Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

28. Financial Oracle
1830=1841

Across the first decade of the strange new age into which Gallatin survived as a private citizen, the 1830's, a long, dark shadow was cast by political crises rising out of economic matters--the tariff, banking, and the currency. It was inevitable that this man who had dedicated most of his public life to just such matters, and who was now the head of a private bank whose concerns were intimately bound up with them, should be thrust into the role of financial oracle and, on occasion, leader of the business community.

Convictions Gallatin had reached during his diplomatic service at Paris carried him back somewhat circuitously to the fiscal and political wars. He and Alexander Baring of the House of Baring had been impressed then by the resistance of the French economy to the shock of simultaneous invasions by the Allied Powers and Napoleon, and to the strain of indemnity payments exacted by the Allies during the Bourbon restoration. This Gallatin and Baring attributed to the fact that in France gold and silver circulated freely.1

In theory the United States had a bimetallic currency. In 1792, at the behest of Secretary Hamilton, the federal government had adopted a system whereby silver and gold were both coined by the government at a ratio of 15 to 1. But gold was worth much more in the international market, and by the 1820's enough gold had drifted to Europe to give the United States a silver-dollar currency.2

During the months he was preparing the American case in the Northeast boundary dispute in 1829, Gallatin discussed the currency situation with Jackson's Secretary of the Treasury, Samuel D. Ingham, and urged him to work for a true system of bimetallism. This, he believed, could be accomplished by setting a ratio of silver to gold somewhere between 15.58 and 15.69 to 1.3

Another conviction that Gallatin had brought back from abroad was that the French had benefited from their practice of permitting only a

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