America has entered her most trying time. Three powerful men collide in a tale of treason that put the very future of the nation and its democracy at stake.Aaron Burr shatters the trust he enjoys from the American people by attempting to steal the presidency from under, Jefferson's nose. Stripped of power, Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in a raging duel and flees. General James Wilkinson, secretly on the Spanish payroll as Agent #13, fuels Burr's unquenchable ambition and conceives a plot to steal the entire Louisiana Territory from Jefferson. And James Madison, the unlikely hero, who uses his icy nerves and powerful intellect to try and hold a fledgling nation together.Treason is the stirring story of historical mystery and power politics in the days when our nation was young and vulnerable. A time of plot and counterplot, intrigue and greed, and the story of the figures of American history as they really were. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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November 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Treason by David Nevin
Washington City, fall 1803
This was the way she remembered it--memories cherished across thirty-five tumultuous years when the world turned upside down and she moved to the center of the nation's affairs--this was her story:
She was born in '68 and that meant she was--let's see--eight when the trouble started. She remembered her father's distress there on the Virginia plantation. He was a Quaker strong in his faith and he held against war. But Millie Esterbridge, who was a year older and lived on the plantation next to theirs, said General Washington would lead the American troops and everyone knew--well, everyone in Virginia--that he was a great man. It would be all right with General Washington in command. Of course, at eight you take a lot for granted, and later she'd marveled at how ignorant they were of war. Everyone, grown-ups, too. At first it had just been the awful splitting between patriots and loyalists, Millie's father selling out and moving his family off to Canada. Later they understood that dislocation and dissolved loyalties hardly mattered against the deaths and the aching widows, the hunger and pain of folks at home and men in the field alike, the men who returned absent arms and legs, their eyes hollowed out like melon husks, and the men who didn't come home at all. Maybe it was in reaction to the war that Pa decided that his faith required him to free their slaves, sell the plantation, and move to Philadelphia, the Quaker center that only incidentally was America's largest city.
She was fourteen when the Revolution ended and the last British soldiers boarded ships lying against the wharves in New York City and went home. General Washington mounted a big white horse and led his ragged troops into the city that the enemy had held so long, and the whole country erupted in joy, bonfires and parades and martial music and speechifying to numb the senses.
The nation was free. There were people who said it would sink right out of sight without British leaders to direct it or war to hold it together, but that made no sense to her. She said so, too, plain and clear, and presently the Quaker elders called to tell her it was unseemly for a mere lass to talk so. But she snorted when the trio departed, austere and unsmiling in their black garb and coarse woolen hose and flat hats--she had a mind of her own and didn't need anyone telling her how to use it.
She was fifteen and men sixteen and when she turned to the mirror she liked what she saw, and from the way young men looked at her and boys stared and Quaker matrons frowned, she came to understand she was not just beautiful but fetching as well. Bright colors weren't the Quaker way but she managed always to have a red ribbon in her glossy black hair or a sash of vivid green on a white gown or the bootlaces of purple silk she once wore, creating a minor stir.
By then everyone in Philadelphia was talking about the way the postrevolutionary government was falling flat, imploding, no head and no real body, no resources and no authority, no direction and no aim or intention or purpose, every state in the confederacy standing alone and for itself. Seemed we weren't Americans at all but Pennsylvanians or Virginians or what-have-you. But shoot, she was both Pennsylvanian and Virginian--and hence hardly could be one or t' other! By 1785 when she was seventeen and fresh as a rose in bloom, Pa said the country was going to ruin and the elders blamed the slight attention paid the Lord's word, and she thought it was high time someone did something and wasn't backward about saying so.
And sure enough, as if he'd been listening, General Washington called a meeting for right here in Philadelphia over to the State House that aimed to straighten it all out so the blood and pain of the war wouldn't be wasted. Every day she got out her parasol against the sun--oh, it was hot that summer of 1787!--and put a ribbon in her hair and with a half dozen Quaker girls went to stand along the brick sidewalks and watch the delegates enter and leave. Ah, frivolity! The girls along the sidewalk like so many flowers wanting to feel part of a great day, or at least to be noticed. The delegates looked toilsome and dour and they danced on the hot brick because the slippers they wore with snowy silk hose were so thin. It was said that they were talking themselves blue, sitting at little tables covered in green felt while General Washington looked on from a small dais. He hardly said a word, so it was remarked, but his stern look held them to the task.
Everyone talked about it on the street and they said the brightest man in the Constitutional Convention was the smallest and the quietest, with ideas that thundered but a voice that could hardly be heard. His name was James Madison and he was a fellow Virginian. She saw him one day, pale, wizened, looked old, forty or so, and my goodness, you could just see he was smart. She watched him, wondering if he would look up and see her and look at her the way everyone else did, but he walked along with hands clasped behind him, head down, probably thinking great thoughts right before her eyes!
Gossip said that the delegates fought like dogs but by summer's end when blessed fall swept away the miasmic heat they had created a new government. Pa said the Constitution they'd written was a magnificent document that would last into the ages and though it had been threatened a few times it was holding right to this day. This was about the time Pa lost his business and the Quakers read him out of the Society for debt. He went to bed and turned his face to the wall till he died while Ma took in boarders. That was how Aaron Burr came into her life, he a congressman and then senator from New York and a boarder at Ma's house when Congress was in session. Even as a girl she'd recognized what an elegant fellow he was. Handsome, smooth, courteous, usually smiling, he seemed to say that this was how life should be led among men of power. In time she wondered if her own sense of elegance, ribbons and all, had been modeled on the image he presented.
They held elections and of course General Washington took the presidency and she knew everything would be all right. Electing anyone else would have been unimaginable then, though in later years there were plenty of harsh attacks on the grand old man. Everyone said this thoughtless brutality had broken his heart, though he was never one to show pain--maybe to Aunt Martha, but not to the world.
Not mat she was calling the president's wife Auntie in those long-ago days or, indeed, anything at all. She was far removed then, jostling on the sidewalks with everyone else to see the parades. John Adams of Massachusetts who'd been a great patriot for as long as she could remember became vice president. Secretary of state was Thomas Jefferson, whom she'd heard Pa denounce often enough when Jefferson was governor of Virginia. Little Mr. Madison was in Congress and everyone said he was the general's right-hand man. But none of this really touched her. What mattered was that the Quaker elders were after her again for those ribbons and the glow in her eyes and the way her figure was developing now that she was in her twenties. That surely wasn't her fault--what should she do, hide in her bedroom?
So when a handsome Quaker lawyer named John Todd asked for her hand she married, had two beautiful babies, and was prepared to be a Quaker matron, biting her tongue and going easy on the ribbons. But When she was twenty-five the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793 spared her and little Payne but took her husband and new baby along with seven thousand others, one out of ten Philadelphians. She'd never forgotten the malevolent horror of that terrible summer, no one knowing where the disease came from or how to treat it, who would be stricken and who spared--and what a ghastly way to die, black vomit spewing, black water bursting from bowels. One matured overnight.
The grief-torn days that followed seemed blurred later; she seemed hardly aware of day turning to night and night to day. And in that terrible period, it was her mother's boarder, Aaron Burr, who came to her rescue. The New Yorker had turned something called Tammany Hall into a political force and was said to be a power in New York City. He took her quietly in hand in the midst of her grief, gentle sympathy mingling with easy practicality. He saw to her business problems, liquidated her husband's law practice and invested the results, saw to funerals and estate and probate matters. She even drafted a will naming him guardian of her child should the terror sweep them again. But even then, she recognized that it wasn't so much what he did as the way he did it He was smooth and patient, and looking back it seemed that somehow it was his steadfast presence that brought her through those dark days. She owed him a great deal. But she was strong too, possessed of a deep inner resiliency, and gradually her sparkle returned. In time she found herself pondering what life might hold for her next. And Aaron reassured her then in a different way that told her he knew the ways of men and women and of the world: she was a most eligible widow, he said, beauty making up for lack of fortune.
Aaron's elegance, his dress so beautiful, his manner so graceful, to say nothing of that certain quickening in his eyes that produced an equal quickening in a great many women, so the talk went. She well understood the feeling; it wasn't that he was so handsome, though he was, or that his charm was beyond resisting, but all together he produced an undeniable pull. She was grateful that in her vulnerable period he had seized no advantages. Later, as she recovered, she was grateful that in due time he did advance himself, suggesting a willingness to service other needs that absent a husband she might now feel. A bit of nirvana, he said. Somehow, it pronounced her ready to meet the world.
Oh, Aaron...She was so fond of him and so definitely not in love with him and held such a clear vision that yielding to the temptation he offered--and temptation probably was the right word--would be to throw away her future that she laughed out loud.
"What," he cried, laughing with her, recognition of failure bright in his eyes, perhaps somehow liking her better for her refusal, "dost thou cast nirvana to the swine?"
"You darling man," she said, "you are a caution." She kissed his cheek and told him to sit in the chair in the opposite corner, and it was then that he told her that his good friend, Mr. Madison of Virginia, had asked to be presented. Presented...that had a serious sound.
The famous Mr. Madison, a smallish man somewhat shorter than she, gazed at her like a tongue-tied ox when Aaron brought him around but she found his very hesitations endearing. They were the honest product of obvious inexperience with women. But then, she was none too experienced with men, either--or with the national affairs that presumably dominated Mr. Madison's life, right-hand man to General Washington as he was. And for all his fumbling, when he did open his mouth it was to reveal intelligence of a very high order. He said his friends called him Jimmy. She gazed at him. Jimmy...for a man so distinguished? But she didn't voice this--she knew he would hear it as mockery. Jimmy, she said...it has a gentle sound. And he smiled. Silence overtook them and she rattled on a bit, and when he rose to go she was sure that would be the end of it. Instead he asked if she would accompany him to a small dinner General Washington was giving the next evening, and to a reception the evening following. He was forty-three and had never married; Aaron had told her his heart had been broken by a callous lass eleven years before and he'd never recovered.
The table of the president of the United States was rarified company for a Quaker miss without experience; she decided that intelligence must take experience's place. Before they reached the main course she had come to understand that she would get just one chance at this level before she was written off. Her solution, reached as she finished the turtle soup, was to keep her mouth shut until she had something to say that she knew she could defend and then say it well. Two such occasions arose before dessert; the second time the general smiled and nodded, whether to her or to Jimmy she couldn't be sure, and Mrs. Washington gave her a conspiratorial wink that was as surprising as it was thrilling.
That spring of '94 there were balls and dinners and he saw her every day, sitting in her mother's parlor, anything but tongue-tied. Ideas poured out and she responded and he accorded her respect, agreeing or explaining his disagreement If his heart had been broken--she didn't inquire--he seemed to have recovered. But when Mrs. Washington--Aunt Martha as she instructed the younger set to call her--asked if he had proposed yet she could only answer, No, not yet I'll speak to him, the great lady said.
They were married in the fall. She was twenty-six. The Quakers expelled her for marrying outside the faith and she bought handfuls of ribbons and wore vivid sashes and startling turbans--oh, she was bright as a parrot! And her husband's spirits opened like a flower and he laughed and danced though he still was frozen in social groups of any size.
By then the great schism was shredding the government and she was startled to find how bitter and personal it became.
"I mean," she said, faltering, "you and Mr. Hamilton, you were friends, weren't you? Together on--"
"Friends?" said Jimmy, as his friends did indeed call him. "I suppose. When we still saw eye to eye."
They had collaborated on what came to be called The Federalist, a series of cogent papers that as she understood it had pretty well put over the new federal government gaining the nine states needed to give the new Constitution effect
"But Alex changed," Jimmy added, and that was how he characterized the fight. Alex was a handsome fellow fully as irresistible to women as they were to him, famous for it in fact. She remembered an explosive evening when she had danced with him in one of those intricate quadrilles. It was at a ball the Washingtons gave when she and Jimmy had been married a year or so. The music was gaily rhythmic, the dancers dipping and swirling, and responding to Alex, she couldn't deny that he had a certain magnetic pull. But it seemed aggressive, an invasion that alarmed and then angered her. She was just sorting through these riotous feelings when he said in a low voice, "I wonder that you dare dance with me."
She stared at him. Her face felt hot as it did when she bent over a cooking fireplace. Had he read her mind? Her hand came up--later she realized she'd been close to hitting him--and he added smoothly, "Given that your husband finds me so detestable."
The music ended and his words fell loudly into the sudden silence just as Jimmy, partnered with Hannah Gallatin, stopped beside them. Of course Jimmy had heard and as Hannah gave her a conspiratorial wink he said with a smile, "I don't detest you, Alex, I detest your ideas." All good-humored, but she saw by his expression that he wasn't joking.
"Because I want the economy solid and workable?"
Jimmy hesitated; she knew this was tender ground, because the new nation had been flat broke and a country that can't pay its bills, international or domestic, has little standing in the family of nations. But Hamilton as treasury secretary had put American finances on a sound footing. Jimmy said Alex was a financial genius, which was the more amazing since his only financial experience had been keeping books in a country store in Jamaica, he the bastard son of a minor Scottish nobleman. Hannah patted her arm and went off somewhere.
"No," Jimmy said, "because you want to feed the rich at everyone else's expense."
"Oh, Jimmy," Alex said, carefully smiling to show this was all in fun, "next you'll be prating about the bank!"
"Yes, I will, now that you raise it. Bank of the United States. Functions as a treasury of the nation, doesn't it?"
"It's where government stores its money, deposits taxes collected, disburses as necessary?"
"And three-quarters of its assets are in private hands and hence the owners of those monies are in a position to manipulate public funds to their own advantage."
Alex's smile was gone. "You will never understand, James. Of course our bank favors the wealthy. Their capital is power and we need them with us, not agin us."
"So you shape law and government and power to their interests."
"Of course--and the bank is a fine example," Alex said, now looking quite self-satisfied.
Then, quite surprising herself, seeing a startled look flash over Jimmy's face, she said, "But won't that build an elite class, the wealthy over everyone else? They hold land, hold commerce, hold politics--they'll have it all, won't they?"
She found herself holding her breath in sheer fright and let it go with a rush. Without a thought she had inserted herself into a complex argument that she was suddenly sure a wiser woman would have avoided. Alex hesitated as if arguing with a woman unsettled him, and then Jimmy said in an easy voice, "She does sum it up well, doesn't she?" She felt a flash of gratitude as he went on, "Control by the 'right' people over the rest of us, that's what you're saying--and Alex, isn't the next step logically to make control hereditary, and doesn't that suggest nobles and princes and such and doesn't that--"
"Damn it all, Jimmy, you can't believe I want a king when we fought a war to free ourselves of a king!"
"I don't mink you want a king. But I think your attitude takes us in that direction--"
Jimmy colored. "Faugh, my foot! I could see the reality as soon as the debt question came up."
She knew that was a true sore point with Jimmy. At war's end the nation had countless small debts--soldiers' mustering-out bonus, the paper given a farmer for a couple of hogs and a sack of oats, payment to gunsmiths and powder dumps and lead mines, all given on a promise of someday, if we win. Well, now someday had arrived and Alex's plan was to float long-term bonds that would pay these debts all at once and clear the books. Debt management, he called it, and yes, it did make fiscal sense.
But who was holding these slips of paper given throughout the war? Not the soldier mustered out, the farmer for his hogs and oats--no, they long since had been forced by need to sell that scrap of paper to a speculator at a dime on the dollar. Jimmy still got red in the face when he talked of this. He said that piece of paper was a sacred debt of the United States given in honor
and taken in the belief that the nation would survive and prosper and honor debts.
But when Alex prepared to pay these debts--and then, quite suddenly as one awakens from a dream, she realized that the music had not resumed and a small crowd had gathered around them. They had interrupted the whole entertainment! She saw Mrs. Washington frowning, the general striding toward the musicians.
And Jimmy cried, voice rising, "I saw it when you rewarded the speculators and froze out the little men, the veterans, the farmers, the small debt holders who'd long since lost their paper. You paid the speculators and devil take those whose suffering bad won the war!"
The musicians were lifting their instruments and the general was coming toward them when she heard Alex snap, "Talking of the plight of veterans ill behooves a man who sat out the war."
The first violinist sounded an A and the general had turned and was coming toward the disruption as she saw her husband go pale at this sally. It was his point of vulnerability. Even today his health was delicate and he was often ill. While Alex had been a dashing officer on General Washington's staff Jimmy hadn't been physically fit for the field. He knew that made sense but it still bothered him. As he stood ashen and silent she was moved to a mighty rage.
"Sir" she cried, "surely a man boasting of his war exploits is at his least attractive!"
At which Alex's cheeks flamed deep red and he turned away. She took her husband's arm and turned him into the dance and in a moment the Washingtons passed. The general looked stiff and cool but Aunt Martha glanced at her and with the faintest smile inclined her head in clear-spoken approval.
The next time she saw Alex he smiled and bowed but didn't approach her, and it was just as well. Of course he hadn't been boasting of his exploits, but be had been positioning himself against Jimmy and that had brought up in her a willingness to fight that she found startling--and exhilarating too.
Jimmy didn't say much afterward. He made it clear that he was pleased with her and she realized on her own that he didn't need his wife to fight his battles. Yet things seemed different and after a period of reflection it came to her that she had somehow advanced on that day from the Quaker miss feeling her way to a woman who had legitimated her place in a new world.
But certainly the exchange stood for the schism that was dividing the country. It was philosophical, she supposed, though she didn't spend much time in philosophical musing. Anyway, the basic argument was pretty simple. Are you for entrenched power regulating life or for free people finding their own way on their strengths and instincts? That was simple enough so that left to themselves Americans would have come to satisfactory answers--but |then the French Revolution upset all the balances in America.
So it was that on a sunny day in Philadelphia a week or so later she heard someone calling her name as she strolled near the Statehouse. It was a woman's voice, high and urgent with a little note of hysteria. She turned to see Charity Jester almost trotting toward her, wearing an expensive gown of crimson velvet, her pink parasol stabbing the brick walk like a cane. They had been girls together, sharing a primer under some dreaded schoolmaster they both preferred to forget.
Charity seemed to be having trouble getting her breath. "Oh, do you remember that nice Mr. Fournier, Jacques Fournier, I think, he was with the French embassy or some such? Remember how he would smile and correct your French without making you feel a silly goose? He was the count of--oh, I don't know what he was count of, but something, he was somebody, don't you see? And Mr. Jester just learned today that they cut off his head with that terrible slicing machine in Paris. Imagine, murdering a wonderful person in the name of their democracy!"
She stopped, staring, head thrown back, the parasol gripped in both hands. "This democracy business, it's terrifying! I know you believe in it, Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson its promoters, I hear the talk, but it'll fool you, it'll turn on you, wait and see! Common folk go mad, give them a chance, that's what France proves. Your followers'll turn on you too, on all of us--you'll see, the ravening mob in the streets, the good people hanging from trees on Chestnut Street. Oh, how can your husband endorse this madness?"
She bristled, ready to leap to Jimmy's defense, but Charity patted her hand and went hurrying down the street as if she feared democracy would consume her right now. But democracy needn't lead to chaos, though Jimmy always admitted that its success did depend on the capacity of free people to control themselves. Frenchmen, breaking out of centuries of feudalism into anarchic revolution had lost that control. But there was a vast difference between France and America; here revolution had been for liberty, there it was for equality. As the search for equality darkened, the nobility was executed in ever greater numbers. Dr. Guillotine's grisly machine snicking and snacking and Guillotine Square slick with blood Then the Revolution turned on its own, and the Terror began when no one proved sufficiently poor and equal. Finally the guillotine was too slow for the killing ordered and crowds were gathered and taken down by cannon fire or burned alive. The dead numbered tens of thousands. And the mob chanted slogans that once had defined American patriotism and democracy.
No wonder Charity Jester in her fine gown was terrified-so was everyone else possessed of wealth and position. These pressures led to a seismic shift in American affairs that was itself revolutionary. Until now there had been no parties; leading men simply stepped forward to take the reins. But the growing schism led automatically to two parties evolving into the two-party system. The old-line wealthy elite were Federalists, personified by Alexander Hamilton. For the moment they had the government and were turning toward coercion and control of the little man, driven by the fear that what they saw in France must follow here. Opposing them were Democrats, first called Republicans, then Democratic Republicans, soon shortened to the Democratic party. Thomas Jefferson led, Jimmy provided the intellectual power, and her old friend Aaron Burr of New York was a rising star. They stood for the little man, and the tighter and meaner things became under frightened Federalists, the stronger the Democrats got.
And she, stronger and more confident each year, marveled at how often great events and national movements and crucial decisions turned on the same human emotions that children in a nursery will exhibit--rage, fear, greed, hunger....
Thomas Jefferson was Jimmy's best friend and the three of them were often together. She liked Tom no matter what Pa had said. He was clever and witty and very gentle, an innately decent man. His mind ranged all over the place with bewildering speed and she often stopped trying to keep up. Yet in the end she thought Jimmy had greater weight, which was another reason she rather resented the deference he showed Tom, only a decade his senior. Settled in marriage now, she handled herself well and people listened to her with real interest.
Things were changing rapidly. General Washington retired to Mount Vernon. John Adams succeeded him. Tom had stepped down as secretary of state and was at his estate at Monticello. Jimmy left the Congress and they returned to the Madison estate, Montpelier, in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Living in a mansion in which Jimmy's family made her welcome, she nevertheless had a full taste of life in a house not her own.
The national atmosphere darkened steadily. Rank fear seemed to guide Federalists as if they saw hordes of common men advancing on mem. Laws became abusive. Every time she and Jimmy went to Philadelphia, still the capital though the new capital on the Potomac would soon be ready, things became more volatile and dangerous. And then Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.
On one of their Philadelphia trips she went on to New York with Hannah Gallatin to visit Hannah's family. New York was booming, soon to overtake Philadelphia, she was sure. Aaron Burr gave them dinner and a tour, bursting with pride. Then, afternoon shadows lengthening, she and Hannah strolled down Broadway.
They were near the Battery when they heard hoofs clattering. A wagon fitted with benches and bearing a half dozen men in dark coats stopped across the street before a print shop. Carrying oaken clubs the men jumped out to kick open the shop door.
The two women stood frozen, gazing across the street. They heard shouts and a crash within the shop and then a scream. An upstairs window popped open and a woman leaned out.
"Jeremy!" she yelled. "Come quick! They're after Paw, they'll smash the press--"
The press? A sign hung over the door, The Peck's Slip Tattler. A newspaper! The men were constables after an editor who'd spoken out of turn.
A dark-haired young man in breeches and buckled shoes and a white shirt with bunched sleeves burst from a next-door tavern, dashed into the shop, and was knocked senseless by a constable's club. Then a skinny, gray-haired man in his fifties was led out with hands bound behind him. Crying and cursing at once, he stepped over his son's inert body. Two stalwarts hurled him facedown into the bottom of the wagon. When he sat up the side of his head was bloody.
The woman in the window poured invective on the constables, their ancestry and parentage, their sexual proclivities, their dietary habits. It was thrilling no matter how rough, for in the most direct way at her comshe said to Jimmy on her return. "This printer, editor, this Mr. Jethro, doubtless still in a cell somewhere, probably in the same bloody shirt--"
Of course she had known that politics affected people's lives but never again would she see issues only in the abstract.
"What about the First Amendment, free speech, free press?" she demanded of her husband.
"Oh, yes," he said, "violates the Constitution, all right. But who's to stop the Congress? The Supreme Court is powerless, scarcely functioning, really. Government can do as it pleases."
"Well, maybe it'll make common folk see the danger."
One could hope, anyway. The Federalists were squabbling among themselves while Democrats were coming on strong. The election of 1800 was nearing and Tom was making a serious push against John Adams, while Aaron Burr stood for vice president. Adams had New England, Jefferson the South and West; they counted on Aaron for New York.
Not long before the election she bumped into Aaron by chance on a Philadelphia street and let him give her tea in a sidewalk caf?. He was remembering life in her mother's boardinghouse and the day he had brought Jimmy to call, and what an innocent naif she was then. Well, she was a far cry today from that long-ago Quaker miss. And the times had changed with her. Imagine-through Tom they might sit in the august General Washington's seat yet.
With a little smile that she took as introduction to a witticism he added, "Though it might just as well be me."
But he wasn't joking and she said rather sharply, "No one sees you there, Aaron."
"Oh, I don't know," he said, all geniality. "Try that in New York--you'll be surprised. There's little sentiment there that I am in any way inferior to the sainted Virginian. Stranger things have happened, you know."
She snorted "Horse gives birth to a goat, that would be stranger."
Something sparkled deep in his eyes, and he said with what she saw was utter seriousness, "You underestimate me, dear girl." It unsettled her; Aaron had a profoundly devious mind.
So the election of 1800 came about and the Democrats won with the help of New York and poor John Adams was sent home to Massachusetts with a broken heart just as the government moved into the new capital on the Potomac.
It was no less, as Tom put it, than a second revolution! The people had turned from the old way to the new, from privilege and control and coercion to the belief that free people could find the self-control to govern themselves. Magnificent!
And then Aaron sprang his dirty trick. For a terrible few weeks he seemed in position to carry out what she had first taken as a bad joke--with Federalist help, to exchange places with Tom and make himself president, Tom vice president.
She was enraged at this sudden scandalous turn. My word, Aaron seemed to be confirming the Federalist fear that the agony of France must play out here. Charity Jester's worst dreams ready to unfold--Democrats attacking each other before they even took office! Oh, but she was far from Ma's boardinghouse now. She watched the country boil toward civil war, Virginia and Pennsylvania preparing militia to march on Washington to enforce the Constitution. Responsible Federalists began to back off. Hamilton put country before politics and argued for Jefferson over Burr as a man of quality. More Federalists abandoned Burr and his dream collapsed.
So the crisis passed, and with it her anger. For after all, she could see that this really had just been Aaron being Aaron--greed and cavalier willingness to strike for the main chance was an indelible part of his nature. That and his pride and his unshakable confidence--he would have made a good pirate.
Democrats remained enraged and so did Jimmy. But Aaron had been a real friend when she needed one and that she could not forget And wouldn't, and that was that. Anyway, it was settled after a few alarming weeks, and no great harm appeared done. Things went on, Aaron as vice president presiding over the Senate with his usual panache, graceful and smiling. Really, it struck her as a triumph of democracy that it had responded to crisis with such vitality.
But she saw that Tom and Jimmy intended to punish Aaron, strip him of power and deny him victory's rewards. She knew he'd assumed mat once it was settled they'd all be friends again. Punishing him struck her as small, unproductive, even dangerous. Of course they shouldn't trust him--he always would be drawn to the main chance. But to strip him of power and position, bare him to the world as a shattered man--quite aside from the cruelty, she saw no profit and much risk in that.
Jimmy remained adamant and finally it became one of those subjects best left alone in a marriage. But in the act of differing from her husband, of questioning his judgment, she realized that in some subtle way she had come of age.
Now Tom was president--she had decided that "Tom" would do perfectly well--and Jimmy was secretary of state and they were presiding over a great success. The people loved them and Federalists crept around like whipped dogs. By this time they had moved to the new city on the Potomac and built a handsome home of brick, three stories with cupola and porte cochere. It stood a few blocks from the President's House where Tom, the lonely widower, pressed her into service as official hostess. She took over presidential entertaining, and invitations to the mansion became wildly sought after; the town was till a social wilderness, few congressmen brought their families, and everyone was hungry for a kind word and a good meal. Jimmy was at the heart of everything as secretary of state, but she felt she wasn't far behind him, so central to Washington affairs did her dinners become.
Her ambitions grew. If Jimmy succeeded Tom--and who would be better?--she would be the president's wife. Her social mastery would matter more than ever and she would be in a real position to complete this magnificent mansion. It was glorious on the outside, if a little boxy, its yellow sandstone walls painted white, but it was scarcely finished inside and in desperate need of decoration, which she quickly found that Tom intended to ignore. But just wait!
Year by year, adventure by adventure, she and Jimmy grew closer; once she had amused him and then she pleased him and then she interested him and now he depended on her. When they were apart they were equally stricken. He was a darling man.
And then a terrible whisper came up the Mississippi from New Orleans. Napoleon intended to reclaim the province of Louisiana from Spain, to whom France had surrendered it long before. Napoleon? Napoleon Bonaparte, dictator of France, the most powerful man on earth? He who had whipped the British to a standstill, who controlled most of Europe and obviously intended to rule the world? He wanted Louisiana?
Yes, as a matter of fact, the whole vast territory, New Orleans to Canada along the Mississippi and westward to the Stony Mountains. The day he took possession Jimmy's dream of a continental nation would be dead. But Napoleon wouldn't stop there. Soon he would want American territory too, Appalachians to the Mississippi, including the new states of Tennessee and Kentucky and Ohio. The United States would be left hugging the Atlantic shore. And it would kill the new democracy, voters would cast the new form into the dustbin.
Yet how could the embryo nation stand against Napoleon's eagles? Only by subordinating itself to Britain in return for a Royal Navy blockade to seal the coastline and starve French troops. But subordinating itself to Britain, a Federalist dream, would destroy the new democracy just as quickly.
So they must make Napoleon see that he could not win before they reached that point. What could she do in this crisis? She could stand by, and she understood how important that could be. When Jimmy talked all night of possible approaches, she listened. When he went silent she awaited his return. When he drew his chair to the window and stared into the dark she draped a blanket over his shoulders. She fed him and cosseted him and fussed over him; one day he told her--voice casual but eyes fixed on her--that he doubted he could get through this alone. That was worth a very great deal to her.
Two years passed without French response. They had done all they could and Jimmy drew up a proposal to the British that would save Louisiana but destroy the new democracy. And then one day as they took tea with Tom in the mansion the message arrived: Napoleon Bonaparte had offered to sell all of Louisiana to the Americans! We had asked for the city of New Orleans or the right bank of the river or even a square mile above New Orleans on which the American flag could fly as guarantee of free trade on the river. And Talleyrand had said, what would you give for the whole?
The whole? The country rocked with joy. Negotiations finally settled on $15 million and the deal was done. Jimmy told her poor Albert Gallatin, treasury secretary, was horrified at the price--and Hannah told her later that Albert muttered in his sleep--but Jimmy said someday it would be regarded as a great bargain. It saved the new democracy--that was bargain enough for her.
Oh, the vast and wonderful change--the nation more than doubled in size, its future as a continental nation assured, the threat of Napoleon removed forever. And she had changed with it. She was thirty-five years old and she had grown up too, faced tragedy and been made stronger; she had entered national life as an innocent and grown wise in experiencing democracy's birthing pains. She had focused ambition and she felt complete as she had not at any time in her thirty-five years; and she supposed that is what maturity meant.