Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

13. Patronage and Personalities
1801=1807

Memories of the Federalist "reign of terror" were fresh, memories of the bitter ballot contest with the backers of Aaron Burr even fresher, when President Jefferson told an expectant Congress: "We are all Republicans: we are all Federalists. . . . Let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions." Only a few weeks later he wrote to a Philadelphia physician: "Of the thousands of officers . . . in the United States, a very few individuals only, probably not twenty, will be removed; and these only for doing what they ought not to have done."1

Gallatin took the President's words literally and assumed that he planned no drastic reorganization of the civil service, as he approached the matter of appointments in the Treasury. The chief offices in his gift, and indeed the most important group of federal agents dealing directly with the citizens, were the collectors of the different ports. Politically the collectors loomed large in their districts, and they were in a position to keep the Administration apprised of local party trends and factional maneuvering. They were paid on a fee basis, and some collectorships were extremely lucrative. Moreover, they had the appointment of numerous subordinates, including measurers, weighers, and gaugers.2 The Federalists, during the dozen years they controlled the government, had staffed these and other federal offices with men devoted to their party and its principles.

In drafting a circular letter to the collectors and their subordinates not long after he took office, Gallatin made clear the restraint with which he intended to treat such appointments. Treasury officeholders were not to participate actively in politics: "Whilst freedom of opinion and freedom of suffrage at public elections are considered by the President as impre

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