Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

17. The Life of a Cabinet Member
1801=1813

Although Washington was Gallatin's home for the dozen busiest and most productive years of his life, he was never fond of the swampy, straggling Capital on the Potomac. "A place which has less attractions and affords less comfort than almost any other of the Union," he described it to an old acquaintance.1 He agreed in feeling with John Randolph, who called it a place "where the wretched exile is cut off from all information, society or amusement, and where the common necessaries of life can be procured not without difficulty, and the most enormous expence."2 Mrs. Gallatin summed up her feelings about it: "It is a place that never will be of any consequence, even if the national government should remain there."3

Happily, as the Gallatins and other early arrivals were to discover, a few hardy ladies--Marylanders and Virginians mostly--already were on the scene, doing their best to make life less monastically grim. Among them was Margaret Bayard Smith, who had deserted the Federalism of her family when she married Samuel H. Smith, editor of the National Intelligencer. She took charge of Hannah during her first days in the Capital, accompanying her on visiting and shopping expeditions and helping her solve the Capital servant problem. The Gallatins and the Smiths exchanged hospitality at card parties and large formal affairs.4

Gallatin, who as a congressman had preached economy and decried the "monarchistic" pretensions of the Federalist administrations, was relieved to find no attempt made to carry the magnificence and ostentation of Philadelphia to the Potomac. President Jefferson, with his informal manners and almost rustic dress the personification of "republican simplicity," set the tone of the Capital. As a widower with only the sporadic assistance of two married daughters, he extended to members of the official circles a hospitality that was informal and spontaneous.* At his

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