Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

14. Gallatin, the Nationalist
1801=1809

To the councils of the Jefferson Administration Gallatin brought far more than an uncommon knowledge of the principles of public finance and rare administrative talent. The other members of the triumvirate, President Jefferson and Secretary Madison, had been born in Virginia and never could quite shake off identification with their native state and with the South, although their training and experience prevented them from taking a narrowly provincial view. But Gallatin, who had wandered between Maine and western Virginia for a decade, owed deep allegiance to no one state. If there was one type of American to whom he felt closer than any other, it was the frontiersman, whose primary loyalty, after having moved his household goods many times, was to the whole United States. Small wonder that the words "nation" and "union" occurred frequently in his conversation and letters, in a day when men still spoke and wrote of themselves as citizens of particular states.

His background made him embrace seeming paradoxes. At the outset of his public career, his allegiance to frontier democracy caused him to view dimly the Federalists and their Constitution, which appeared to him to be designed to pamper antidemocratic and antirepublican men of property of the eastern cities. But now that the government was in the hands of democrats, republicans, men genuinely concerned with the welfare of all citizens, his misgivings vanished. He could work wholeheartedly for the defense of the West against imperialistic European nations, for the accession of new territory to the Union, for the democratic and systematic opening up of the national domain to settlement, for the construction of roads, canals, and other means of communication to unite all sections of the land.

On only two significant questions did his background create difficult conflicts. He could not share the conviction of Jefferson and other southerners that the strip of land along the Gulf of Mexico known as West Florida was important enough to the whole people of the United States to risk war or great expense in acquiring it. And, in his zeal to apply

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