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Allegiance (book)

Creators: Kermit Roosevelt

Book cover. Courtesy of Regan Arts
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Historical mystery novel by Kermit Roosevelt set during World War II against the backdrop of the Supreme Court and the Japanese American cases.

Synopsis and Background

Its protagonist is Caswell "Cash" Harrison, a young Columbia Law School graduate when the war begins, from a prominent Philadelphia family. Though eager to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he flunks his army physical. However, opportunity soon knocks in the form of an invitation to become a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. In his year working under Black, he begins to notice some suspicious goings-on at the court, and when a fellow clerk is found dead in his office, Cash suspects murder. Wanting to remain in Washington in part to investigate the death, he lands a job as a lawyer for the Justice Department, where he becomes involved in the Japanese American cases, being assigned to defend them in the courts despite his growing conviction that what the government did was wrong. His further investigation into the cases—including a couple of trips to Tule Lake —along with other goings-on at the capitol—shake Cash's core beliefs about the country and his privileged position in it. The novel is populated with a wide range of historical figures from the Supreme Court, Justice Department, War Department, and FBI, and actions attributed to Cash in the novel were performed in history by James Rowe , John Burling, Tom Clark , and Wayne Collins . A brief author's note at the back of the book provides some historical background.

Author Kermit Roosevelt III (1971– ) is a legal scholar who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and is also the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was also briefly a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. After the success of his first novel, In the Shadow of the Law (2005), his editor asked him to consider writing a new novel set with a Supreme Court setting. Not wanting to draw on his experiences working for the extremely private Souter, he decided to set it in the past, choosing to focus on the Japanese American cases due to the parallels with the situation after 9/11 and with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. On his website, Roosevelt writes, "The parallels are interesting in their own right, but the big question is why they exist. Why do we do similar things over and over again? That's what I was trying to explore in the novel." [1]

Response and Historical Accuracy

Reviews were generally positive to mixed, with reviewers praising its scope, historical setting, and relevance to contemporary issues, while some found it too convoluted.

Allegiance is well researched and mostly conforms to what is known. Much of what Cash encounters in the Justice Department really took place, with Cash largely playing the role that John L. Burling, an aide to Alien Enemy Control Unit Director Edward Ennis , played in real life. (Though about the same age, he is not literally based on Burling, since their biographies don't match. Burling also appears briefly in the book.) One key element of the book, however, is invented. When draft resisters at Tule Lake are put on trial, Ennis sends Cash out west to aid in the prosecution. Once there, he witnesses a bench trial in which Masaaki Kuwabara and twenty-six others tell their story to the court, stories which serve to inform the reader and Cash about conditions in the concentration camps. However, this testimony did not occur. While the Tule Lake resisters did go on trial—and were the only group of Japanese American draft resisters to "win" their cases—Judge Louis Goodman dismissed the charges against them, so no such trial took place.

There are also more minor issues of timing. Cash sees John DeWitt 's Final Report after the Tule Lake draft resistance case in the summer of 1944; the actual revised report came out six months earlier. Later Marvin Opler tells Cash that many in Tule Lake renounced their citizenship out of fear of what would happen to them when the left camp, citing shootings and arson aimed at Japanese Americans who had returned to California. But this takes place in November 1944, at which point the West Coast was still closed to Japanese Americans. Such incidents did take place once Japanese Americans did begin to return to the West Coast several months later.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like: Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine; Heart Mountain by Gretel Ehrlich; Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Historical Figures Who Are Characters in Book

Major Characters

Francis Biddle : U.S. attorney general
John Hall: army lawyer
Cissy Patterson: owner of the Washington Times-Herald
Joe Patterson: Cissy's brother and business magnate

Significant Role Players

(Appear in more than one scene and/or have significant speaking roles)
Karl Bendetsen : army lawyer and key architect of mass removal
Raymond Best: director of Tule Lake
Edward Ennis : Justice Department lawyer, head of the Alien Enemy Control Unit
Charles Fahy : solicitor general who prosecuted Japanese American cases before Supreme Court
Louis Goodman: federal judge in California who presided over Tule Lake draft resistance trial
J. Edgar Hoover : director of FBI
Masaaki Kurwabara: lead Tule Lake draft resistance defendant
Blaine McGowan: lawyer brought in by Judge Goodman to defend Tule Lake draft resisters
Marvin Opler : community analyst at Tule Lake
Drew Pearson: well-known journalist
Eleanor Jackson Piel: clerk to Judge Goodman
Emmet Seawell: prosecuted Tule Lake draft resisters
Clyde Tolson: top aide to Hoover at FBI
Ernest Kinzo Wakayama : Tule Lake renunciant leader
Herbert Wechsler : law professor and Justice Dept. lawyer

Minor Characters

John Burling : Justice Department lawyer; assistant director, Alien Enemy Control Unit
Nanette Dembitz : Justice Department lawyer
Harold Evans : Hirabayashi lawyer
Arthur Hill: lawyer assigned to defend Tule Lake draft resisters
Charles Horskey: ACLU lawyer who was part of Supreme Court defense team for Endo and Korematsu
Chester Monette: lawyer assigned to defend Tule Lake draft resisters
James Purcell : represented Endo before Supreme Court
James Rowe : assistant attorney general
Henry Stimson : Secretary of War

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. "Writing Allegiance," Kermit Roosevelt website, accessed on February 16, 2017 at .
Media Details
Author Kermit Roosevelt
Pages 392
Publication Date 2015
Awards Finalist, 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction
For More Information

For More Information



Graff, Harry. " Standard of Review: I Pledge Only Partial Allegiance to Kermit Roosevelt's Novel 'Allegiance.' " Above the Law , Sept. 17, 2015. [" Allegiance is surely an enjoyable read for history buffs and those interested in the events leading up to the Korematsu and Endo decisions."]

Keymer, David . Library Journal , July 9, 2015. ["So many characters appear on these pages that it is hard at times to keep a score card, and there is a second mystery to be solved that muddles things up, but Roosevelt... is an elegant writer and acute observer of life along the Beltway."]

Kirkus Reviews , Aug. 25, 2015. ["A Kafkaesque political drama as allegory for America's blind quest for absolute safety from international terrorism while 'the interests of capital' profit from paranoia."]

McElroy, Lisa . SCOTUSblog, Sept. 29, 2015. ["Like so many other classic novels—and, make no mistake about it, this one deserves to be a classic, read in history and government and literature courses alike— Allegiance is a coming-of-age story. It is a love story. It is a story of betrayal, and disillusionment, and redemption."]

Niiya, Brian . Densho Blog, Oct. 23, 2015. ["Historical issues aside, this is still a fun and informative novel that takes us through a dark period in history in a mostly accurate and very lively manner. It is a shame that more information about that history and the liberties that author took with it isn’t provided within the covers of this otherwise enjoyable read."]

Nishikawa, Hiro . Pacific Citizen , Mar. 4–17, 2016, 5. ["... the connections to historical persons and events have been carefully vetted for accuracy. This I found very impressive."]

Publishers Weekly . ["This sophisticated, multi-textured novel from Roosevelt... works both as a thriller to rival the best of Stephen Carter and as an insightful look at one of America's darkest historical moments."]

Strafford, Jay . Richmond Times-Dispatch , Sept. 5, 2015. ["Readers will invoke that ancestral connection in this splendid, troubling and authoritative novel, one conceived with a vision that sees beyond the years and resonates in the present day."]

Robinson, Greg. Nichibei Weekly , Jan. 1, 2016. ["Still, the errors do not erase the value of the work in dramatizing the resonance of the Japanese Americans for those within government circles."]