This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.
1824: The Arkansas War
The north bank of the Ohio River, near Cincinnati
A PRIL 22, 1824
By the time they had finished making camp for the night, Sheffield Parker was exhausted. They'd been pushing hard for over a week, ever since they'd reached the boat landing at Brownsville in Cabell County and started traveling across country instead of continuing down the Ohio River on a flatboat. A friendly white riverboat man had cautioned them about it. He said they'd been safe enough, passing down Virginia's western counties, since there were hardly any slaves in the area. But from there on downriver they'd have Kentucky on the south bank of the Ohio, and several slave catching parties were active on or near the river.
"We freedmen," Sheff's uncle Jem had protested.
The boatman glanced at their party, which consisted of Sheff and his mother, his sister Dinah and his uncle Jem, and twelve other people from three different families. Several of them were children of one age or another.
"Well, that's pretty obvious. You don't never see runaway slaves in parties this big. But look, folks, it just don't matter-and you got to know that much yourselves. Those slave-catchers are rounding up any black people they can lay their hands on, these days. It's been a field day for the bastards ever since the exclusion laws started getting enforced. They'll even roam into Ohio to do it. They'll grab you and haul you before a tame judge in Kentucky, and he'll bang his gavel and declare you obvious runaways, and you'll be up on the selling block before the day's over."
"We got papers-" Sheff 's mother started digging in the sack where she kept their few valuable belongings.
"Ma'am, it don't matter. " He flipped his hand, dismissing the idea. "Forget about anything you can call 'law,' down there. If you got papers, the slave-catchers will just burn them. Then it's your word against theirs-and any judge they'll be hauling you up before would rule against Jesus Christ in a heartbeat, if he was your color."
He shrugged. "It's a shame and a disgrace, but there it is. Was I you, I'd sell the flatboat and start moving overland. Stay away from the river, as much as you can. Course, that ain't so easy, lots of places. Just be careful, is all."
They'd taken his advice, eventually, after finding someone who was willing to pay them a reasonable price for the flatboat. But it had been hard going thereafter. The road along the north bank of the Ohio was a primitive thing compared with the National Road they'd been able to take as far as Wheeling after they'd fled Baltimore. Sheff had had to carry his little sister for the past two days, she'd been so worn out.
And then it all seemed to come to nothing. Less than an hour after they made camp, just at sundown, Sheff heard a noise in the woods that circled the clearing on every side except the river. A moment later, two white men emerged, with five more coming right after them. All of them had guns, to make it still worse. Two of them held muskets, and all the others had pistols. Nobody in Sheff 's party had any weapons at all, except the big knives that Jem and two of the other men carried.
"Well, lookee here, boys. Ain't this a haul?"
Sheff stared at them, petrified, from where he was squatting by the fire. He was sixteen years old. The first eleven years of his life had been the cramped years of a poor freedman's son in Baltimore, but not really so bad as all that. Then the white people started getting crazy after some sort of battle near New Orleans that Sheff didn't understand much about, except it seemed some black men had beaten the state militia over there and moved to the new Confederacy of the Arkansas. Which was way out west; Sheff wasn't really sure exactly where.
White people had gotten mean, thereafter, a lot meaner than usual. New laws had been passed in Maryland, ordering all freedmen to leave the state within a year. Like most freedmen, they'd just ignored the law, seeing as how they were poor and didn't know where to go anyway. Most states were passing the same laws. Freedman exclusion laws, they were called. Then the rioting had started, and they hadn't had any choice but to try to make it to the Confederacy.
And now, even that was going to be denied them.
One of the white men with a musket hefted it up a few inches. Not cocking it, just making the threat obvious. "Don't be giving us no trouble, now. I don't want to kill no nigger, on account of it's a waste of money. But I will. Don't think I won't."
One of the other men chuckled and started to say something. But he broke off after the first couple of words, startled by movement to his left.
Sheff was startled, too. He looked over to the far side of the clearing and saw that another white man had come out of the woods.
He hissed in a breath. That was the scariest-looking white man Sheffield Parker had ever seen. And, even at the age of sixteen, he'd seen a lot of scary white men. Especially over the past few months, since the killing had started.
"And who're you?" one of the white men demanded of the new arrival.
The man who'd come out of the woods ignored the question. His eyes simply moved slowly across the clearing, taking in everything. He was holding a musket in his right hand, almost casually.
The sun had set by now, and in the flickering light of the campfire, those eyes looked very dark. But Sheff was pretty sure they were actually light colored. That scary bluish gray color that he'd come to fear and hate more than any color in the world. The color of the eyes of most of the men who had beaten his father to death just a few weeks earlier. Sheff hadn't had any trouble, then, determining the color. The men had done the deed in broad daylight, on a street in Baltimore.
He'd thought they were going to kill him, too, but they'd satisfied themselves with just beating him and his mother. Following which, they'd given them two days to get out of Baltimore, or suffer his father's fate.
They'd left that very night, instead, along with a dozen other survivors from the race riot the white men had launched.
"Who're you?" the white man demanded again. He began to raise his musket.
"Bring that gun an inch higher and you're a dead man," the newcomer said. Turning his head, slightly: "See to it, Salmon. Levi, if any of the others makes a threatening move, kill him."
The seven original white men froze. Partly, Sheff thought, that was because of the sight of two musket barrels emerging from the woods, gleaming in the campfire light. But mostly it was just the way the man had said the words.
Scary, that had been, like everything about him. The words had issued from those gaunt jaws like decrees from a judge-or maybe one of those Old Testament prophets that Sheff 's uncle Jem was so partial to. For all the threat in the words, they'd been spoken neither casually nor in heat. Simply:
Stated. The way a man might state that the sky was blue, or that the moon rose. A certainty, a given, decreed and ordained by nature.
One of the other seven white men finally broke the paralysis. He hunched his shoulders and spit. "Well, tarnation, sir, who are you?"
In a more aggrieved tone, one of the others added: "It ain't fair! We spotted and tracked 'em first. Rightfully, the reward should be ours."
The gaunt-jawed man brought his gaze to bear on that one. "What 'reward'?"
"Well:"The other seemed a bit abashed, for a moment. "The reward for capturing runaway slaves, of course."
That finally brought Sheff 's mother out of her own paralysis that she'd fallen into the moment the first seven white men had come into their camp. "Tha'ss not true! We freedmen! We was driven out of Baltimore, and we on our way to the Confederates in Arkansas."
One of the white men glared at her and started to snarl something, but the gaunt-jawed man cut him off.
"It matters not, anyway. This is Ohio. We do not tolerate the heathen institution of slavery here." He nodded toward the negroes squatting by the fire. "They are men, and thus they are by nature free. So God decrees. I care not in the least what some sinner claims in Virginia or the Carolinas. Soon enough, his flesh will roast in eternal hellfire."
He took a step forward, his musket held higher. "Begone, all of you."
The seven original white men just stared at him.
"Begone," he repeated.
One of them had had enough. He snatched his hat from his head and slammed it to the ground, then planted his hand on the pistol at his belt.
"The hell we will! I don't know what crazy notions you've got in your head, but we-"
The gaunt-jawed man took another step forward. He was now standing not fifteen feet away from the man with the pistol.
"I believe in the Golden Rule, sir, and the Declaration of Independence. I think that both mean the same thing. And, that being so, it is better that a whole generation should pass off the face of the earth-men, women, and children-by a violent death than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, sir."
The man with the pistol hesitated. Then he sneered. "You won't shoot."
The musket came up like dawn rising. Not quickly, no. Sheff wasn't sure, but he didn't think the gaunt-jawed man was really what people meant by a "gun man." He wasn't handling the musket awkwardly, but he didn't seem especially favored with it, either.
It mattered not at all. The dawn rises. It just does, whether any man wills it or not.
At the end, the pistol-man seemed to realize it also. "Hey-! " he started to shout, before the bullet took him in the chest and hammered him to the ground.
"Hey!" two of the others echoed in protest.
The gaunt-jawed man ignored them as he began reloading his musket. "If any of them move, Salmon and Levi, slay them."
They didn't move. Even though they all had guns, too, and had the gaunt-jawed man and his fellows outnumbered.
Well:maybe. From the corner of his eye, Sheff could see his uncle Jem and two of the other men in their party reaching for their knives. His mother was doing the same.
Sheff wished he had a knife himself.
Halfway through reloading his musket, the gaunt-jawed man looked up. He was close enough now that Sheff could finally see the true color of his eyes.
Grayish blue, sure enough. That same frightening, cold color. But since it wasn't aimed at him for once, Sheff wasn't so scared.
"All of you," the man said quietly to the six white men still alive and facing him, "were condemned before you were born. God is Almighty and so He decreed, for purposes of His own. I will shoot each and every one of you-shoot you as dead as that one, sirs-and I will simply be the instrument of God's will. So do not think-ever-to say to me 'thou wilt not do it.' Oh, no, sirs. I assure you. I most certainly will."
They were strange words, in a way, coming from a man whom Sheff suddenly realized was quite young. Somewhere in his early twenties, at a guess, although the harsh features of his face made him seem older. Yet, he'd spoken the words like one of the ancient prophets, and Sheff knew that some of them had lived to be hundreds of years old.
"I most certainly will," the man repeated. He was close to being done, now, with the reloading. "Indeed, I shall, the moment this musket is ready to fire again."
He broke off the work for an instant to point with the ramrod at one of the six white men.
"I will kill you first. After that, the others. Those whom my brothers-black as well as white-have left alive. If there are any."
Sheff 's uncle rose to his feet. So did the other two black men. Their knives were all visible, out in the open and with campfire light on them.
"Won't be a one, sir," Uncle Jem predicted. "Not if your brothers shoot as straight as you do."
The eyes of the six original white men were very wide, by now.
"Hey!" one of them cried.
"Begone, I said." The gaunt-jawed man didn't look up from the reloading. "And do not-ever-come near me again."
Sheff almost laughed, watching how they ran away. His mother did, after one of them tripped over a root.
Before they slept for the night, the gaunt-jawed man insisted on leading them in prayer. Then he read from his Bible for a few minutes, until he passed it over to Jem.
Sheff didn't mind. His uncle Jem's heavy voice was a reassuring counter-tone to the white man's. And it wasn't as if they were quarreling over the biblical text, after all.
The next morning, when he awoke, Sheff saw that the white man and his two brothers were already awake. Awake, clothed-and armed.
For the first time in his sixteen years of life, the sight of an armed white man didn't scare Sheff. Even if the man in question was still the scariest-looking white man he'd ever seen.
Once the party were all awake and ready to resume their travel, the man spoke.
"My brothers and I will go with you as far as the Confederacy. To make sure nothing happens like last night."
"It's a far stretch, sir," pointed out Jem.
The man shrugged. "We've been thinking of settling in the Confederacy, anyway. I would much like to make the acquaintance of Patrick Driscol. In a world full of sinners, his like is not often encountered."
Uncle Jem nodded. "We'd much appreciate it, sir. Ever since Calhoun and his bunch got those freedmen exclusion laws passed, it's been nigh horrible for black folks."
"Yes, I know. Calhoun will burn. Not for us to know why God chose to inflict him upon us. No doubt He had His reasons."
By the time they reached the Mississippi, almost two weeks later, Sheff had worked up the courage to ask the man's name. He was the first one to do so.
It helped that a party of Cherokees was there, ready to escort them the rest of the way to the Arkansas Confederacy. Cherokees were frightening, to be sure, but they weren't as frightening as white men.
Not even all white men were frightening to Sheff any longer. Not even him. He was learning to make distinctions that hadn't seemed very clear, back in the freedmens' quarters of Baltimore.
"Please, sir," he said. "I'd really appreciate to know your name."
The man nodded gravely. Then he smiled. He had quite a nice smile, even if it wasn't often evident.
"I wondered when one of you might ask." He pointed to his two brothers. "That's Salmon. The other is my adopted brother, Levi Blakeslee. My name is Brown. John Brown."
A PRIL 25, 1824
"Houston must have known." The president turned his head away from the window, presenting his profile to the other two men. The expression on his face was not condemnatory so much as simply pensive. "Must have known for several years, in fact. Am I right, Winfield?"
The tall, handsome general in one of the chairs in Monroe's office shifted his position. Only slightly, of course. The very fancy uniform he favored didn't lend itself well to extravagant movement while he was seated.
"Oh, certainly," General Scott replied. "Driscol's been building another Line of Torres Vedras in those mountains. The original took Wellington over a year to build-and he had the population of Lisbon to draw on. Even with all the negroes who have migrated to Arkansas the past few years, Driscol doesn't begin to have that large a labor force. And the Cherokees and Creeks are useless for that sort of work, of course. For the most part, at least."
The secretary of state, the third man in the room, cleared his throat. "Perhaps:" John Quincy Adams pursed his lips. "The work stretched out over that long a period of time:"
President Monroe shook his head. "I thank you, John, but let's not be foolish. Sam Houston? "
He chuckled. "I remind you that my son-in-law is the same man who, at the age of sixteen, crossed sixty miles of Tennessee wilderness after running away from home. Then he lived among the Cherokee for several years, even being adopted into one of their clans. He could find his way through any woods or mountains in Creation."
The president's tone of voice grew somber. "Even drunk, as he so often is these days."
Monroe finally turned away from the window. "No, let's not be foolish. He spends as much time in the Confederacy as he does here at home, since the treaty was signed. There is no chance that Sam Houston failed to see what his friend Patrick Driscol was doing. Nor, given his military experience, that he didn't understand what he was seeing."
As he resumed his seat at his desk, Monroe nodded toward Scott. "It didn't take Winfield here more than a few days to figure it out, when he visited the area. And-meaning no offense-Winfield's not half the woodsman Houston is."
The general's notorious vanity seemed to be on vacation that day. His own chuckle was a hearty thing. "Not a tenth, say better! I've traveled with Houston a time or two. But it didn't matter on this occasion. Patrick provided me with a Cherokee escort, who served as my guides. He made no attempt to keep me from seeing what he had wrought in those mountains. Quite the contrary, I assure you. He wants us to know."
A bit warily, Scott studied the president. John Quincy Adams didn't wonder as to the reason. James Monroe was normally the most affable and courteous of men, but they were treading on very delicate ground here. That most treacherous and shifting ground of all, where political and personal affairs intersected.
Sam Houston's marriage to James Monroe's younger daughter Maria Hester in 1819, following one of the young nation's most famous whirlwind courtships, had added a great deal of flavor and spice to an administration that was otherwise principally noted for such unromantic traits as efficiency and political skill. The girl had only been seventeen at the time. The famous Hero of the Capitol-still young, too, being only twenty-six himself, and as handsome and well spoken as ever-receiving the hand in marriage of the very attractive daughter of the country's chief executive. What could better satisfy the smug assurance of a new republic that it basked in the favor of the Almighty?
It hadn't been all show, either. Very little of it, in fact. Allowing for his constant absences as the administration's special commissioner for Indian affairs, Houston had proved to be something of a model husband. He treated Maria Hester exceedingly well; she, in turn, doted on the man. And, thankfully, Houston's notorious womanizing had vanished entirely after his marriage. There'd been not a trace of scandal, thereafter.
His steadily worsening affection for whiskey, which had become a growing concern for the president, was something that Houston kept away from his wife. However much whiskey he guzzled in the nation's taverns-that, too, had become something of a legend-he did not do the same at home. He drank little, as a rule, in his wife's presence; was invariably a cheerful rather than a nasty drunk, on the few occasions when he did; and quit altogether after his son was born.
Even Houston's stubborn insistence on naming the child Andrew Jackson Houston hadn't caused much in the way of family tension. Monroe had made no formal objection of any kind, whatever he might have said in private. In any event, the president was far too shrewd a politician not to use the occasion to defuse the tensions with Jackson that had begun to build. As political tensions always did around Jackson, the man being what he was.
So, despite Houston's faults-and which man had no faults? Adams asked himself; certainly not he-the president liked his son-in-law. So did John Quincy Adams, for that matter, and he was not a man given to many personal likings.
Adams glanced at the general sitting in the chair next to him. So, for that matter, did Winfield Scott. At least, once he'd realized that Houston's resignation from the army and subsequent preoccupation with Indian affairs meant that he was no longer a rival in the military.
Yes, everybody liked Sam Houston. You could not have found a man in the United States who would tell you otherwise. Until they finally discovered that, beneath the good-looking and boyishly cheerful exterior, there lurked the brain and the heart of a Machiavellian monster.
A few months after his marriage, all of Houston's scheming and deal-making had come to fruition later that year with the Treaty of Oothcaloga.
The Confederacy of the Arkansas had been born that day. At first, the great migration of the Cherokees and the Creeks that followed had been hailed across the nation as a stroke of political genius on the part of the Monroe administration. By none more loudly than Andrew Jackson, of course, who had by then solidified his position as the champion of the western settlers. But even Calhoun had grudgingly indicated his approval.
For that one brief moment in time, the so-called Era of Good Feelings had seemed established for eternity. But, in hindsight, it had only been the crest of a wave. On January 13, 1820-almost five years to the day after he and his Iron Battalion had broken the British at the Battle of the Mississippi-Patrick Driscol and those same black artillerymen routed the Louisiana militia in what had since come to be called the Battle of Algiers. The four years that followed had been a steadily darkening political nightmare.
Houston was blamed for that, too, nowadays, by many people. His diplomacy had defused the crisis, long enough to allow Driscol and his followers to leave New Orleans and migrate to the new Confederacy. So, a full-scale war had been averted.
But John Calhoun had never forgiven the Monroe administration for the settlement Houston engineered, and Monroe's approval of it. Servile insurrections should be crushed and their survivors mercilessly scourged, he argued, not allowed to flee unscathed-and never mind that the "servile insurrection" had actually been the work of freedmen defending their legal rights against local overlords.
To John Calhoun and his followers, a nigger was a nigger. Rightless by nature, legalistic twaddles be damned. The black race was fit only to hew wood and draw water for those who were their superiors.
A few months after the Algiers Incident, Calhoun resigned his post as secretary of war in order to run for senator from South Carolina. He won the election, very handily, and had been a thorn in the side of the administration since. It had been Calhoun who led the charge in Congress to pass the Freedmen Exclusion Act, which would have required all freedmen to leave the United States within a year of manumission. Monroe had vetoed the bill on the obvious ground that it was a gross violation of states' rights, whereupon Calhoun had given his open support to freedmen exclusion legislation passed by various states and municipalities, and his tacit blessing to more savage and informal methods of exclusion.
A duel had almost resulted, then, when Sam Houston publicly labeled him-Adams could not but smile, whenever he thought of the brash youngster's handy way with words-"a tsarist, a terror-monger, and a toad. Nay, say better-a toadstool. A toad can at least hop about. Calhoun is a fungus on the nation's flank."
"What are you so cheerful about, John?" demanded Monroe.
Delicate ground, indeed. Adams stifled the smile.
"Ah, nothing, Mr. President. Just a stray thought that happened to cross my mind."
The look Monroe gave him was exceedingly skeptical. "Stray thought" and "John Quincy Adams" were not phrases that could often be found together. Anywhere within shouting distance, in fact. Disliked as he might be in many quarters, no one thought Adams's brain was given to loose functioning-and he was generally considered the best-read man in America.
But Monroe let it drop. Instead, he turned his gaze to Scott.
"What's your military assessment, General?"
Scott shrugged. "The fortifications that Driscol's built in the Ozarks and the Ouachitas pose no threat to the United States, Mr. President. They're purely defensive works, and too far-much too far-from the Mississippi to pose any threat to our commerce."
Monroe nodded. "Yes, I understand that." Perhaps a bit acerbically: "I have some military experience myself, you may recall. What I meant was-let's be frank, shall we?-what threat do they pose to our army in the event the United States goes to war with the Confederacy? Or, to put it more bluntly still, if we invade Arkansas?"
Scott looked out the window for a moment. "Assuming Driscol's in command? Which, of course, he would be, if he's still alive when-if-that time comes." He paused for another moment. "Let me put it this way, Mr. President. Were you, or anyone, to ask me to command such an expedition, I would strongly-very strongly-urge that an alternative route of attack be chosen."
" What alternative route, Winfield?" Adams demanded. It was not so much a question as a statement-and a caustically posed one, at that. If the president was known for his affable manners, the secretary of state was not.
Adams heaved himself out of his chair and went to another window than the one Monroe had been looking out earlier. The same window, in fact, that had been the focus of Scott's examination. That window allowed a view to the west.
Once there, Adams stabbed a finger at the land beyond. "Attacking the Confederacy from the south means marching through Texas. That means a war with Mexico, and probably Spain. An unprovoked war with Mexico-and no one except southern slave-owners would accept the premises for such a war as a provocation suitable for a casus belli-runs the risk of embroiling the European powers. The last thing we need. Not even Jackson would support that, as much as he hates the Dons."
He shifted his finger slightly to the north and jabbed it again. "The only other alternative is coming at the Confederacy from the north. That would be diplomatically feasible, but as a military proposition:"
He shifted his gaze back into the room, to land on Scott. "You're the expert, Winfield. What's your opinion?"
The general grimaced. "The logistics would be a nightmare. You'd have to move the troops down the Ohio to the juncture with the Mississippi. Then-"
"Passing by free states as you went, each and every one of which will be opposed to the expedition," Monroe injected. "They have no quarrel with the Confederacy. Rather the opposite, since many of them are happy to be getting rid of their own freedmen-and without the Confederacy, they can't."
Scott's grimace had never quite left his face, and now it returned with a vengeance. "Yes, I understand that, Mr. President. You'd have to bivouac on the south bank of the Ohio and resupply in Kentucky ports."
The president wasn't about to let up. "I remind you that Richard Johnson keeps getting reelected by the citizens of Kentucky, General. What's he likely to say about that?"
"He'd pitch a fit," Adams agreed. "There's not only the matter of his personal attitudes to be considered, either. Senator from Kentucky or not, living openly with a black woman or not, don't forget he's also the darling of the northeast workingmen-and they're even happier with the freedmen exclusion laws than Calhoun is. Except, not being slave-owners, they don't care a fig about the problem of runaway slaves. Let the darkies escape to Arkansas, and good riddance-and for sure and certain, don't expect them to support a war to get them back. Much less volunteer to fight in it."
"I wasn't advocating such an expedition, Mr. President, Secretary of State. Personally, I think it'd be sheer folly. But you asked my military opinion, and I'm simply trying to give it to you."
"Of course, General." Monroe's courtesy was back in full force. "Neither I nor the secretary meant any of our-ah, perhaps impatient view of the matter-to be inflicted upon you."
"Yes," Adams grunted. "My apologies, Winfield. I didn't mean to suggest you were a party to Calhoun's madness. Please continue."
Scott nodded. "It would help a great deal, Mr. President, if I had a map to work from. Is there one at hand?"
"I can have one brought, certainly." The president began to rise, but Adams waved him down. "Please! The proprieties must be maintained. The best maps are in my office, anyway. I'll get one for us. Just the trans-Mississippi region, Winfield?"
"Yes, that should do."
Adams was at the door to the president's office. "This will take a moment. There's no point sending a servant. He'll just waste time not finding it and then waste still more time trying to think up an excuse."
It was said rather sarcastically. Adams said many things rather sarcastically. It was a habit his wife chided him about. As did a veritable legion of other people, including Adams himself. He tried to restrain the habit, but:
Alas. John Quincy Adams had many virtues. Even he would allow that to be true, as relentlessly self-critical as he was. But "suffering fools gladly" was not and never would be one of them.
Still, he thought God would forgive him that sin when the time came. As sins went, it was rather a small one, after all. Even Jesus, if you studied the New Testament from the proper angle, suffered from it to a degree.
By the time Adams returned to the president's office, Monroe had cleared his desk of all the materials on it. Adams, with Scott assisting, spread the large map across the surface.
"Good. This will make it all much clearer," Scott said. "Let's begin here, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi."
A long, powerful-looking finger pinned the spot, then slid to the north. "Then, up the Mississippi to St. Louis. At St. Louis-upstream again, you'll notice-you move along the Missouri, skirting the Ozarks to the south. Then:"
He looked up, giving the other two men a sardonic glance. "Then: what? "
"There's the Grand River," Adams suggested, but with no great force. "Eventually."
"Ah, yes, the Grand. Also called the Neosho, I believe. Hard to tell from this map, but it doesn't really look all that grand, does it? And do please note that you have to traverse a considerable distance before you can reach any headwaters of the Arkansas. By now, you've gone hundreds of miles upstream, followed by a land march with no means of supplying your troops except with horses and wagons. That's difficult even without enemy resistance being encountered-and we're bound to encounter some. From the indigenes, first-those are the Osage, you know, a fierce tribe-even before we come into Cherokee territory."
He straightened. "I won't say it can't be done. It could, certainly, with the expenditure of enough time, effort, and-most of all-money. There's simply no way around it, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary. West of the Mississippi, the main rivers all run west to east, or northwest to southeast. There is no real help there for an army large enough to do the job that tries to approach the Confederacy from the north."
Monroe pushed aside a portion of the map and sat down heavily in his chair. "I understand. The gist of it is that there is no practical alternative, unless one is prepared to wage a long and costly war, to launching a major expedition against the Indian Confederacy except up the Arkansas River valley."
"Yes, sir. The Red River can't serve, not with at least a hundred and fifty miles of it clogged up with fallen trees. The Great Raft, they call it."
"And Driscol, being a very experienced soldier, knows that perfectly well."
"So he designed his fortifications and lines of defense-his version of Wellington's Lines of Torres Vedras in the Peninsular War-in such a way as to channel any attacker up the river."
"Yes, sir. His lines are brilliantly designed, too. Far better than I would have thought, to be honest. I think he must be getting advice from somewhere. Driscol was a sergeant in Napoleon's army, not an officer. And the only sight he would have ever gotten of Wellington's defenses would have been from a distance. Even with his huge army, Massena never made any serious attempt on Torres Vedras."
"How do you mean, 'brilliantly designed'?" asked Adams.
The general turned to face him. "Consider the problem he faces. Even with the recent flood of immigrants coming from the freedmen communities, added to the constant influx of runaway slaves and the settlers sponsored by the American Colonization Society, there still can't be more than some tens of thousands of negroes in that Arkansas Chiefdom, as the Confederates call their respective states. Certainly not more than eighty thousand, I shouldn't think. Add to that perhaps ten thousand whites by now, all told."
" That many?" The president's eyebrows were lifted. "Whites, I mean. I wouldn't have thought:"
He glanced at Adams. "Again, a smile. Why?"
Adams had also resumed his seat. Now he leaned his short, heavy frame back into it. "I can't say I'm surprised, Mr. President. Not every white man in America shares Calhoun's attitudes."
Nor do most of them come from Virginia gentry, as you do. But he left that unsaid, of course. "There are the missionaries, first of all. A very heavy presence of Quakers, naturally, and they tend to move in entire families. Then, a fair number-call it a heavy sprinkling-of young radicals. Abolitionists, they're starting to call themselves."
Monroe made a face. For all the president's humane nature, which Adams would be the first to allow, the man was still the product of his upbringing. Though a slave-owner himself, Monroe-like his close friends and predecessors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison-considered the institution of slavery problematic at best, and probably an outright evil. Still, any drastic and rapid abolition of slavery was considered impossible, and the attempt to do it, economically and socially disastrous.
Adams, a New Englander, thought it was probably impossible also, for political reasons. But he would have accepted the economic and social disasters abolition might bring, for the sake of the greater political disaster they would avert. More and more, he was becoming convinced that if slavery festered for too long, it would produce, in the end, one of the most horrible episodes of bloodshed any nation had ever endured. And would steadily undermine the foundations of the republic before it got there.
But there was no point reopening that debate here and now, so Adams continued to the next point.
"I imagine that most of the whites there, however, are simply settlers. No different, really, from any western settlers. Scots-Irish in the main, of course."
"I'd think they'd bridle at being ruled by blacks," Monroe said.
The president was a very perceptive man, so the moment those words were spoken, his gaze moved to Scott. "And now you're smiling, General. Why?"
Scott coughed into his fist as a way of suppressing his amusement. "You have to be there to understand the thing, Mr. President. Yes, it's true that most of the chiefs-they've adopted Cherokee terminology-are negroes. Still, they're elected-and whites can vote also. They can run for office, as well, and a disproportionate number of them get elected. Even the negroes in Arkansas are more likely to vote for a white man, all other things being equal.
"What's most important, however, is that the principal chief-that's their equivalent of what we'd call the governor of the state-is Patrick Driscol. You can't even say he gets elected in a landslide, since nobody ever runs against him."
He coughed again, into a large fist. "They don't call him that, though, except the Cherokees and Creeks who live in the province. Of whom, by the way, there are perhaps another five thousand. 'Principal chief,' I mean. I was quite entertained during the weeks I was there, I assure you, to discover that every white or black man I encountered refers to Patrick Driscol as the Laird of Arkansas."
The fist couldn't possibly suppress the grin that came then. "Not to his face, of course."
Adams smiled. Monroe, who knew Driscol personally, laughed aloud. "I can imagine not!"
After the moment's humor was gone, Scott said: "Perhaps you remember Driscol's young soldier, who accompanied him everywhere he went during the war. McParland? The young deserter whose faked execution I had Driscol stage, shortly before the Battle of the Chippewa?"
Monroe frowned slightly, dredging his memory. "Oh, yes. I remember him now. A country boy."
Scott nodded. "Yes. From a poor family in upstate New York. Except none of them live in New York, any longer. The entire family-uncles, aunts, cousins, and all-pulled up stakes and moved to Arkansas several years ago. And they're no longer poor, either. They're rather prosperous; in fact, since they own one of the furniture factories that Houston fostered in Fort of 98. Which, incidentally, has become surrounded by quite a large town. More in the way of a small city, by now. There are a number of advantages to moving to Arkansas, for a poor white settler, now that Driscol has established his rule there. For one thing, there's far less danger from Indian attacks, for obvious reasons."
At Monroe's gesture, the general resumed his own seat. "A large town-soon, if not already, a small city-protected by a powerful fortress, which holds the only gate to the rest of the Confederacy and the Cherokee and Creek lands beyond. Driscol has nothing like the population of Lisbon that Wellington had. But he's still got tens of thousands of men, and he designed those lines so troops could be moved rapidly from one point to another along the high ground. Any invading army will get battered back and forth as they march up the river valley, until they come to Fort of 98. He named it after the Irish rebellion, you understand? The one that brought death to his father and brother, and exile to him. I've seen it at close hand-spent two days studying it, rather, inside and out. Please trust me when I say it's as formidable a fortress as any in the continent."
Scott leaned over. His finger landed forcibly on the Arkansas. "That's the only really suitable invasion route. And Driscol knows it. And he spent some time as a young sergeant in the French colors, staring up at Wellington's Lines of Torres Vedras after having marched across all of Spain. And saw that his commander, Massena, never ordered a full assault. Massena had sixty-five thousand men in that army. How many soldiers will the United States send against the Confederacy of the Arkansas?"
Monroe's reply came instantly. "Not one, so long as I am president."
There was an awkward silence. Pleasantly, Monroe said to Scott: "Thank you for your advice, General. It was very helpful. And now would you give us a moment, please?"
Scott rose to his feet. "Certainly, Mr. President. I'll be in my offices at the War Department, should you need me again today." He turned and nodded to Adams. "A pleasure, as always, Mr. Secretary."
He probably even meant it, Adams thought. Winfield Scott and he got along quite well, as a rule. If for no other reason, because Scott was even less prone to suffering fools gladly.
After the general was gone, the silence returned for a time. Finally, sighing, Adams spoke up. "There is some talk, I believe, that people might want me to succeed you, Mr. President."
"Yes, so I've been led to believe."
Monroe maintained a studied blandness in his expression and tone of voice. It was the firm protocol of the young republic that no gentleman suited to be chief executive in the first place would ever directly express any ambition for the post, as absurd as that apparent indifference might be. Even Henry Clay maintained the posture, though every suckling babe in the nation knew that the Speaker of the House lusted for the presidency as other men lusted for food or whiskey or money or women.
Adams scratched under his chin. "Should that unlikely eventuality come to pass, my answer would be the same as yours. Not one dollar spent to send one soldier against the Confederacy."
Monroe nodded. "Jackson's answer might be different. He's as savage as anyone on the subject of the runaway slaves for whom Arkansas has become a magnet. But he's also far shrewder than most people realize. Even something of a genuine statesman, I think, in his own way. Finally, Jackson takes his honor seriously, and there is his vow to Houston. Which he might-or might not-feel has been satisfied by now."
Houston. Always Houston, it seemed. On Mondays, Adams thought the young man was the republic's greatest blessing. On Tuesdays, its greatest curse. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, he was indifferent to the question, for the secretary of state had many other things in midweek to occupy his mind. By Friday, he was back to blessing the youngster, and on Saturday to showering him with silent curses.
Sunday, of course, was the Sabbath. On Sundays, Adams studied the Bible and tried not to think about the subject of Houston at all. Sometimes he even succeeded.
"Yes, Andrew Jackson," he said. "Impossible to know how he'd react, and what he'd decide. With Henry Clay, of course:"
He left the rest unsaid. Monroe, however, did not.
"Clay will do whatever serves opportunity, as he sees it. And since he can't get the presidency without the support of Calhoun and at least the acquiescence of Crawford, that will determine his course."
"He'll call it a great compromise," Adams predicted.
The room burst into momentary laughter, again. The moment over, Adams began rolling up the map.
"Let's hope we never have to find out."
A tavern not far from Lexington, Kentucky
M AY 10, 1824
The innkeeper eyed the big man in front of him uncertainly.
First, because he was big. At least two inches over six feet and very broad-shouldered. The heavy Cherokee blanket he was wearing over his uniform made him seem as massive as a bear. He filled practically every square inch of the doorway to the room he'd rented for the night.
Second, because he'd obviously had some whiskey to drink, even though it was only two hours past dawn. The smell of it on his breath was not overwhelming but was still noticeable.
And finally, of course, simply because of who he was.
If there was one thing the whole country had come to know about Colonel Sam Houston, it was that:
You never knew. He might do anything.
The innkeeper decided to try reason. "Look, Colonel, you were planning to leave town this morning anyway."
"Not before breakfast," came the feared rejoinder. Stated every bit as reasonably.
"Well, sure," the innkeeper admitted. "But there's a good tavern just six miles down the road. And your boy's already getting your horses saddled."
The big young colonel smiled. "Chester's five years older than I am. Not as tall, I admit. Still, it seems a bit silly to be calling him a boy."
Who else would even think that way? A black man was always a "boy"-and the colonel's was a slave, to boot.
But the innkeeper wasn't about to argue the point. Not now, for a certainty, when he was trying to keep his tavern from being turned into a shambles.
Where reason hadn't worked, perhaps outright pleading would.
"Colonel:Jack Baxter's the meanest man in northern Kentucky. Just take my word for it. Been that way since he was a kid. He'll pick a fight over anything. And, uh:"
Houston's smile widened. "And, in my case, he's got real grievances."
"I guess. Depending on how you look at it."
"Well, then!" Cheerfully, Houston came into the hallway, moving the innkeeper aside the way the tide shifts seaweed. "As an of-fi-cial of the United States government, I figure it's my bounden duty to listen to the complaints of a taxpayer."
Over his shoulder, as he moved toward the stairs leading down to the tavern's main room: "He does pay taxes, doesn't he?"
"As little as he can," the innkeeper muttered, hurrying after him. "Please, Colonel-"
"Oh, relax, will you?" Houston's soft Tennessee accent thickened noticeably. "I bean't a quarrelsome man. In fact, my mama told me she almost named me Tranquility instead of Sam."
He started down the stairs, not clumping as much as a man his size normally would. Partly because he was wearing Cherokee-style boots to match the blanket he still had over his shoulders, but mostly because he was very well coordinated. The innkeeper had been surprised by that the night before. There were usually impromptu dances in the tavern of a Friday evening. Half drunk-better than half-Houston had still been able to dance better than anyone else. Any man, at least.
"Almost," he added.
The innkeeper was following close behind. " 'Almost' is what I'm worried about, Colonel."
Houston chuckled. "I told you, Ned, relax. Just have Mrs. Akins fry me up a steak."
The chuckle came again. "Don't think porridge would do the trick. At all."
By the time Ned Akins scurried into the kitchen, gave his wife the order, and got back into the main room, the worst had happened. He was just in time to see Houston pull out a chair at the table in the corner where Jack Baxter was having his breakfast. A moment later, the young colonel was sitting right across from him.
Houston was smiling cheerfully. Baxter returned the smile with a glare.
It wasn't a very big table, either.
"And I just put in a new window," Akins muttered to himself. Fortunately, the window was a good ten feet from where Houston and Baxter were sitting. Maybe it wouldn't get smashed up along with everything else.
The room had fallen silent. Even packed as it was with men having their breakfast, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Most of the diners were travelers passing through on business, not locals. But it didn't matter. Every one of them had heard Baxter's loudly stated threats, should the nefarious nigger-loving traitor Sam Houston dare to show his face. And the fact that Jack Baxter was the meanest man in town could have been surmised by a half-wit, upon fifteen seconds' acquaintance.
Houston turned his head part way around, ignoring Baxter's glare. "Oh, Mr. Akins-I forgot. Be so kind as to tell your wife that I prefer my steak cooked rare. No blasted leather for me, thank you. When I stick my knife into meat, I want to see it bleed. "
He turned back to Baxter. "I've got quite the knife, too. Here, let me show you."
From somewhere under the blanket, Houston drew out a knife that looked more like a short sword than what any reasonable man-certainly any reasonable innkeeper-would have called a knife. It was all Akins could do not to hiss.
Two of the customers in the room did hiss.
"Had it made for me in Arkansas," Houston continued, his tone as cheerful as ever. "At the knife shop James Black set up in Fort of 98. I think Rezin Bowie designed it, though. He or his brother Jim, anyway. Can't say either one is exactly a friend of mine, so I'm not sure."
All the while he'd been prattling gaily, Houston held up the knife and twisted it back and forth, letting Baxter-every man in the room, for that matter-get a good view of it. The thing looked as lethal as a rattlesnake.
"You know Jim Bowie?" Houston asked Baxter, not looking at him.
He didn't wait for an answer, which he wouldn't have gotten anyway because by now Baxter's glare was enough to melt brimstone.
"Hot-tempered man." Houston shook his head, still looking at the knife. " 'Course, I admit, sometimes a man's got to have a temper."
Finally, he lowered the knife and looked across the table at Baxter. Still, for all the world, seeming to be completely oblivious to Baxter's fury.
"I should've asked your pardon for just sitting here. But I'm afraid I've got no choice. Nowadays-sad to say, but there it is-I pretty much have to take a corner table anywhere I go. It seems I've got enemies. Got to watch my back."
In point of fact, it was Baxter's seat that gave a view of the entire room. Houston's back was turned to everybody except Baxter.
Houston shook his head again. "Hard to believe, isn't it? Why, there's people say I caused the trouble with all the runaway slaves, even though-to any fair and judicious man-it's obvious as the nose in front of his face that the trouble was caused by that blasted Calhoun and his exclusion business."
He raised the knife a couple of inches above the table and brought the heavy pommel down. Hard.
"No, sir!" he bellowed. Baxter must have jumped the same two inches above his chair-and the glare suddenly vanished. Perhaps he'd finally remembered that that same voice had once bellowed orders across a battlefield, where British regulars had been beaten.
"No, sir," Houston repeated, forcibly if not as loudly. "Calhoun's to blame-him and every one of those Barbary killers of his. Going around the way they have, murdering black folk for no reason."
Houston looked very, very big now, hunched like a buffalo at the table. That huge knife was held in a hand of a size to match. His left hand was clenched into a fist that looked pretty much like a small ham.
Suddenly, the buffalo vanished, replaced by Houston's earlier cheerful smile.
"But, now-why am I carrying on like this? I'm sure a reasonable-looking man like yourself has no quarrel with me."
The steak had arrived. Akins's wife shoved the plate into Ned's hands. "Get it over there quick," she hissed. "Maybe we can still get out of this without the place being torn down."
The innkeeper hurried over to the table. By now, he wasn't actually worried about the tavern itself being wrecked. Meanest man in northern Kentucky or not, it was plain as day that Jack Baxter was thoroughly cowed. That still left the problem of cleaning the floor.
Akins was proud of that floor, tarnation. Real wood. And he didn't want to think about the howls his wife would put up, having to scour blood from it. Several quarts of blood, from the looks of that knife. Not to mention maybe eight feet of intestine.
He planted the plate in front of Houston. "I'll get you a fork."
"Don't bother," Houston growled. "Can't stand forks. Never use 'em except at my wife's table. Well, and my father-in-law's, of course."
There was that, too. The buffalo who'd broken British regulars in front of the Capitol, and then again at New Orleans, also happened to be married to the president's daughter.
Jack Baxter was just about as dumb as he was mean. But it seemed his intelligence was rising in proportion to the way he was slumping in his chair.
Houston seized the whole steak with his left hand, shoved it into his mouth, and began sawing off a chunk with the knife.
"Goo teak" he mumbled. After chewing more or less the way a lion chews-twice; swallow-he lowered the meat slightly and said: "My compliments to the good wife, Mr. Akins. Why, this steak is cooked proper, for a change!"
Akins looked at it. He'd wondered how Houston had managed to hold it bare-handed without burning himself. Now that the lion-bite had exposed the inside of the steak, the answer was obvious. His wife had been in such a hurry she'd barely cooked it at all. The meat was practically raw, once you got past the outside char.
Houston shoved it into his mouth, and sawed off another chunk. "Some whiskey, if you would," he said, after he swallowed. Again, after chewing it twice.
Akins didn't argue the matter. There was no way to stop Houston anyway-and, at least judging from his reputation and what the innkeeper had seen the night before, whiskey made him good-humored.
The innkeeper blessed good humor four times, on his way to the whiskey cabinet and back, tossing in a short prayer for good measure.
He didn't bother offering the use of a tumbler. As soon as the whiskey bottle was on the table-by then, half the steak had vanished, and what was left was back on the plate-Houston grabbed it by the neck and took a hefty slug.
He brought the bottle down with a thump. "Love whiskey with a rare steak. 'Course"-one more time, he bestowed that cheery grin on Baxter-"I dare not take more than the one good swallow, of a morning. Maybe two. As many enemies as I have."
Akins almost burst into laughter, then. He was standing by a table where a lion was beaming down on a rat. A cornered rat, at that, since there was no way for Baxter to get away from Houston, sitting where he was.
"No, sir, " Houston stated, stabbing the steak again and bringing it back up. He reached halfway across the table and waved the piece of meat under Baxter's nose. "I got to be careful. Even though I can drink half a bottle and still shoot straight or cut slicker'n you'd believe a man could do plain sober."
The steak went back into his mouth, and the knife sawed off another chunk. By now, at least, Houston was chewing four or five times before he swallowed.
Akins heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw that Houston's slave had come into the room. He was holding a satchel in his left hand.
"We're ready to go whenever you've a mind, Mr. Sam," he announced. "The horses are saddled, everything's packed, and-"
The same two men hissed as the slave brought a pistol out of the satchel.
"-I got your pistol here, if you've a mind for that, too."
Houston swallowed, turned his head, and frowned. "Now why in the world would I need a pistol, Chester?" He held up the steak-what little was left of it-skewered on the knife. "Cow's already dead."
The slave didn't seem in the least abashed by the apparent rebuke. Nor did anyone in the room miss the fact that he wasn't holding the pistol by the barrel, the way a man normally does when he's readying to pass it over to another. Instead, he had the handle cupped neatly in his palm. And if his forefinger wasn't precisely on the trigger, and his thumb wasn't precisely on the hammer, neither digit was more than half an inch away from turning the gun into a deadly thing.
He was holding the weapon as if he knew exactly how to use it, too. Most slaves didn't.
"You got enemies, Mr. Sam. Remember? Turrible enemies, people say."
Houston shook his head and waved the steak around the room. "Not here, surely! Chester, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Even thinking such a thing!"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Sam. Sorry 'bout that." He didn't seem any more abashed by that rebuke than he'd been by the first one.
"As you should be! Why, I oughta have you apologize personally to every man in this room. Would, too, 'cept"-he paused for a moment while he sawed off another piece of steak and swallowed.
"Except that wouldn't be proper," he continued. "You being a black slave and them being free white men. Apology presumes equality, you know. All the philosophers say so."
He turned and scowled at his slave. "You got no excuse, neither, since you read the same philosophers. I know, 'cause I taught you how to read."
Teaching slaves to read wasn't illegal except in Virginia-yet, anyway. Calhoun and his followers were pressing for that, now, along with freedmen exclusion. Still, it certainly wasn't the custom in slave states like Kentucky.
But that, too, was part of Houston legend. He might as well have had Custom Be Damned for a crest on a formal coat of arms.
"Yes, Mr. Sam. No, sir, I mean, it wouldn't be proper."
Houston chewed the last piece of steak more slowly than he had any of the others. With a thoughtful expression on his face, now.
When he was finished, he rose from the table. Then, suddenly and abruptly, shoved the table aside. Baxter, who'd been frozen in place for the past few minutes, started to jump from his chair, but Houston's big left hand jammed him back in his seat.
The young colonel held the knife in front of his face. Baxter's eyes were round, and his complexion was ashen.
"You'll have to excuse me, sir," Houston said politely. "I need to clean my knife, and there's nothing else handy. I daren't soil my blanket, of course. It's a personal gift from none other than Major Ridge himself. He'd be most offended if I showed up in the Confederacy with stains on it."
Quickly and efficiently, he wiped the blade clean on the shoulder of Baxter's coat. Then, moved the blanket aside and slid the knife into a scabbard.
"My thanks, sir." He bestowed the beaming smile on him. "And now, I must be off."
He turned and strode toward the door, where Chester was waiting. The slave raised the pistol as if to offer it to his master, but Houston shook his head.
"No, no, you keep it. I do have enemies, it's true enough. Some of the rascals might be lurking outside. Since you shoot better than I do, best you keep the pistol."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Sam. If you say so."
Houston stopped abruptly. "Of course I do! Makes sense, doesn't it? The slave shoots them, and the master guts 'em."
He patted the knife under his blanket, turned around, and bestowed the grin on the whole room.
"You see, gentlemen? Easiest thing in the world to figure out, if you're not an imbecile like Calhoun. I never have trouble with runaway slaves. You're not planning to flee from lawful bondage, are you, Chester?"
"No, sir. Don't need to. 'Bout another two months, and I'll have saved up enough to buy my way free."
Houston's eyes widened. "Why:so you will. And since you learned how to blacksmith along the way, you won't have any trouble setting yourself up."
Akins didn't know whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, seeing Baxter get his comeuppance was worth its weight in gold. On the other:
Hiring out slaves as craftsmen was common, of course. Many of them were quite skilled, in fact. But Houston's practice of letting his slaves keep their wages was just plain:
"Some people say I'm a lunatic, Chester," Houston boomed. "A veritable bedlamite!"
"Yes, Mr. Sam. But maybe we ought to be going, now. Before your enemies learn where you are."
"Probably a good idea. Mr. Akins, the bill, if you please."
Less than a minute later, Akins had the money-a tavern still intact, too-and Houston was on his way.
He watched him and the slave Chester for a while. The slave rode a horse just as well as the colonel did.
"That man is pure crazy," he muttered.
His wife had come out of the tavern and was standing next to him.
"I thought you said-bean't more than two months ago-that if Colonel Houston ever ran for senator from Kentucky, you'd vote for him."
"Well, yes. He got rid of the Indians for us, didn't he? And he backs Jackson against the stinking bank. The Senate's way out there on the coast, anyway. But I sure wouldn't vote for him as governor. "
"Nobody would," his wife agreed, "outside of a bedlam house."
"Probably shouldn't have done that," Sam admitted, a couple of hours later. They'd stopped at a creek crossing to let their horses drink.
Chester studied the creek intently, as if the small stream were vastly more fascinating than any other body of moving waters on the face of the globe. " 'Probably' meaning how, Mr. Sam? 'Probably,' as in 'I probably shouldn't have baited that bear'? Or 'probably,' as in 'I probably shouldn't have stuck a pitchfork in Sam Hill'?"
Houston grinned. "Oh, surely the latter. But since I'm not a sinner-well, not much of one-what do I have to fear? Sam Hill won't have no hold on me, when the blessed day comes. Hand me the whiskey."
Chester rummaged in the saddle pack and came out with the bottle. He didn't say anything, but the expression on his face made clear his disapproval.
"And stop nattering at me," Sam said.
"Didn't say a word."
"Didn't need to." He opened the bottle, took a hefty but not heroic slug from the contents, stoppered it up, and handed it back to Chester. "See? Just needed something to take the taste out of my mouth. Blasted meat was practically raw."
As always, the warm glow in his belly steadied his nerves. Which needed it, in truth. There'd been a lot of encounters like that over the past two or three years. They'd been getting uglier, too.
The United States had been hit by a series of crises, coming in quick succession. Sam thought people would have handled the Panic of 1819 and the economic dislocation that followed. They'd also have handled-well enough, anyway-the Missouri Compromise that Henry Clay had engineered the following year, and the political tensions that came with it. Sam was no admirer of Clay, but he'd admit the man's vaunted political skills had been fully evident in that crisis.
But together, the Panic and the Compromise had brought the nation to a heated point just short of boiling-and then John Calhoun had seized upon the Treaty of Oothcaloga and the Algiers Incident to advance his proslavery political program. His speeches and actions had met a receptive audience in much of the South and the West. Almost overnight, it seemed, Sam Houston had gone from being a man generally admired both for his heroism in the war with Britain and for his settlement of the most acute Indian land questions, to the architect of a fiendish scheme to undermine the supremacy of the European race in America in favor of its lesser races.
"Still not sure how that happened," he muttered, looking down at the back of his hand. "My own skin's still as white as ever."
"What was that, Mr. Sam?"
Houston glanced at Chester. "Just talking to myself."
He decided to change the subject. "When are you planning to buy your freedom, by the way? It'd be handy if you'd let me know a bit ahead of time, you rascal, so's I don't get caught in the lurch."
Chester went back to his creek-scrutiny. "Well. Wasn't actually planning on it, all that soon, Mr. Sam. Thought I'd keep saving up my money. Once we get to Arkansas, I can put it in Mr. Patrick's bank. It'll be safe there."
"Wonderful! Now you'll make me a liar, too."
Chester smiled apologetically but didn't look away from the water. "You didn't say anything about it in the tavern, Mr. Sam. I was the one said I could buy my way free in 'bout a couple of months. Wasn't lying, neither. I could. But 'could' and 'would' is two different things. I just don't see the point in being a freedman when I wouldn't have enough money left to do anything more than work for someone else. I'm gonna do that, might as well keep working for you. There's really not all that much difference for a poor man, when you get right down to it, between a master and a boss-and, either way, you're the best one I know."
Sam rolled his eyes. "In other words, you're agreeing with Calhoun. Slavery's just the thing to elevate the black man. While his poor downtrodden white master pays the bills."
Chester's smile widened and lost its apologetic flavor. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Sam, but I don't recall Mr. Calhoun ever saying anything about black men being free, at any time, for any amount of money."
Sam scratched his chin. "Well, no. Of course not. If Calhoun had his way, freedmen wouldn't exist at all. How'd he put it in his recent speech to the Senate?"
His accent took on a mimicry of a much thicker and more Southern one. " 'I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color as well as intellectual differences, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding states between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good-a positive good.' "
Sam dropped the accent and shook his head. "Not much room there for freedmen. Now that they've gotten exclusion acts passed in most states, Calhoun and his people are pushing to make manumission illegal altogether. Not to mention getting laws passed that make teaching slaves how to read and write illegal."
Chester stopped smiling, then.
"He's a prize, Calhoun is." Sam leaned over and spit in the creek. Not so much as a gesture of disgust-although that was there, too-as to get rid of the taste of raw meat he still had in his mouth. The whiskey had helped some, but not enough.
For a moment, he contemplated taking another slug but decided against it. He'd already drunk almost a quarter of the bottle this morning. He wasn't worried about being able to ride a horse, of course. Sam could manage that with a full bottle under his belt. But he had an awkward interview coming up today, and he needed his wits about him.
"Come on," he said. "The horses have had enough, and I'd like to make it to the senator's house by midafternoon."
He grinned at the twin girls scampering around the front yard of Blue Spring Farm, as Richard M. Johnson's house and plantation were called. "Settle down, will you? You're making the horse nervous."
The admonishment had as much effect as such admonishments usually have on twelve-year-old girls. Fortunately, Sam's horse was a placid creature.
He decided to try the tactic of parental authority. "And you know your daddy doesn't like it when his girls don't act proper. Him being a United States senator and all."
That had no effect, either, not to Sam's surprise. Richard Johnson was a genial man toward just about everybody, especially his own daughters. Threatening them with his wrath was as useful as threatening them with a snowstorm in July.
In fact, they started laughing. And they were still bouncing up and down.
Fortunately, the girls' mother emerged onto the front porch.
" Settle down! Right this minute, Imogene, or I'll smack you proper! You too, Adaline!"
That did it. In an instant, the girls were the very model of propriety and demure behavior. Their father might be easygoing, but their mother was not. Julia Chinn was so well organized and disciplined that she almost managed to keep the senator from losing his money.
Almost, but not quite. But Sam didn't think anyone else could have kept him from going broke years earlier.
Sam got off his horse and handed the reins to Chester, who began leading the horses to the barn around the side. Sam stepped up onto the porch and took off his hat. He gave a polite nod to the two disabled veterans sitting on chairs further down the porch, and then turned to the lady of the house.
Her stern look vanished. "Hello, Sam. It's so nice to see you visit again. It's been:what? Over a year, now. You shouldn't stay away so long."
Before he could answer, she waved a hand. "Yes, yes, I know. You're a frightfully busy man."
Richard Johnson came out onto the porch just in time to hear the last words.
"Frightfully busy troublemaker, more like," he said gruffly. But he didn't even try to disguise the smile with which he said it.
As the two shook hands, Houston took a moment to size up the senator's appearance. It was:
Even more sloppy and eccentric than usual. The clothing itself simply consisted of the plain and unassuming garments that Johnson had always worn, which were part of his appeal to Kentucky's poor farmers and the workingmen of the nation's northeastern states. Nothing peculiar, in and of itself-except for the fact that the man who wore that humble apparel came from one of Kentucky's premier families and was himself one of the state's largest landowners. One of its largest slave-owners, too.
No, it was the rest of it. His hair was disheveled, his cravat was askew-only half tied, at that-and his boots had long since abandoned the status of "humble" and were pretty well past the stage of "worn down." Give them another few months, and they'd be able to proudly claim holes in the soles and heels that were nothing but memories.
The face, though, was the same. Johnson was a plain-looking man and always had been. Unassuming, in both his appearance and his manner. If you didn't know better, you'd find it hard to reconcile the man himself with his flamboyant reputation.
Flamboyant it was, too, even by the standards of the frontier. The Great Hero who'd personally shot Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames after suffering terrible wounds himself in the battle-so the story went, anyway, and Johnson had never done anything to detract from it-was also the Great Almagamator. The disreputable fellow from Great Crossing-a United States senator, to boot!-who lived in an open state of quasi-marriage with a mulatto and who persisted in treating his quadroon daughters as if they belonged in proper society. Even took them in his own carriage to church on a Sunday!
Andrew Jackson had shown Sam some of the letters he'd gotten from outraged gentility in Kentucky and Tennessee, demanding that the general disavow his political ties to Johnson.
"They can take that to Sam Hill," Jackson had growled, tossing the letters back into a drawer of his desk. He even lapsed into blasphemy for a moment. "I'll be damned if I will. Johnson's as stalwart as they make 'em, even if he is a blasted race-mixer."
Fortunately for Johnson, most of his own constituents felt much the same way about the matter. Whatever they felt personally about his notorious relationship with Julia Chinn, they overlooked it in favor of the rest.
Not the gentility, of course. During the six consecutive terms Johnson had served as one of Kentucky's members in the U.S. House of Representatives, most of the state's wealthy slave-owners had been indifferent to his personal habits. He didn't represent them, after all, for the most part. The scandalmongering with regard to Julia and the girls hadn't really started until John J. Crittenden resigned from the Senate in 1819 and Johnson was appointed to fill out Crittenden's term of office. A congressman was one thing; a senator, another.
But most of Kentucky's citizens were neither wealthy nor slave-owners. So far as they were concerned, Johnson's family arrangements were his own business. What mattered was all the rest: the fact that he was a genuine war hero; the fact that he was politically allied with Andrew Jackson's wing of the Democratic-Republican Party; most of all, the fact that Johnson had led the fight to get debt imprisonment abolished in Kentucky and was striving to do the same thing on a national level.
And, besides, every other personal habit of Johnson's led poor settlers on the frontier to favor him. Both as a Kentucky legislator and now as a national one, Johnson had made great efforts to gain compensation for the recent war's disabled veterans or their widows and orphans. If Blue Spring Farm was notorious as a place where a black woman presided over the dinner table and black children sat at it, it was also famous as a place of refuge for disabled veterans and their families. The two veterans on the porch-one missing an arm, the other a leg-would have half a dozen counterparts somewhere about the house or farm. Or their widows and orphans. No one in need was ever turned away from Richard M. Johnson's estate-never mind that the aid itself was often passed over by the dark-skinned hands of his common-law wife.
Kentucky's gentility had been disgusted to see Johnson appointed to serve out Crittenden's term in 1819. They'd been positively outraged to see him handily win the election for another term in the Senate in 1822.
Sam saw that Johnson was eyeing him a bit warily. "You seen the general lately?"
Sam shook his head. "Haven't seen him in nigh-on seven months, Dick." Since there was no point in letting Johnson fret on that score, when there were so many others he did need to fret about, Sam added hurriedly, "But I can assure you that the sentiments he expressed concerning you were just as warm as ever."
That was true, after all. Even if some of those "warm sentiments" had run along the lines of I can't believe he'd treat a nigger like she was an actual wife!
It wasn't that Andy Jackson didn't share each and every one of the common prejudices of his day. He most certainly did-and then some, often enough. It was just that in his own rough-hewn way, the general could often look past those things to see what really mattered to him.
Poor white men mattered to Andy Jackson. Not too many other people did, but they did, for sure and certain. So, if one of their undoubted political champions chose to behave badly in some aspects of his personal life, Jackson would look the other way. And if the proper folk complained, they could take their complaints to Sam Hill and see what satisfaction they'd get in those very warm quarters.
"Just as warm as ever," Sam repeated forcibly. "My word on it."
Johnson's grunt combined relief with satisfaction. "Well, they ought to be," the senator stated, as if to reassure himself. "Henry Clay makes a fortune suing people on behalf of land speculators and the Second Bank of the United States, and I go broke from waiving the fees for defending them."
That was also true:as far as it went. Johnson was indeed famous as one of the few well-connected lawyers in Kentucky that a poor man or his widow could go to for legal assistance without being charged. Unfortunately, it was only part of the truth.
There were a lot of reasons Richard Mentor Johnson was always on the verge of being broke. His personal generosity ranked on that list, yes-and pretty high up on it. But not as high as his casual attitude toward bookkeeping, his inability to say "no" to just about every speculative scheme that came his way, and his predilection toward seeing only a blur instead of a line between his personal finances and those of the public. Not to mention his indulgence toward his brothers, who were separated by only a knife's edge from being outright thieves.
Sam liked Richard M. Johnson a very great deal. He'd never met a man who didn't, no matter what their attitudes on such subjects as race, whom he didn't think was a swine. But there was just no getting around the fact that, as often as not, both he and the general-not to mention the president of the United States-would like to take Johnson by the scruff of the neck and give him a real down-home shaking. Or thrash him outright, for that matter.
Some of his aggravation must have shown, for Julia hastily spoke up.
"Please come in, Sam. Something to drink? I've fresh-brewed some tea."
Sam was about to agree when Johnson broke in. "Tea for Sam Houston? Don't be silly, Julia. Sam'll have some whiskey. I'll join him myself."
The senator passed through the door into the house. Sam felt his resolve crumbling. A slug of whiskey did sound good-and it would relax him for what was coming.
As Sam made to follow Johnson, Julia placed a hand on his arm.
"How much trouble is he in, Sam?" she asked quietly.
Houston shrugged uncomfortably. "Well:Nobody's talking about arresting him or anything like that, Julia. But:"
"But nobody's going to advance him any more money, neither."
"No. Not a chance." That wasn't quite true, but close enough for the moment.
She nodded and released his arm. "Thank you. I'll join you in a while."
The restraint their mother's admonition had placed on the girls finally broke.
"Can we come in, too?" Adaline demanded.
"We want to talk with Sam!" her twin added.
"Hush, girls! Sam and your father need some private time." Julia shooed them away. "You can talk to him all you want over dinner."
It took three slugs before Sam was finally ready. Johnson seemed to sense it, because he didn't prod Sam at all until the third slug had settled in his belly. Then, sighing, he set his own half-full tumbler on the small table next to the divan and planted his hands on his knees.
"So tell me, Sam. It's bad news, I'm sure."
"The president refuses to authorize any more funds to cover the losses from the Yellowstone expedition, on the recommendation of the secretary of the treasury."
"William H. Crawford," Johnson stated, making the simple name sound like a curse.
"I don't like him, either," Sam said. "But it doesn't matter. Even if the secretary and the president proposed it, there'd be an uproar in Congress. Financially speaking, the Yellowstone expedition was a disaster." Sam raised his hand to forestall Johnson's protest. "Dick, I know most of your constituents still think the expedition was a good idea, to keep the peace on the frontier. But most of the country considers the whole thing a boondoggle."
And probably a crooked one, to boot. Half-crooked, for sure. But he left that unsaid.
Johnson didn't pursue the matter any further, not to Sam's surprise. The Yellowstone expedition and the debts it had saddled the senator with dated back several years now. Not quite ancient history, but ground that had now been trodden over several times. He hadn't really had any hopes of getting any relief there.
Instead, he moved to the subject that was much more pressing. "And the Choctaw Academy I want to set up?"
Julia Chinn came into the room at that moment, giving Sam a little breathing space. After she'd taken a seat on the divan next to the senator, Sam tried to present it as positively as possible. "Do you know Gerrit Smith?"
"That young New York fellow? Rich as Croesus, they say. Something of a philanthropist, I also heard."
"That's the one."
Johnson's eyes widened. "He's offered to back me?"
There was no way around it. "Not exactly, Dick. He's willing to pay the debts you've accumulated for it and take the Academy off your hands."
May as well give it all to him, at one swallow.
"And he won't set it up here, and he won't call it the Choctaw Academy. He wants to establish it in New Antrim. And he wants to turn it into a school-maybe later a college, attached to it-that's open to children from all races. Whites, any tribe of Indians-and negroes. He thinks that's an experiment that'll work. If it's done in the Arkansas part of the Confederacy."
Johnson was just gaping at him. Sam took a deep breath and finished. "He's even got a schoolmaster lined up. Fellow name of Beriah Green. Also a New Yorker."
Also an abolitionist, he could have added, but didn't. Whatever Johnson's relationship to Julia Chinn, the man was also a major slave-owner, with all the attitudes toward abolition that that entailed. If that seemed contradictory:
Well, it was. But it was a contradictory matter that Sam knew backwards and forwards. He'd owned slaves himself for years, despite having had reservations about slavery even as a teenager. By now, at the age of thirty, those misgivings had turned into a genuine detestation for the institution.
Sam had owned only a few slaves at any one time, true-sometimes not more than one. And he didn't depend on their labor for his sustenance the way Johnson did. Mostly, he maintained his status as a slave-owner simply out of ambition. Sam still had hopes for a political career after Monroe left office and Sam lost-as he almost certainly would-his position as special commissioner on Indian affairs. That career would have to be in the South somewhere, probably his native state of Tennessee. Sam was already notorious enough among many influential circles in that area. Owning slaves served to keep that notoriety within limits. A southern gentleman was expected to own slaves, and so he did.
Sam didn't have the same pecuniary attachment to slaveholding that a great landowner like the Kentucky senator did. Still and all, he understood the contradiction. Better than he wished he did, even leaving aside the caustic comments that his friend Patrick Driscol made whenever he visited the Confederacy.
Johnson finally found his voice. A blasphemous one, too. "I'll be damned if I will!"
"You'll be damned if you don't," Julia hissed. She leaned over and laced her fingers together. "Exactly how much of our debts will this New York fellow assume, Sam?" she asked.
Good news, finally. "Every penny, Julia. Dick, you hear that? And he'll assume the financial burden of any further lawsuits arising from the-ah-"
How to put it?
Julia did it for him. "None-too-detailed nature of the books." She gave her more-or-less-husband a sharp glance. "Such as they are."
Johnson flushed. "Hey, look:"
"Dick, the school would have lost you money anyway," Sam said forcibly. " Did lose you money, even before you had a chance to open the doors. So be done with it. At least this way, you walk out free and clear. You have enough other debts to worry about."
Johnson just stared at him. Julia took advantage of the silence to speak again.
"One condition, Sam. This New York rich man has to agree to it, or we won't."
She looked through the open window. Outside, the sound of girls playing in the yard carried easily. "Imogene and Adaline get to attend the school. All expenses paid. If we decide to send them."
Sam couldn't help but laugh. "Well, that won't be a problem. Mr. Smith asked me to pass on to you that he'd especially like your children to attend. And he offered to pay for it himself. That's because-ah-"
To Sam's relief, that stirred up Johnson's combative instincts. "Because they're famous," he growled. Again, he blasphemed. "God damn all rich men."
The senator's curse could have been leveled on himself and his New York benefactor, of course, as much as on the southern gentry who vilified him.
We are sinners all, Sam thought to himself. It was a rueful thought, as it so often was for him these days.
The senator looked to Julia, now. "Are you sure about that, dearest? I don't like the idea of our kids being that far away."
Her face got tight. "You know any other school will take them, outside of New England-where they'd be just as far away? And even if there was one:"
She took a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice started rising.
"What happens if you die, Dick Johnson? It don't matter what you think. By law, those two daughters you spoil so badly are your slaves."
"I freed you!" he protested.
"Not till after the girls were born," came her immediate rejoinder. "Richard Mentor Johnson, how in the world can a lawyer like you be that deaf, dumb, and blind?"
It was a good question-and the wide-open mouth of the senator made it perfectly clear that he'd never even thought about it. By Kentucky law, as well as the law in any slave state, a child born to a slave inherited the legal status of the mother, not the father. That was in complete opposition to the standard way of figuring birth status as usually applied to white people. But the South's gentry had made sure and certain that their frequent dalliances with slave women wouldn't produce any legally and financially awkward children.
As foul a breed of men as ever lived, was Patrick Driscol's assessment of southern slave-owners. Sam felt the categorization was far too harsh, as was so often true of Patrick's attitudes. But he didn't deny there was more than a grain of truth to it. Slavery corrupted the master as much as it degraded the slave. If there was any true and certain law of nature, there it was.
"Long as you're alive," Julia continued, "we don't got to worry none. But if you pass on, the girls are just part of your estate. And you got debts. Lots and lots of debts. You think your creditors will pass them over?"
"I'll free them, too, then. Tomorrow!"
She shrugged. "Good. But you trust judges way more than I do. With all those creditors circling like vultures, won't surprise me at all to find some judge will say the manumission was invalid."
The next words were spoken very coldly. "They'll be pretty, real pretty, give 'em another three or four years. But they inherited my color, too-enough of it, anyway-along with my looks. They'll fetch a nice price from some slave whorehouse somewhere. Your ghost can watch it happen."
"It's not unheard of, Dick," Sam said.
The senator was back to gaping. Again, obviously, never even having considered the matter. The man's blindness could be truly astonishing at times. The same blindness that led him into one financial disaster after another. Not so much because Richard Mentor Johnson was dishonest or rapacious as because it never seemed to occur to him that friends and relatives and acquaintances of his might be.
One of the house slave women came into the room. "Dinner's ready, Miz Julia."
One black woman addressing another as if she were a white mistress. The world had a lot more crazy angles in it than most people wanted to admit. Much less allow.
Imogene and Adaline were on their best behavior at dinner. That might have been because of Sam's presence, but he didn't think so. It was more likely because their mother had drummed it into them over the years. Dinner at a great house like Blue Spring Farm was rarely a small and private family affair. And so the girls of the family would act proper, they would, or they'd suffer the consequences.
The dinner table seemed as long as a small ship, with tall and stately candlesticks serving for masts and sails. Johnson at one end; Julia, presiding over the meal, facing him at the other. With, in two long rows down the side, well over a dozen other people in addition to Sam and the children. Disabled war veterans or their widows, for the most part. But there was also one of nearby Lexington's prominent lawyers, and one of the local plantation owners.
Sam wasn't surprised to see them there. Not all of the South's well-to-do disliked Johnson. Many admired him. That was true, starting with the president of the United States himself, James Monroe, who came from Virginia gentry. As always, in Sam's experience-contrary to Patrick Driscol's tendency to label people in sharp and definite categories-attitudes and habits blurred at the edges. Blurred so far, often enough, that no boundary was to be seen at all.
Fine for Patrick-the "Laird of Arkansas," in truth, even if no one used the term to his face-to sit up there in the mountains and divide the world and its morals into black and white. Sam lived down here in a world of grays and browns, just about everywhere he looked. And:being honest, he was more comfortable in that world. He had plenty of gray in his own soul, as young as he might be, and he'd always thought brown to be the warmest color of all.
"Clay's going to make a run for it," the plantation owner predicted. "In fact, he's already started."
The lawyer sitting across from him laughed sarcastically. "What else is new? Henry Clay was dreaming about the presidency while he was still in his mother's womb. More ambitious than Sam Hill, he is."
Johnson smiled into his whiskey tumbler. So did Sam. It was the same smile, half derisive and half philosophical. The difference was simply that the senator's tumbler was half full and Sam's was:
Empty, now that he looked into it. How had that happened?
"Don't make light of it, Jack," cautioned the lawyer. "I'm thinking he's got a very good chance at getting what he wants. With Monroe gone after next year, who else does it leave? Beyond Quincy Adams and the general, of course-and they've both got handicaps."
"Andy Jackson's the most popular man in America!" the senator stoutly proclaimed.
The lawyer, blessed with the name of Cicero Jones, gave him a look that might have graced the face of the ancient Roman statesman after whom he'd been named-just before he fell beneath the swords of the Second Triumvirate.
"Maybe so, Dick. But:"
For an instant, Jones's glance flicked toward Sam. Then he looked down at his plate. "But not as much as he used to be," he concluded glumly.
That was enough to tip Sam's decision over the immediate issue at hand. He held up his tumbler toward one of the slaves waiting on the table. "Some more whiskey, if you would."
As the slave made to comply, Sam gave Johnson a level gaze. "That's my doing. The settlement I made of the Algiers business hurt the general worse than the Treaty of Oothcaloga helped him. No doubt about it, I think."
Now that Sam had said it out loud, Cicero Jones was clearly relieved. "No doubt about it at all," the lawyer echoed.
Across from him, Jack Hartfield shrugged and spread his hands. As portly as the plantation owner was, the expansive gesture did unfortunate things to his tightly buttoned vest.
Adaline managed to keep quiet, but Imogene burst into a giggle. Sam almost did, too, for that matter. The way the button flew from Hartfield and bounced off one of the candlesticks was genuinely comical.
Hartfield himself grinned. But his good cheer didn't keep the girl from her chastisement.
"Imogene!" exclaimed Julia. A hand the color of coffee-with-cream smacked her daughter, leaving a red mark on a cheek whose color wasn't much lighter. "Do that again and you'll finish dinner in your room!"
"Oh, go easy on her, Julia," chuckled the plantation owner. "It was pretty funny. I probably would have laughed myself, 'cept I don't want to think what my wife'll have to say when I get home. I'm afraid I bust a lot of those."
"Don't matter," insisted Julia. She wagged a finger in Imogene's face. "You behave yourself, young lady. You know better than that."
Imogene assumed a properly chastened look. Although Sam didn't miss the angry glare she gave her sister across the table, once Julia looked away. Adaline's face had that insufferably smug look that a twin has whenever her sibling is rightfully punished-and she herself gets away with it.
Again, it was all Sam could do not to laugh. Fortunately, the tumbler arrived and he was able to disguise his amusement with a hefty slug of its contents. A heftier slug than he'd actually intended. It was hard to resist, though. The whiskey served at Blue Spring Farm was the best Sam had had in months. And that was a lot of whiskey back.
Once the humor of his mishap had settled, Hartfield went on with what he'd been about to say. "I don't think it's really fair to blame young Houston. If the general had just kept quiet about the matter, instead of:"
He shrugged. Even more expansively than he had before, now that further damage was impossible. The button that had popped off his vest had been the last survivor.
"That unfortunate speech."
That was something of a euphemism, in Sam's opinion. As much as he admired Andy Jackson, there was no denying the man had a savage streak in his nature that was sometimes as wide as the Mississippi River. If the clash at Algiers had been between any other group of black men-free or slave, it mattered not-and a properly constituted white militia, Andy Jackson would have been among the first to demand loudly that the niggers be put in their place. For that matter, he'd probably have offered to lead the punitive expedition personally.
But those hadn't been just any black men. Those had been the men of the Iron Battalion, led by the same Patrick Driscol, who'd broken the British at the Battle of the Mississippi-the battle that had turned Jackson from a regional into a national figure. If Andy Jackson could be savage about race, he could be even more savage-a lot more savage-when it came to matters of honor, and courage, and cowardice.
Whatever the color of their skin-and their commander's skin was as white as Jackson's own-Old Hickory had a genuine admiration for the Iron Battalion. And, on the reverse side, despised no group of wealthy men in the United States so much as he despised the plantation owners in and around New Orleans who had, in the main, refused to participate in the fight against the invading redcoats. And had done so-to put the icing on the cake-because they feared their own slaves more than they did a foreign enemy.
Jackson had had choice words to say about that Louisiana gentry during the New Orleans campaign in the war against the British. His words spoken in public-and reprinted in most of the newspapers of the nation-the day after the Algiers Incident had been choicer still. Poltroons and criminals applied to rich white men, and the terms stalwart fellows and yeomen defending their rights applied to poor black ones, were all true, to be sure. But they'd caused the general's popularity in the South and the West-theretofore almost unanimous except for Henry Clay and his coterie-to plummet like a stone.
Only so far, of course. Soon enough, the plunging stone had reached the secure ledge of support from the poorer class of the Southwest's voters. For the most part, they'd been no happier with the result of the clash at Algiers than any other white men of the region. On the other hand, as the saying went, it was no skin off their nose. All the more so, since the battle had been precipitated by the lascivious conduct of some of the New Orleans Creoles, whose wealth and Frenchified habits the poor Scots-Irish settlers resented-and a good percentage considered not that much better than niggers anyway.
Still, when all the dust settled, Andy Jackson's popularity in the South and West was no longer as overwhelming as it had been. Clay, of course, had immediately seized the opportunity to continue the Jackson-bashing he'd begun two years earlier over the general's conduct of the Florida campaign. The Speaker of the House had had his own choice words to say on the floor of Congress. He'd even gone to the extreme of offering to lead a punitive expedition to Louisiana himself.
The offer had been as histrionic as it was ridiculous. First, because Henry Clay had no military experience whatsoever-indeed, he routinely dismissed Jackson as a "mere military chieftain," in no way suitable for higher positions in the Republic. Second, because he knew perfectly well that there was no chance at all that President Monroe would appoint him to the position, even in the unlikely event that he authorized such a mission in the first place. Always the Virginia gentleman, James Monroe kept his private feelings to himself. But Sam was his son-in-law, and he knew perfectly well that if Monroe's dislike and distrust of Henry Clay was less savage than Jackson's, it was not an inch shallower.
Ridiculous and histrionic as it might have been, however, Clay's stance had enhanced his own popularity in the region-and the congressman from Kentucky had already been the second most popular figure there, after Jackson. Considerably more popular among the region's gentry.
"Well, it's done now," said the lawyer. No slouch himself when it came to whiskey, Cicero Jones downed his tumbler. "But don't fool yourselves, gentlemen. Henry Clay is now at the front of the pack who'll be running for president, once Monroe's term is up. Quincy Adams is respected by just about everyone-gentlemen, at least-but he's not liked all that much, either. Too cold, too harsh, too caustic-too everything. And, like Calhoun, he's almost a purely regional figure. Adams will take New England just as certainly as Calhoun will take the hard-core South. But that's not enough votes to win, no matter how you slice it."
"There's Crawford," pointed out Senator Johnson. Only a slight twist to his lips indicated his dislike for the secretary of the treasury. The tone of his comment had been neutral and matter-of-fact.
Jones shrugged. "Yes, there's William Crawford. Popular in the South also, of course, being a Georgian. And the nation's well-to-do tend to be fond of him in all regions of the country."
"As they should!" barked Sam. Most of the disgruntlement in his tone, however, came from the state of his tumbler. Once again, not even noticing, he'd managed to drain it dry. And it would be ungracious to ask for another refill so soon. Always the generous host, Johnson still had a badly frayed pocketbook-and that whiskey was expensive.
"But he's seen by too many people as too slick," the lawyer continued. "I don't think the electorate trusts him all that much. Nor should they, for that matter."
"Hah!" exclaimed Hartfield. "Why should they look cross-eyed at Crawford? He's not half the cut-any-corner and make-any-deal bastard that Clay is." ...
All rights belong to the author: Eric Flint.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.