Soon, the story vaults back to the 1840s and the introduction of the Navy’s mighty new warship, the USS Princeton, and the Peacemaker cannon, revealing how and why Tolliver and two friends initiated so shocking a conspiracy. With a central focus on the Tyler administration and its blunders, Haynes’ story examines how corruption is not a new phenomenon in American government, how the politics of slavery shaped the early republic, and how a democratically elected leader can have the power of a tyrannical king. After a failed attempt at presidential impeachment, the first such proceedings brought against an American president, Tolliver and company’s desperation to oust Tyler (“His Accidency”) from power by any means necessary raises urgent questions about what actions can be considered just in a country committed to individual rights and freedoms.
The question haunts Tolliver: “What if thousands of enslaved people, if not those living now, at least their children or grandchildren, could be brought closer to freedom by a single death?” Haynes establishes the stakes and context with clarity and power, threading a wealth of fascinating history into his telling. Especially engaging is the story of the USS Princeton and the possibility of a clandestine operation like Tolliver’s, undertaken by three unlikely people who feel pressed to try to shape history.
Takeaway: History enthusiasts will ponder “what if” in this memorable novel about an assassination plot against the tenth U.S. president.
Great for fans of: Stephen L. Carter’s The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Kurt Andersen’s Heyday.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-
“Washington hasn't changed all that much since the 1840s–it was just as nasty and ... perilous back then. This is a well-written, well-paced tale with a nice feel for the times. It's history that goes down easy, my favorite kind.”
“Haynes paints a historically authentic and dramatically gripping tableau of the tumultuous politics of the time . . . This is a rigorously researched novel . . . [A]n impressive literary feat.”
“Historical fiction should make a reader smarter. This one does. Those who want to be thoroughly entertained while learning some political history along the way should dive in and enjoy. The story . . . is riveting and astounding, both in the facts and the fictional mystery the author spins. Haynes is a talented author . . . Historical fiction about the national political scene during this period is rare, but this book proves there are still great stories from the time to be told.”