.

On Thursday, February 27, at 7 p.m., Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will discuss his recent book, Beyond Charlottesville. Governor McAuliffe and a panel of former members of Congress will discuss the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and what history teaches us about coming together as a nation.

And on Tuesday, March 10, at noon, Jonathan Horn will be here to tell us about George Washington’s post-Presidency as chronicled in his new book, Washington’s End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle.

To keep informed about events throughout the year, check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website—ArchivesFoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

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In the myriad books about the Civil War, a large portion of them focus on President Abraham Lincoln and on military leaders. In the museum across from Ford’s Theater, just a few blocks away from us, a 34-foot tower of books written about Lincoln alone stretches up through the central stairway.

Today’s author, however, turns our attention to the transformational work done in the United States Congress during and immediately after the Civil War.

In a review for the Wall Street Journal, David Reynolds noted that the “radical Republicans have rarely been the subject of a full-fledged history,” and that “In his splendid ‘Congress at War,’ . . . Bordewich demonstrates that congressional radicals succeeded not only in forcefully challenging slavery but also in strengthening federal support for infrastructure, public education and financial stability.”

Our nation is shaped by the outcomes of committee work and the legislative processes carried out on Capitol Hill. The official records of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, held here in our Center for Legislative Archives, are among the largest record groups in our holdings, and they increase every time Congress passes a bill, discusses proposed legislation, or confirms a Presidential appointee.

Let’s turn now to our guest author and learn what the Radical Republican Congress accomplished and how.

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Fergus Bordewich is the author of several books, including Bound for Canaan, Killing the White Man's Indian, and My Mother's Ghost: A Memoir. The son of a national civil rights leader for Native Americans, he was introduced early in life to racial politics. As a journalist, he has written widely on political and cultural subjects in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, American Heritage, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Reader's Digest, and many other publications.

He has been an independent historian and writer since the early 1970s. In 2015, he served as chairman of the awards committee for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, and he is a frequent public speaker at universities and other forums, as well as on radio and television. He also served for brief periods as an editor and writer for the Tehran Journal in Iran, a press officer for the United Nations, and an adviser to the New China News Agency in Beijing, when that agency was embarking on its effort to switch from a propaganda model to a western-style journalistic one.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Fergus Bordewich.