By The Jefferson Allegiance and his best friend and aide. A document brokered by Jefferson and Hamilton against the future threat of a president run amok. That’s the core idea of the book. Most of it is a thriller set present day to track down the Allegiance, but there are flashbacks to when just the threat of it stopped presidents. Here is the fourth:
18 February 1945
President Roosevelt sat at his friend’s deathbed, aware that soon someone would be sitting by his. He felt the slightest movement through the wheels of his chair. The USS Quincy, named after the birthplace of two Presidents, was one of the new Baltimore Class cruisers churned out by the United States since the start of World War II. The sea off the coast of Algiers had minimal effect against its heavy metal sides.
The man in the bed, Major General Watson, had been by Roosevelt’s side through the entire war. To lose him now, with the end in sight, deeply saddened Roosevelt, sapping the satisfaction from the accomplishments of the past three weeks. Via the Quincy he’d met Churchill in Malta on the 2nd of February, Stalin and Churchill at Yalta after that, then King Farouk, Emperor Haile Selassie and Saudi Arabian King Ibn Saud on the Great Bitter Lake a few days ago.
Watson had collapsed after they passed through the Suez Canal and not regained consciousness, nor was he likely to according to Roosevelt’s personal doctor. Roosevelt’s hope was that his friend would last until they got back to the States so that he could accompany him back to his home, adjacent to Monticello in Virginia. Roosevelt had stayed at Watson’s Retreat at Kenwood numerous times during his presidency, often making the quarter mile journey next door to Jefferson’s house in the company of Ed Watson and his wife.
The hatch to the cabin swung open and General Marshall came inside, securing the heavy metal door behind him.
“George,” Roosevelt acknowledged.
“Mister President.” Marshall came over and looked down at Watson. “No change?”
“I am afraid not.”
“The Ambassadors will be on board shortly,” Marshall said. “Your briefing for them is prepared.”
The last thing Roosevelt felt like was another meeting. But briefing his ambassadors to the United Kingdom, France and Italy, on the agreement at Yalta was imperative. “I’ll be ready.” His hands were gripping the arms of his wheelchair. “I’ve known Ed a long time.”
Marshall took a chair from the tiny desk in the cabin and settled his bulk into it. “He was in Washington on and off for decades. Wasn’t he an aide to President Wilson?”
Roosevelt felt uncomfortable discussing Ed as if he were not here. “He’s been with me since thirty-three,” Roosevelt murmured. “Longer than anyone else except Eleanor.”
“I was talking with General Watson last week about something interesting,” Marshall said.
Something in the General of the Army’s tone roused Roosevelt out of his melancholy. “And that was?”
Marshall leaned back in the metal chair and waited as ship’s orders were broadcast throughout the cruiser, and then relative silence fell once more. “In ancient Rome when a general or emperor won a great victory, there would be a Triumph in Rome when they returned. A great procession into the city to celebrate the victory.”
Marshall paused, then continued. “General Watson reminded me of something. He said that the victorious leader, riding in a chariot, had a slave standing behind him. The slave held a wreath over his head and whispered in his ear: ‘Respice post te! Hominen te esse memento.’”
“My Latin is rusty,” Roosevelt said dryly.
“It means: ‘Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man.’”
“A warning,” Roosevelt said, arching an eyebrow.
“A reminder,” Marshall said mildly. “Your cousin, Teddy, made a promise in nineteen-oh-four, not to run again in oh-eight. He kept that promise. But he did run in nineteen twelve under his own Bull Moose platform. He won all but two of the Republican Primaries, but still lost the nomination at the convention. Have you ever wondered why he lost that nomination?”
“My cousin and I were never on such an intimate level of discourse.”
Marshall nodded toward the figure in the bed. “You know General Watson is one of the Philosophers, of course?”
Roosevelt put a hand on the left wheel of his chair and pulled back, turning to face the head of the Armed Forces. “Yes.”
“He told me that your cousin lost the nomination because the Philosophical Society opposed him.”
“But Teddy still ran on his own ticket,” Roosevelt pointed out. “Damn near won it all because he was supported by the Cincinnatians. Most votes anyone outside of the two parties has ever received. Beat out the Republican candidate who’d been nominated.”
“But he didn’t win. Wilson did.”
Roosevelt glanced at the man in the bed, then back at the man in the chair. “True.”
“You’ve been elected four times,” Marshall said. “Twice as much as any other President. You got us through the Depression and through the war. The end is in sight.”
“It is,” Roosevelt agreed, waiting for the bottom line, knowing that Marshall was maneuvering the way a politician would, not a general. Roosevelt also knew that the five star general was telling him what Watson would have, if he could. Those trips to Monticello had not been without their lessons.
Marshall continued. “In thirty-nine, despite the country’s neutrality, you declared a state of limited national emergency. There is no such term in the Constitution or even in subsequent laws passed by Congress. In March of nineteen forty-one, you got Congress to pass the Lend-Lease program.”
Roosevelt pulled out his cigarette holder and loaded it. “Are you telling me my accomplishments or my crimes?”
Roosevelt chuckled. “Do you know how I got Lend-Lease through Congress?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I had my people push it through while sixty-five House Democrats were at a luncheon.”
Marshall didn’t seem to appreciate the humor. He continued. “In May of forty-one, when we still weren’t at war, you dropped the ‘limited’ from the state of emergency and declared a state of unlimited national emergency. Under this, you could, and did, organize and control the means of production, seized commodities, deployed military forces abroad, imposed martial law, seized property, controlled all transportation and communication, regulated the operation of private enterprise, and restricted travel.”
Roosevelt spread his hands as an innocent man would. “Would you have preferred I had not done those things?”
Marshall pulled a lighter out and lit the President’s cigarette as he brought it to his lips. “No, sir. They were necessary to win the war.”
“And I told Ed that I’d restore all our liberties as soon as the war is over.”
“Yes, sir,” Marshall agreed. “And that is why the Philosophers have not taken action despite the unconstitutionality of many of your actions. The Jefferson Allegiance remains in check.”
“So what is the problem?” Roosevelt asked, more sharply than he intended.
Marshall went over and swung open one of the small portholes to let fresh air in. “The recent conferences, sir.”
“I thought they went quite well.”
Marshall blinked. “Sir. Stalin is a thug. A despot. You and Churchill handed him Eastern Europe on a platter.”
“He promised to hold elections,” Roosevelt said. “More importantly, even you agreed that we need the Russians for the final invasion of Japan.”
“I do agree with you on that,” Marshall allowed. “But it went too far. You gave up Poland. You agreed that citizens of Poland and Russia would be repatriated whether they wanted to or not. You gave Stalin practically everything he wanted.”
“Stalin agreed to join the United Nations once we form it,” Roosevelt countered.
Marshall appeared not to hear. “And the meeting with King Ibn Saud. Sir, there are great strategic implications in the Middle East for the future. Both in terms of the displaced Jews, but more importantly, the oil. Japan went to war with us when we embargoed their oil. The Germans went into Russia for the oilfields. Oil is the key. I fear we’re setting up problems that are going to take generations to untangle.”
“You say ‘we,’” Roosevelt noted, “but you mean me.”
Roosevelt nodded ruefully. “Do you think I don’t know that?” He nodded toward the comatose General in the bed. “I hope I go quickly.”
“Sir, Stalin took too much away from Yalta. And Ibn Saud too much from the Great Bitter Lake conference.”
“We need the Russians for Japan—“ Roosevelt began, but Marshall leaned forward and whispered.
“Sir. We have the Manhattan Project.”
“If it works,” Roosevelt replied. “That’s a mighty big ‘if’ to roll the dice on the lives of millions of American servicemen. Frankly, I’d rather it be Russian blood spilled in Japan than American.”
“Sir, we must look beyond the end of the war and—“
“Please,” Roosevelt said in a low voice. He pulled the remnants of his cigarette out of the holder and slid another in, then extended it to Marshall who dutifully lit it. “I can’t see beyond the end of war, George. It’s been thirteen years. I’m tired. I’m sick. My friend is lying here dying. I’ll be gone soon enough. Enact your Allegiance if you want, but by the time you do, I doubt there will be a need.”
Roosevelt leaned his head back against the rear of his wheelchair. “I am looking behind me. And I am but a man.”