Fire Bell in the Night
Geoffrey S. Edwards
Touchstone, Sep 18 2007
In 1850 New York Tribune journalist John Sharp is sent to Charleston, South Carolina to report on the trial of white farmer Darcy Nance Calhoun; accused of violating the law when he abetted a runaway slave, a capital offence. If convicted Darcy will hang. Already aware of the crisis throughout the nation since winning the Mexican War, John arrives with a sense of foreboding especially since his predecessor from the Tribune was murdered; probably because the local assumed a Yankee reporter denotes an abolitionist lover.
As John makes inquiries in the city seeking the truth, he is stunned by how angry everyone seems to be; in that atmosphere Darcy has no chance even if he did nothing and could prove he was totally innocent of the crime. The outside reporter does not believe Darcy will make it to trial as the city led by powerful plantation owners with connections like Tyler Breckenridge has all but hung him. As fires purposely set burn 24/7 with the alarm bell seemingly ringing constantly, underneath the rage, many of the elite and affluent are demanding secession from the Union in spite of knowing the North would invade.
FIRE BELL IN THE NIGHT is a deep look at South Carolina at a point where entrenched partisan feelings has divided the nation so that either secession or civil war seems imminent. The historical story line focuses on unrest from several perspectives as slave families are divided for individual sale and plantation owners see their region’s national influence slipping with the addition of the territories taken from Mexico; as the 14 to 14 tie will soon be over with the north winning. The strong cast brings to life the critical moment in which the great regional compromisers (Calhoun, Clay, and Webster) are gone and the strong President (Taylor) with convictions dead; the deal worked only temporarily and cooled the heat for a few years.