Book Title: The Middle Generation:
A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine Author: M. B. Zucker
Publication Date: November 7, 2023 Publisher: Historium Press Page Length: 432 Genre: Historical Fiction / Biographical Fiction
The Middle Generation:
A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine
by M. B. Zucker
The classical era of American history began with the Revolution and ended with emancipation. Between these bookends lies the absorbing yet overshadowed epic of a new nation spearheading liberty’s cause in a world skeptical of freedom arriving at all, much less in slaver’s garb. M. B. Zucker takes readers back to that adolescent country in the care of an enigmatic guide, John Quincy Adams, heir to one president by blood and another, Washington, by ideology. Adams is the missing link between the founders and Abraham Lincoln, and is nigh unanimously regarded as America’s foremost Secretary of State. Through Adams’ eyes, readers will experience one of history’s greatest and most forgotten crises: his showdown with Europe over South American independence, the conflict which prefigured the Monroe Doctrine.
With his signature dialogue and his close study of Adams’ 51 volume diary, M. B. Zucker’s The Middle Generation is a political thriller and character piece that surpasses his achievement in The Eisenhower Chronicles and ascends to the cinematic heights of the historical epics of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. It is an unforgettable portrait and a leap forward for one of our rising historical fiction novelists.
Universal Link: https://geni.us/fNbEE
The title will be available in several Barnes and Noble stores in the DC / Northern Virginia area.
M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He devoted himself to historical fiction at fifteen and earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his family. He is the author of three other novels. Among his honors is the Best Fictional Biography Award at the 2023 BookFest.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/stores/M.-B.-Zucker/author/B09JM74HMF
“A moment, please,” the President said. “The nation’s security must endure my tardiness.”
The senior Cabinet officers, formed of Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Crawford, and myself, competed for the straightest posture to fill the interlude. To this day, I wonder if we were cognizant of the practice.
The lesser officers—I mean secondary—abstained, for they knew their place. They were cautious men. Attorney General Wirt rarely spoke before knowing the President’s opinion and Mr. Crowninshield was a volume of doggerel in a bookcase bearing Homer and Shakespeare. The Secretary of the Navy, he looked to Calhoun for mentorship.
Calhoun sat straight as a spear and won the contest. I blamed my failure on distraction from my swelling eyes, an ailment that had worsened since my return from Europe. The truth was my defeat lay in the inferiority of my physical proportions. Atop Calhoun’s square face was dark hair both full and groomed. His only unattractive features were his lankiness and the seriousness that shone through his eyes, and though uninviting they mesmerized me.
The President was ready but first studied his Cabinet. A year since his election and we were finally together. He radiated pride. Satisfaction with his choices? Or a validation of his decades-long journey to hold the office? Likely both.
“I wish to continue framing our meetings with written questions,” he said. He raised a set of cards.
“I’ve found it a constructive mechanism for guiding our discussions. But before I distribute these, let us welcome Mr. Calhoun to his first appearance as Secretary of War.”
We showed our approval by converting our table into a tambourine. It shook more violently than we anticipated, though we should have given its miniature size. Calhoun bowed his head but his attention remained fixated on the room’s details. I knew because he held the exact look I did two months prior. Neither of us anticipated its humble furnishing.
Allow me to relate our seating arrangement. The President was at the table’s head, his back to an empty fireplace whose shelf held two lit candles. I sat to his right while Calhoun and Crawford were on his left. Wirt and Crowninshield squeezed together at the other end.
I remind myself that this small jaundiced yellow room served as a mere surrogate for the President’s Office while the nation rebuilt the Executive Mansion following the late war. The December sun, situated in the west, provided poor illumination. Four more candles flickered, dispersed. They made visible a globe standing in the corner and a map of our Union hanging from an adjacent wall. By the door stood a coat rack holding our winter garments. It was a quaint room, stuffy, and insufficient for what was to be the world’s greatest nation. It lacked the quirks and wonders of Jefferson’s office a decade prior, with its inventions and books scattered about and birds flying overhead.
The President was taciturn until we fell silent. Then he placed the five cards at the table’s center and we all took one. “Both questions concern South America,” he said. I glanced at him before reading the card. His outfit was a conscious reminder of his service during the War for Independence. For example, he wore knee breeches instead of trousers. It was a generation out of style, though I ought not critique another’s fashion for I knew little of the topic as my wife was apt to remind me.
The first question read:
Has the executive the power to acknowledge the independence of new states whose independence is not recognized by the parent country and between which parties war exists?
The throbbing in my eyes worsened. South America’s wars of independence against Spain were the Department of State’s business. The President ought to have consulted me before taking the question to the Cabinet. Perhaps Calhoun also deserved input. But why should Crawford, the Secretary of the Treasury, get an equal voice? Such consensus building was cowardly.
The Cabinet officers joined eyes. We turned to the President and signaled in the affirmative. A moment longer than necessary and he understood. He looked pleasantly surprised.
“The power exists,” he whispered. Then louder, “But is it prudent?”
Our eyes joined again, communicating positions through facial gestures. Crawford, that pig-looking man, settled his stare on me. He sought to lure me into his trap.
“We again agree on the wisdom of such an action.”
“Hardly,” I said.
“Do you mind clarifying your position, Mr. Adams?” the President asked me.
“Granting recognition to the South American republics gives us moral credibility but is a stupid decision.”
“Will it cause a Spanish declaration of war?”
“At a minimum. What prompted this discussion to change our policy?”
“The United Provinces of La Plata have sent an emissary and ask to be recognized.”
“I know, Mr. President. Mr. Clay invited them so he could attack the administration in Congress.
The Speaker will do anything to stand centerstage and wreck you, sir. We don’t know if the United Provinces will survive—”
“On the contrary,” Crawford said, “they’ve built a stable government in Buenos Aires.” Calhoun’s left elbow touched the table, pushed to the side by Crawford’s mass. His tobacco-colored eyes studied us both. “General San Martín’s victories in Chile will remove remaining royal encampments in that region.”
“For now,” I said. “The Spanish will regain momentum since Prince Metternich has restored King Ferdinand on the throne in Madrid.”
“You’re making my point for me,” Crawford said. Did he care about the rebels or did he only exist to antagonize me? “We have no reason to fear a war with Spain. Her army is occupied in South America and Lord Nelson destroyed her navy at Trafalgar 12 years ago.” He said to the President,
“Intervening for the rebels will lead to a hemisphere of republics. We should relish—”
“The rebels are hardly moral exemplars,” I said. “They’ve just as much blood to wring from their sleeves.”
“How many thousands did Spain kill when reconquering Venezuela?” Crawford asked. “How many civilians?”
“General Bolivar’s Decree of War to the Death states the rebels will execute anyone of European descent unless they actively support him.”
“Who will remember it once he wins the war? Ferdinand’s return changes nothing because Spain is a dying empire.”
“Then why not allow such inevitability to come to us? Why wage an unnecessary war?”
“Because risking war—which isn’t guaranteed, considering Spain’s weakness—endears us to the rebels.” He said to the President, “It can forge lasting alliances.”
“You think I should lead the country into war less than a year after my inauguration?” the President asked. “The last war ended two years ago.”
“A war we won,” Crawford said. “I am not advocating for—”
“You believe recognizing the United Provinces, and the other rebels, leads to war with Spain. Or endangers it.”
Crawford’s head retracted to his shell. “I’m saying we shouldn’t fear—” His words petered away.
He wasn’t a serious thinker or advisor. Calling him opportunistic was an understatement.
Professional opportunists traded stories about him within their nests. “A potential war would be short and in our interest.”
“The Florida Territory is ripe for picking. Spain can’t control it or Texas.”
The President turned to me. Lead the counterargument.
“Presidents Jefferson and Madison each attempted to wrestle Florida from Spain. Each failed and suffered the political consequences.”
“Madison secured a foothold in West Florida,” Crawford said. “Today’s situation is different than theirs. Spain has moved its Floridian troops to South America. That’s why so many slaves flee there and why the Seminoles can invade my native Georgia and scalp my neighbors.”
Calhoun’s eyes narrowed. The President noticed. “You’ve been quiet, Mr. Calhoun. Do you have something to add?”
The Secretary of War inhaled. His shoulders, scrawny as they were, expanded as he donned a stoic mask. “We must remember the Seminoles claim the land in Georgia and the Louisiana Territory that we bought from the Creeks following General Jackson’s wartime victory.” His posture relaxed.
An excellent point. Indian affairs were the Department of War’s prerogative and Calhoun did his research. A competent colleague, at last. He came from South Carolina, the most opinionated Southern state. I was surprised he could operate so methodically.
“It makes little difference,” Crawford said. His hand waved dismissively, causing a draft. “The Seminoles are attacking our citizens and they can do so only because Spain can’t govern the region.”
“I remind the Secretary of the Treasury that American military forces under General Gaines and the Northern Division are already conducting an operation to disrupt the Seminoles clustered near the Georgia-Florida border,” Calhoun said.
“This is irrelevant to the original question,” the President said.
“I have made an adequate argument for why we shouldn’t fear provoking war,” Crawford said.
Adequate. Crawford aimed for mediocrity and failed to reach it. This defined his existence and was why I left our meetings with headaches. One could not help but escape his presence worse than before.
“You’re ignoring the most important factor,” I said. “Europe will not sit calmly as we destroy Spain’s empire. Particularly the Holy Alliance.”
“Can the Alliance cross the Atlantic?” Crawford asked.
I asked the President, “Are these the questions you wish to weigh, sir? Over recognizing a band of rebels?”
“Answer the question,” Crawford said. “The Holy Alliance is made up of Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Of those, only Russia is a naval power but they don’t even have a warm-water port to access the eastern Mediterranean.”
“And if Britain joins them?”
“Britain opposes the Alliance, which exists to promote absolute monarchy. Not even George III believes in that.”
“Must I give you a history lesson? Must the Secretary of State look upon the Secretary of the Treasury as his pupil?” I asked. Crawford chuckled. “Britain partnered with the states forming the Alliance to thwart Napoleon’s attempt to rule the world. It was at that time that Napoleon kidnapped Ferdinand from Madrid, triggering the uprisings across Mexico and South—”
“This is disgraceful,” Crawford said to the President.
“Mr. Crawford is correct, Mr. Adams,” the President said. “Speak with a tone becoming of a Cabinet officer.”
Still more pain within my eyes as my muscles contracted with anger. I reformulated my thoughts.
Crawford wouldn’t let himself be persuaded. I spoke to the President and Calhoun and maybe the others.
“The United States of America exist between two extremes. We state that our citizens must surrender a portion of their sovereignty to a representative government that will act on their behalf.
The Holy Alliance rejects this vision. They believe that God placed monarchs on Earth to rule the rest of us. They conflate us with French revolutionaries—” Turned to the President, who supported that revolution two decades prior “—and with Napoleon, who they hold responsible for plunging Europe into a war that lasted a generation. But the French Revolution is the other extreme. The people’s sovereignty could never be granted to institutions in even a limited—”
“This lecture is unnecessary, Mr. President,” Crawford said.
“It is necessary,” I said. “We must appreciate that the Alliance wants to keep the peace in Europe and prevent a duplication of the French Revolution and Napoleon. That they see the South American rebels and us as part of the same movement. A movement which we call freedom and they call anarchy.”
“Britain is more liberal than the Alliance. She—”
“They joined together against Napoleon and they’ll do it again if they see us, a rising nation, waging a war of conquest against the Spanish Empire.” I said to the President, “Britain has the world’s most powerful navy. Your house is being built for a second time in 20 years because Britain burned it down. And France, where the Alliance reinstated the Bourbon monarchy—”
“You mean to scare us,” Crawford said. “Europe hasn’t recovered from Napoleon’s wars. Six million people died.”
“The Europeans’ taste for war mirrors our own people’s taste for whiskey. I was in St. Petersburg when Napoleon invaded Russia and I witnessed the barbarism that ensued. Europe’s peace does not protect us. They can concentrate their power against—”
“Britain sympathizes with the rebels. She won’t allow Metternich to invade this hemisphere.”
The President struck the table. His jaws pushed against his cheeks as his slow mind processed our debate. He was not a bad looking man for his age but his head was too small for his stature.
“Mr. Adams,” he said, “how do you think Lord Castlereagh will react to the collapse of Spanish power in Florida?” He referred to Britain’s Foreign Secretary.
A liquid had built in my right eye for the past minutes. I dabbed it with a handkerchief.
“Castlereagh offered to broker negotiations between us and Spain last year, when I was minister to the Court of St. James. I declined. Britain wants Florida for herself and I suspect her hand in the Seminole raids.”
“So you do support our annexing Florida,” Crawford said.
“Of course,” I said. “But we must do it while avoiding war with Europe. We barely survived the last one.”