Eric Flint: 1824: The Arkansas War

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Eric Flint 1824: The Arkansas War
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    1824: The Arkansas War
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The secretary of state, the third man in the room, cleared his throat. "Perhaps:" John Quincy Adams pursed his lips. "The work stretched out over that long a period of time:"

President Monroe shook his head. "I thank you, John, but let's not be foolish. Sam Houston? "

He chuckled. "I remind you that my son-in-law is the same man who, at the age of sixteen, crossed sixty miles of Tennessee wilderness after running away from home. Then he lived among the Cherokee for several years, even being adopted into one of their clans. He could find his way through any woods or mountains in Creation."

The president's tone of voice grew somber. "Even drunk, as he so often is these days."

Monroe finally turned away from the window. "No, let's not be foolish. He spends as much time in the Confederacy as he does here at home, since the treaty was signed. There is no chance that Sam Houston failed to see what his friend Patrick Driscol was doing. Nor, given his military experience, that he didn't understand what he was seeing."

As he resumed his seat at his desk, Monroe nodded toward Scott. "It didn't take Winfield here more than a few days to figure it out, when he visited the area. And-meaning no offense-Winfield's not half the woodsman Houston is."

The general's notorious vanity seemed to be on vacation that day. His own chuckle was a hearty thing. "Not a tenth, say better! I've traveled with Houston a time or two. But it didn't matter on this occasion. Patrick provided me with a Cherokee escort, who served as my guides. He made no attempt to keep me from seeing what he had wrought in those mountains. Quite the contrary, I assure you. He wants us to know."

A bit warily, Scott studied the president. John Quincy Adams didn't wonder as to the reason. James Monroe was normally the most affable and courteous of men, but they were treading on very delicate ground here. That most treacherous and shifting ground of all, where political and personal affairs intersected.

Sam Houston's marriage to James Monroe's younger daughter Maria Hester in 1819, following one of the young nation's most famous whirlwind courtships, had added a great deal of flavor and spice to an administration that was otherwise principally noted for such unromantic traits as efficiency and political skill. The girl had only been seventeen at the time. The famous Hero of the Capitol-still young, too, being only twenty-six himself, and as handsome and well spoken as ever-receiving the hand in marriage of the very attractive daughter of the country's chief executive. What could better satisfy the smug assurance of a new republic that it basked in the favor of the Almighty?

It hadn't been all show, either. Very little of it, in fact. Allowing for his constant absences as the administration's special commissioner for Indian affairs, Houston had proved to be something of a model husband. He treated Maria Hester exceedingly well; she, in turn, doted on the man. And, thankfully, Houston's notorious womanizing had vanished entirely after his marriage. There'd been not a trace of scandal, thereafter.

His steadily worsening affection for whiskey, which had become a growing concern for the president, was something that Houston kept away from his wife. However much whiskey he guzzled in the nation's taverns-that, too, had become something of a legend-he did not do the same at home. He drank little, as a rule, in his wife's presence; was invariably a cheerful rather than a nasty drunk, on the few occasions when he did; and quit altogether after his son was born.

Even Houston's stubborn insistence on naming the child Andrew Jackson Houston hadn't caused much in the way of family tension. Monroe had made no formal objection of any kind, whatever he might have said in private. In any event, the president was far too shrewd a politician not to use the occasion to defuse the tensions with Jackson that had begun to build. As political tensions always did around Jackson, the man being what he was.

So, despite Houston's faults-and which man had no faults? Adams asked himself; certainly not he-the president liked his son-in-law. So did John Quincy Adams, for that matter, and he was not a man given to many personal likings.

Adams glanced at the general sitting in the chair next to him. So, for that matter, did Winfield Scott. At least, once he'd realized that Houston's resignation from the army and subsequent preoccupation with Indian affairs meant that he was no longer a rival in the military.

Yes, everybody liked Sam Houston. You could not have found a man in the United States who would tell you otherwise. Until they finally discovered that, beneath the good-looking and boyishly cheerful exterior, there lurked the brain and the heart of a Machiavellian monster.

A few months after his marriage, all of Houston's scheming and deal-making had come to fruition later that year with the Treaty of Oothcaloga.

The Confederacy of the Arkansas had been born that day. At first, the great migration of the Cherokees and the Creeks that followed had been hailed across the nation as a stroke of political genius on the part of the Monroe administration. By none more loudly than Andrew Jackson, of course, who had by then solidified his position as the champion of the western settlers. But even Calhoun had grudgingly indicated his approval.

For that one brief moment in time, the so-called Era of Good Feelings had seemed established for eternity. But, in hindsight, it had only been the crest of a wave. On January 13, 1820-almost five years to the day after he and his Iron Battalion had broken the British at the Battle of the Mississippi-Patrick Driscol and those same black artillerymen routed the Louisiana militia in what had since come to be called the Battle of Algiers. The four years that followed had been a steadily darkening political nightmare.

Houston was blamed for that, too, nowadays, by many people. His diplomacy had defused the crisis, long enough to allow Driscol and his followers to leave New Orleans and migrate to the new Confederacy. So, a full-scale war had been averted.

But John Calhoun had never forgiven the Monroe administration for the settlement Houston engineered, and Monroe's approval of it. Servile insurrections should be crushed and their survivors mercilessly scourged, he argued, not allowed to flee unscathed-and never mind that the "servile insurrection" had actually been the work of freedmen defending their legal rights against local overlords.

To John Calhoun and his followers, a nigger was a nigger. Rightless by nature, legalistic twaddles be damned. The black race was fit only to hew wood and draw water for those who were their superiors.

A few months after the Algiers Incident, Calhoun resigned his post as secretary of war in order to run for senator from South Carolina. He won the election, very handily, and had been a thorn in the side of the administration since. It had been Calhoun who led the charge in Congress to pass the Freedmen Exclusion Act, which would have required all freedmen to leave the United States within a year of manumission. Monroe had vetoed the bill on the obvious ground that it was a gross violation of states' rights, whereupon Calhoun had given his open support to freedmen exclusion legislation passed by various states and municipalities, and his tacit blessing to more savage and informal methods of exclusion.

A duel had almost resulted, then, when Sam Houston publicly labeled him-Adams could not but smile, whenever he thought of the brash youngster's handy way with words-"a tsarist, a terror-monger, and a toad. Nay, say better-a toadstool. A toad can at least hop about. Calhoun is a fungus on the nation's flank."

"What are you so cheerful about, John?" demanded Monroe.

Delicate ground, indeed. Adams stifled the smile.

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