An excerpt from

The Founding Treason

February 1865

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 


Nicholas Longworth Anderson held tight to the reins, praying his hired horse wouldn’t be spooked by the latest flash of lightning. The horse raced on, tensing at every boom of thunder, beating through the empty streets and splashing puddles in all directions as its master urged him onward. Why this meeting couldn’t wait until more favorable weather was beyond Anderson’s understanding. But Powell had been adamant. The future of the Union was at stake. So he raced on. 

 

Minutes later, the home of Hiram Powell materialized through the haze of rain-soaked night. The three-story mansion was dark save for a light that burned in a second-story window. Powell’s den. Anderson handed the reins of his horse to the stable boy, then rushed to the door. He used the knocker to rap the agreed-upon pattern, then checked his pocket watch. Ten minutes late. Considering the weather and how far he had come, surely the others would understand. 

 

A Negro servant answered the door and took Anderson’s coat and hat. Anderson knew the way to the den. He also knew that whatever was going on in there was for members’ ears only. Powell wouldn’t trust anyone outside the circle—not even his own wife—with their secret business. So Anderson saw himself up. 

 

Arriving at the entrance to the den, he paused. He could hear indistinct voices through the heavy oaken door. A heated argument. Something big was indeed going down. He brushed in vain at the water soaking his trousers and shirt, then rapped the secret tattoo upon the wood. The voices stopped immediately. Moments later, the door creaked open and the broad face of his friend Jeremiah Burkett greeted him. 

 

“Come in, Nicholas, quickly.” 

 

Immediately, Anderson knew something was amiss. There were far more brothers here than he had expected, including a number he had never seen before. They must have come from another chapter of the society, which made the urgent business Powell had called the meeting for all the more mysterious. The room was charged with a curious energy, not unlike the air shortly before a storm struck. Burkett’s normally jovial face was pinched with worry. Anderson surveyed the expressions of his fellow brothers as he took his seat. An array of emotions bedecked their countenances. None were pleasant. Anger, frustration, and disbelief made multiple appearances. But most prominent of all, an underlying emotion seemingly present on most of the faces here, was a fatalistic resignation. 

 

“Nicholas, so nice of you to join us,” Powell said. Anderson was about to reply with an excuse about the weather, but Powell didn’t give him the chance. 

 

“Gentlemen, the path forward is clear. The only question is, do we have the courage to take it?” 

 

“What you’re proposing is treason!” countered a thin man with a New England accent. 

 

“We were born in treason,” Powell countered. “We had to defend against allegations of further treason throughout our early years. And yet, we remained stalwart. Our forefathers made the difficult decisions necessary to defend our nation. Shall we cast off their sacrifice and disgrace their legacy, in this, our nation’s hour of need?” 

 

Most of the room shouted “no!” But a few dissenters remained. Anderson, for his part, remained silent, unsure what Powell was proposing. “How do we know this won’t make things worse?” asked a whitehaired man with a bushy mustache and an aristocratic South Carolina accent. Anderson blinked in confusion. A Confederate brother? Had Powell actually managed to get brothers from Confederate-held chapters to attend his secret meeting? How big was this plan of his?
“The war is drawing to a close, but there are those who remain dedicated to rebellion at all costs. When the time comes, my plan will be the only thing that can prevent the Union from dissolving again. The successor has his issues, but he is from Tennessee and will be much more palatable to those who would tear us apart again. And need I remind you that the election four years ago was what spurred your great state to turn its back on our nation in secession?” 

 

The man from South Carolina assented under his breath. In a group whose founding had been built upon a series of treasonous acts, the reminder of a more recent treason against everything their forefathers had built was more than enough to silence him. 

 

“You know Hamilton Fish won’t stand for this,” argued a brother from Maryland. 

 

“He doesn’t have to. Gentlemen, I called each of you for a reason. All of you are powerful men of finance and influence, chosen from each of our thirteen chapters. If it comes to it, those of us in this room—and our sons in the years to come—can stand alone. Our forefathers fought valiantly to create our nation. Now we must become the vanguard to defend it from the enemies lurking within our very borders.” 

 

A murmur grew among the members as they debated Powell’s points. In the lamplight, their faces appeared curiously contorted, deepened shadows flickering until obliterated by the occasional blaze of lightning from the windows. Anderson took the opportunity to whisper to his friend. 

 

“Jeremiah, what is Powell talking about?” Burkett leaned toward him and opened his mouth to speak, but Powell’s booming voice cut through the discussion before he could answer. 

 

“I propose we put it to a vote,” Powell said, raising his hand. “All in favor of proceeding with my plan to defend our nation and the legacy of our forefathers, raise your right hand.” 

 

One by one, hands went up across the room. Anderson, still ignorant of the plan Powell was proposing, saw Burkett’s hand raised and realized that only one hand was not raised. Slowly, Anderson lifted his hand, trusting that a unanimous vote in spite of the contentious discussion had to signify the plan was the right decision. 

 

Powell looked from brother to brother, letting the gravity of their decision sink in. Moments later, he finally spoke. 

 

“Then it’s decided, my brothers. History shall never know of our actions, but our nation will survive because of your boldness. May it ever be so. In order for the United States to survive, President Lincoln must die.”