Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

7. The Whiskey Rebellion: "Allaying the Ferment"
1794=1795

Drenched by a torrential summer rain, Gallatin reached Pittsburgh on August 19, 1794, in good time for the scheduled meeting with the federal commissioners. He went around to pay a call on Hugh Henry Brackenridge for the first private conversation the two moderate leaders had ever had. The literary lawyer inquired whether Gallatin understood why he had acted as he had at Parkinson's Ferry. Gallatin said he believed that he now did, that Brackenridge had undertaken to accomplish "by art" what he himself had tried to do by "direct measures." Thereupon they had a heart-to-heart discussion of the problem they now faced, in Gallatin's phrase, "of allaying the ferment."1

By the next morning all fifteen committeemen had arrived in Pittsburgh and were ready to open their sessions at McMaster's tavern. They now discovered that they would have to deal not only with the federal commissioners, James Ross of Washington (who had been elected United States senator in Gallatin's place), Attorney General William Bradford, and Justice Jasper Yeates of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but with two state commissioners, Chief Justice Thomas McKean of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and General William Irvine.

Gallatin and his colleagues held two meetings with the commissioners on August 20. They stressed the grievances of the westerners: trial at a distance from their homes; inability to pay the excise tax in currency; fear for their personal safety at the hands of an aggressive and perhaps vindictive federal government. The commissioners insisted that the westerners must offer assurances that they would submit to the excise law but, in return, promised an amnesty. The committeemen replied that they were not authorized to bind their neighbors to any course of action. They themselves believed that submission was the best policy, and they would recommend it to the men they represented; but they were unwilling to relinquish the right to work for repeal of the excise law.

-76-

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