Treason (The American Story)

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9780312855123: Treason (The American Story)

This is a story of ambitions and dreams shattered. It is a tale of intrigue and greed, surrounding the powerful figures in history, who are unable to see the consequences of their visions. It is the story of a young democracy.

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About the Author:

David Nevin has spent more than twenty years researching and writing The American Story, a series of novels dealing with the history of the United States from 1800 to 1860. His books comprising this era start with Dream West and include 1812, Eagle's Cry, Treason, and Meriwether.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
 
 
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 temp...

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