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Pieces of Eight


Congress Focus of Ferrell Book

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

The role of the U.S. Congress during the rise of the United States to the status of world power in the early 20th century is the focus of a new three- volume set written by Dr. Henry Ferrell, professor emeritus of history and university historian at East Carolina University.


“The United States Congress and National Defense, 1915-1939” (Edwin Mellon Press, 2008) makes the chief argument that the United States was prepared for World War II.

Through necessity to defend against enemies in two world wars, the United States matured into the most powerful political entity of the era, according to Ferrell. In defining the course, commentators have frequently credited the military and presidents with this successful advance, while rarely mentioning the importance of Congress. Ferrell makes the case that it was Congress which functioned as the initiating body for authorizing and appropriating defense legislation.

“Congress was pushing the military to adopt new technology for years, but the military was resistant to change,” Ferrell said. “By 1941, 1.4 million U.S. troops were being trained.”

Ferrell used Congressional hearing reports, more than 50 manuscript collections, letters, oral memoirs, materials from the Library of Congress and the Herbert C. Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Libraries along with materials from a number of university libraries as the basis of his work.

Ferrell retired in September 2007 after teaching at ECU for 46 years; he was named university historian in 2002. He has published three other books: “Claude A. Swanson of Virginia: A Political Biography,” “No Time for Ivy: East Carolina University, 1907-2007” and “Promises Kept: East Carolina University 1980-2007.”


This page originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at