Sunday, July 22, 2007

Alternative History : Jefferson and Hamilton at the Potomac

Point of Divergence: George Washington does not die from pneumonia in 1799 (rather he was bled to death by doctors) in Real Time. Thus, with Washington still the de facto supreme commander of the Army assembled to fight France in lieu of the 'XYZ Affair', President Adams does not send his 'peace mission' to France and the field commander, Major General Alexander Hamilton, marches as planned on New Orleans in early 1800 and summarily defeats the Spanish garrison there and then turns the Army around and meets the French Expeditionary Force in West Florida and annihilates it in a stunning victory. Hamilton then wrestles an armistice from the surviving French commander that gives all French claimed for -territory in North America to the United States. The victory gives John Adams his re-election in 1800, but the President is not happy: he believes Hamilton to be a 'Caesar' and orders him to disband the Army and then de-commissions him without approval of the Senate. Hamilton disregards the order and then marches his Army through the Carolinas and into Virginia. President Adams then orders the Virginia Militia to confront the Federal Army as it nears the new capital, Washington City. Civil War seems to be at hand....

Appomattox Court House, May 12, 1801

"Major General Hamilton, Vice-President Jefferson has arrived and seeks your consultation, sir."

Hamilton shifted through the papers on his desk and quietly sighed. He knew that this meeting would come, but wondered why it had to happen now, this late. 'Just like Tom Jefferson to wait for the dramatic moment.' Hamilton rose and returned the salute to his aide-de-camp and ordered him to see the Vice President to his quarters with the extra command that they were not to be disturbed....

" I do say, Hamilton, that you have aged greatly since we last met," was Jefferson's opening statement to his old nemesis as he entered the room, after a pause.

"I do feel older than I may look to you, Mr. Vice President. And that is 'Major General Hamilton' to you."

"Oh have been de-commissioned and courts martial proceedings have already been implemented."

"This de-commission", Hamilton tartly replied, "is quite illegal and so is the courts martial. Also is illegal is President Adams's arrest of Thomas Pickering, other Senators, and those who raised objections to his dismissal of the Army and myself. If there is anyone making a replay of Rubicon, as Mr. Adams insists - I wager, in a highly emotional venue - it is not Major General Hamilton who is the antagonist. This Army has been fired on by Virginia State Militia already without provocation and I seek to put an end to this dilemma once in for all, Mr. Vice President. That Adams has waited until His Excellency George Washington met an untimely death last year to make this vindictive move...I'm not astounded."

Jefferson sat in a chair across from Hamilton, took a sip of offered tea from a servant and sized up his adversary - "You were always a verbose wight, Hamilton. You go on and on in whatever rattles in your brain as if the gods themselves bend an ear to hear what expires from your mouth regardless of the time duration. This is a mission that I have taken on myself , and I will be brief and direct: if you march on Washington City - the capital that you helped create - this republican government, this idea, is finished. This is what the European monarchists want to see transpire, and your action will prove to me what I have always thought you of. I'm certain that you won't have that? You may not think much of state militias organized by the people, but they are dug in in the Federal District and they aim to fight to the death. I will personally be at the lead of their column if you do make your Potomac crossing, and I will have my eyes peeled for your physical presence when the time comes with a loaded musket. So, I beg you ,Major General, to disband your Army now, and you return home to your cacophonous metropolis of New York where you belong."

Hamilton laughed derisively - "Disband you say? If I do so now your state militia will dispatch me before I get into Maryland proper. And let me remind you that my Army is disciplined, battle hardened, and more than a bit perturbed that they can't go home now because of the shenanigans of your mad, quite mad, President. No ragtag militias can defeat this Army after it made quick work of the professionals of Spain and France - regardless who is at the helm of their column - and no mind if I meet my own death. This ,they discovered near Richmond the other day when they launched an attack like sneak-thieves in the night at my camp. Mr. Jefferson, you don't stand a chance and you know this. But this 'crossing' I seek to avoid as well, for similar reasons as yours. I've already sent President Adams four different dispatches offering my terms, and they have been unanswered. It is the President of the United States who wants this 'Civil War' that he rants on about as if Cato's disembodied spirit has possessed him. Those terms are still on the table, but not for long."

"Need I remind you, Hamilton, that President Adams is constitutionally Commander-in-Chief of the Army and militias - not you. He has ordered you to disband, and you march north to where he resides nevertheless. What else is he to think of you? What am I to discern from your rash actions? To me you are a clear and present danger to the Republic as long as you are head of a numerous army, this close to the capital."

"John Adams has suspended habeus corpus and arrested many men without provocation. So do not throw the Constitution in my face after I expended copious energy for its ratification - more than Adams, Madison and you. You always struck me as being somewhat detrimental to the Constitution, the plan, anyway, sir. And if you think for a moment that I want to see Washington City turned into blood, you are quite mistaken. I am not the glory hunter as you think, and I have no aspirations for a dictatorship. The window for peace is still open, if Mr. Adams takes it by the offered branch."

Jefferson shook his head, rose and paced the room -"Ah! I had you so wrong, Hamilton! Always have I believed that history has always stooped to you, and now you have shown to have met it, and now you play the director."

"A situation that your druthers would have you in , Thomas? Regardless of the role, one can't be a director without a producer in a play. By you being here without the sanction of the President, you aim to be the protagonist. You can't be one without me, no matter how it pains you," Hamilton intoned.

"What mischief do you spill, man?"

"What I always knew about you, Mr. Jefferson, is that I could sweeten deals with you. You resented this. You never thought me your equal and still do not. Just because I was not born on a plantation like you were in the Americas, your genius could not accept me. Ergo, you always thought I was about 'mischief'. Very good.... There is no time now for your personal animosity to try to out fox me. The ultimatum is clear: if I do not have terms that are just to disband my Army, it will march in the next handfull days."

"Your terms, pray tell?,"Jefferson asked.

"You as the producer of this Rubicon play, will convince John Adams to resign the office of Presidency. Tom Pickering and all arrested public officials will be released and pardoned. The men of my army will be given guaranteed full pensions. Then, at an appointed place, the Federal Army and the militias of Virginia and Maryland will meet and lay down all arms and be released from active duty."

"You're daft, man! Adams will never sanction that and neither do I! I will not become President because of a bargain with you!"

"This will save our young Republic, something that we both want. And don't tell me that you didn't eye General Washington and especially the fat rump of Adams sitting in the Presidential chair and thinking all the while that you could do a better job of it than they. I watched you, and I knew. You're not just a producer, Jefferson, you are quite the actor: always feigning that you didn't much jibe with public life and only wanted to be a monk at your Monticello, studying insects, collecting books, gathering correspondence from the Enlightened Ones of America and Europa. I knew better. For all of your anti-federalism ,you,want to be the head Federalist of the Republic. This, is yours to have."

"You are Satan, Hamilton! Satan! And what will you do, if all of these terms are met? How do you know that I won't arrest you too if I am President? That I do think that Adams is rash and would have done things different - truth. Washington...he always lent his ear to you, and diregarded Virginia, but an able man ...I can't be President under these conditions - especially with you the loose cannon that you are and knowing that I owe the chair to you. I could never look my fellow Republicans in the eye therafter...."

"Jefferson, my only desire is to accept this de-commission and retire to private practice in the City of New York where you said that I belong. I've neglected Betsy and the children and they deserve better. My public service is at its end, this I know. Because of the Reynolds thing - that you were behind - my political career was over long ago. I want peace, Jefferson, both publicly and privately. Enough blood has been shed. If that means that you are the President, I have accepted this and you have to as well. You're a demagogue democrat and I think that you are a rank hypocrite. But you are a better man than Adams."

"I never was behind the Reynolds expose...think what you will."

"Oh no? You financed Callender and that other rogue. You couldn't find any corruption at the Treasury and the Bank, so you resorted to digging up the sins of my private life and very nearly ruined my entire family in the process. Have you no shame, sir? It nearly kills you that I am not the corrupt man that you thought me as, and you can't believe that I love this Nation more than you, though I've sacrificed about everything for this country including my family!"

"Hamilton! You can't know what an American is fully...but maybe in the past I was a bit hasty in my judgment and let our clamors get the best of my reason..."

"You will be President and will then hold all the cards. You can do with me what you wish. But I ask as a gentleman that you let me and my family dwell in peace."

"You will not pick up your poisoned quill and write your diatribes against me to the Federalist press? I find that hard to believe, Hamilton. You are a brilliant man, Major General, but you don't know when to desist!"

"Jefferson," Hamilton sighed, "if you will do but one thing as President, you will never again read a single word from me on your democratic policies under any pseudonym."

"And that would be?"

"President Jefferson will introduce to Congress a constitutional amendment prescribing manumission."

"What war will do to warlords! Now you have become a fanatical abolitionist. Did a cannon-ball graze your head in New Orleans, Hamilton?"

"Unfortunately for you and Adams, the ball was off target. During the long march here, I traveled the length of the South naturally ,and the journey brought me back to my youth in the West Indies. Whatever you think about the African race - slavery is evil , sir! I would not have even the demons in Hades enslaved. I personally do not think that I fought in the Revolution, then later on led men to defeat the French and Spaniards for the freedom of our Republic, to keep a large portion of our residents in bondage. You had similar views as a young man, but you have forgotten them. You need to remember the Young Tom, as I have recalled the Young Alex recently."

"Very well. What will you do if I don't set your precious Negroes free?"

" There's nothing that I can do, Mr. Jefferson. I will be a private lawyer by 1802, hopefully. But a future generation will rise and do something about that peculiar institution if you do not act."

"You are being presumptuous, Hamilton. I haven't agreed to any of your terms. I still think that you are Caesar, and are offering what you call 'terms' that is beyond me or anyone else to sanction - so you march anyway."

"That I will do, Tom, if Adams is not in a carriage on his way back to Braintree within a week."

"You will destroy the Republic."

"Adams already made the the first move in that can say that my terms are yours, if you feel the need. I really don't care. The terms on anyone's shoulders are quite liberal. This will avoid bloodshed and disunion.It is up to you at this point. You said that you will be brief, and I concur - this interview is at its end. Think on it on your way back to President Adams, and may God go with you....."

Following much heated discussion and tantrums, Vice President Jefferson and the Cabinet convinces President Adams to resign the office of Presidency because of "ill health". Major General Hamilton disbands his army as agreed upon and vetoes President Jefferson's proposal for a Victory Parade in Washington City. Hamilton retires to private life in New York City and three years later is killed in a duel by his nemesis, Aaron Burr. Unlike in Real Time, Jefferson is shocked and grieved at Hamilton's death and remembers the conversation in Appomattox Court House during the 'Rubicon Situation': President Jefferson introduces a Constitutional Amendment for the Abolition of Slavery which passes after much tribulation. By 1825, no man or woman is held in bondage to another man and woman in the United States of America...

1 comment:

Howard J. Harrison said...

Alternate history is neat. I have myself tried to write a little of it, once or twice, but was never good enough at it.

I cannot improve upon your alternate history in this case. Let it stand without further comment by me. Jefferson and Hamilton at the Potomac. I like it.