Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

18. The Struggle with the "Invisibles"
1809=1810

If Gallatin's talents as a financier made him invaluable to President Jefferson, his capacities for statesmanship made him nigh indispensable to President Madison. Although Jemmy Madison, a wizened little applejohn of a man, was a brilliant architect of constitutions and an earnest student of foreign relations, he was woefully vacillating and colorless as a leader of men and captain of a ship of state. His shortcomings were all the more unfortunate because none of the men with whom he surrounded himself--except Gallatin--had the essential qualities that he lacked.

Madison's cabinet was the poorest the nation had had up to that time, with only Gallatin to keep it from being downright bad. The President's selections gave more consideration to geography than to talent. From New England he chose William Eustis, a Boston hospital surgeon, to succeed Dearborn in the War Department. To South Carolina he turned for Paul Hamilton, a gentleman of impeccable family standing who had served as governor with small distinction. From Delaware he continued in office Caesar A. Rodney, whom Jefferson had appointed Attorney General, and whom Gallatin regarded highly as a colleague and a friend. To appease Maryland and its wealthy, imperious Senator Samuel Smith, who had opposed his nomination, he chose Robert Smith to head the State Department; and, as he must have expected, he had to be his own Secretary, making all the important decisions on foreign relations, writing all the important papers.

For Madison as for Jefferson, Gallatin set fiscal policy and wrote the financial paragraphs in the annual Presidential messages to Congress. He continued to advise on the composition of passages on other subjects, although perhaps not to such an extent as under Jefferson.1 In cabinet meetings he was heard with respect on all matters because his long experience

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