By The Jefferson Allegiance and a Congressman named Lincoln. 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 first:
22 August 1848
President Polk figured it had to be a hell of a lot hotter down south for the Mexican President than even Washington in the summer, although some might question that. A bead of sweat dripped off Polk’s nose and onto the copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which he had been reading one more time, savoring the terms, as if he could feel the actual growth in the United States that the Treaty decreed.
Polk was staying in the White House, an insane decision for anyone who had survived a Washington August. But there was work to be done, and even the specter of yellow fever couldn’t persuade Polk to head to the cooler mountains as most Washingtonians with means had done. He could hear the mooing of cows from the large open pasture to the south of the White House, and the occasional rattle of a passing carriage, but otherwise the capitol was still.
Polk turned his chair to a map, his most prized possession since coming into office. He had made four promises when elected to office and the map represented two of them:
-Acquiring some or all of the Oregon Territory.
-Purchasing California from Mexico in order to have access to the port of San Francisco to open trade to the Pacific.
Drawn in fountain pen on the map by his own hand were the successful results of those two promises: the Oregon Territory and a huge chunk of land including Texas and the southwest from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, encompassing all of the California Territory.
It was the second largest expansion of the United States since Jefferson had purchased the Louisiana Territory. It was Manifest Destiny and Polk had done it, stretched the United States from Atlantic to Pacific. That he had done it with blood via a war some considered imperialistic wasn’t something he concerned himself with.
Polk leaned back in his chair and barely noticed as he wiped the sheen of sweat off his forehead. He looked over, irritated, as his secretary cracked open the door and stuck his head in. “Sir, there are some gentlemen here to see you.”
Polk waved. “Send them in.” He stiffened as he saw former President John Quincy Adams leading three men into the room: General Zachary Taylor, who was getting altogether too popular for winning the war Polk had instigated with Mexico. There were more than whispers that Taylor wanted to run for President under the banner of the opposing Whigs.
There was also a tall, rangy freshman Congressman named Lincoln, who had been a minor thorn in Polk’s side during the run-up to the war. The press had dubbed him ‘Spotty’ Lincoln for the resolution he had tried to get past Congress, demanding that Polk “show me the spot” where American blood had been spilled that precipitated the War with Mexico, claiming it had happened on Mexican soil, not American. The resolution had failed, and Polk was determined to crush Lincoln’s political career.
Lastly, there was old General Winfield Scott, who had opened the way to the ‘Halls of Montezuma’ as the press liked to dub it.
Polk stood, focusing on Adams. “Sir, what brings you here?”
Adams had a black, wooden tube in his hand, which he placed, to Polk’s chagrin, right on top of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. “Let me be frank,” Adams said. “You began this most horrid of wars by direct provocation of the Mexicans. Generals Taylor and Scott, while supporting you publicly, verify that privately.”
Polk glared at the two generals, but they seemed impervious.
Adams continued. “You used the war to further your Imperial goals, which is inconsistent with our Constitution. And you are a front man for the Cincinnatians.”
Polk slammed a fist onto the map. “We now stretch from sea to sea. We won the war. We—“
Adams cut him off. “Mister President, I don’t care what the immediate results are. You manipulated the military for the agenda of a select few. As Congressman Lincoln noted, you declared war the way a monarch would, not a President.”
“I dealt with the problems I inherited with the office,” Polk argued. “Texas was annexed by Congress four days before I took office. The Mexicans had already promised war if that happened. Conflict was inevitable.”
“Not if you had used diplomacy instead of the army,” Adams countered. “You sent General Taylor and his troops into disputed territory without consulting Congress.”
“This is true,” Taylor said.
“Indeed it is,” echoed Lincoln.
“But Congress voted for war,” Polk said.
“On the basis of a fake ‘causus belli’,” Lincoln said.
Scott finally spoke up. “The army is sick of such a war. We lost more men to disease in that God-forsaken place than the enemy. It cannot happen again.”
“How dare you all—“ Polk began, but Adams cut him off.
“Read this, sir.” He picked up the wooden tube and screwed off the end. He pulled a scroll out and unrolled it on top of Polk’s map.
Polk leaned over and read the few sentences. Startled, he looked up at Adams. “What—“
“Look at the signatures,” Adams commanded and Polk obeyed. Before the current President could say anything, the former President continued. “The War is done. The treaty ratified. You’ve had your glory. You have a year left in office. You will not start another war. You will not violate the treaty to grab more land from Mexico or cross swords with the British in the Oregon Territory. You will not run for election again. You will tell your fellow Cincinnatians they have what they sought and that is enough.”
Taylor spoke up. “Or else we will enforce the Jefferson Allegiance as you have just read.”
“Do you understand?” Adams asked. “You will abide strictly by the Constitution for the remainder of your term. Clear?”
Polk weakly nodded, slumping down into the chair where just minutes ago, he had been reveling in his achievements. What they had just dictated meant he would be the first President not to seek re-election since the founding of the country. It was unheard of. But so was the document he had just read. He numbly watched as Adams rolled the scroll and stuck it back in the tube. The men turned and marched out of the room leaving the President alone.
President Polk grabbed the map and tore it to shreds.