John Frece’s book is titled “Self-Destruction: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of U.S. Senator Daniel B. Brewster”, but those three parts of Brewster’s life could each be a book of their own. It’s difficult to sum up a man like Brewster in 320 pages, but Frece pulls it off with a fascinating read about a fascinating man.
Frece spares no expense in covering every aspect of Brewster’s tumultuous life. Each page is littered with endnotes, a product of Frece’s exhaustive research, which included numerous interviews with Brewster’s friends and family, access to Brewster’s diaries, including one he kept while serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and an examination of Brewster’s papers at the University of Maryland.
Brewster came from an impeccable background, born into great wealth and prestige in the Green Spring Valley. He was interested in horses throughout his life, competing in the Maryland Hunt Cup as a jockey three times.
Known as the “Golden Boy of Maryland politics”, Brewster was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1950, and ascended to the United States Senate in 1962. While he had a notable Senate career, including playing an instrumental role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it was there that Brewster’s life began to unravel. His first marriage dissolved as he sought out a previously lost love. His alcoholism became more and more visible, oftentimes showing up to speaking engagements drunk. He lost his re-election bid for the Senate in 1968 and was indicted on federal bribery charges the following year (he was found not guilty and fined $10,000 for accepting an unlawful gratuity without corrupt intent). Just as soon as he had risen, Brewster’s political career, and life, fell into a tailspin.
His redemption featured no bold return to office. Rather, he returned to Baltimore County, met his third and final wife, and settled into a comfortable, more private life. He passed in 2007 at age 83.
Through his work, Frece lays every detail of Brewster’s life in the open. His social status meant that he spent long stretches at boarding schools, isolated from his parents (included his father, who died when Danny was ten). Seeking to serve his country, Brewster then joined the Marines and served in the Pacific Theater. Thanks to Frece’s extensive quotations of Brewster’s diary, the experience becomes almost first-person. How much of his downfall was indirectly caused by his traumatic war experience?
Brewster had it all, then lost it all – his career, his family, and his reputation – to drinking. It was a long road back to redemption, but he found it and found peace towards the end. Frece’s book is not just a must-read for anyone interested in Maryland history and politics, it’s a message that anyone can get on the path to redeem their own past.