Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

20. "Mr. Madison's War"
1812=1813

Usually in the affairs of nations, once the die has been cast for war, action becomes easy; men of all political faiths and economic interests join hands, prepared to sacrifice their lives and their fortunes for the common goal. The experience of the United States following the declaration of war on June 18, 1812, was to be of quite another sort.

Incompetence, cross purposes, and conflicting jealousies spread from the President and the cabinet across the nation. Two days after the declaration Madison, wearing a little round hat and a huge cockade, visited all the offices of the departments of War and the Navy to stimulate the functionaries on duty, in a manner worthy of a commander-in-chief.1 But William Eustis and Paul Hamilton, the amiable incompetents in charge of those departments, were incapable of coping with the situation. As Gallatin observed to his chief later in the year, a little "skill in forming" and "decision in executing" military plans "would save the government several millions."2 He wrote to Jefferson that Eustis's "incapacity" and the "total want of confidence in him" were "felt through every ramification of the public service."3SenatorCrawford of Georgia added his voice, pleading that the cabinet be strengthened.4

When the war was three months old, President Madison belatedly responded. He proposed that Eustis retire from the War Department and Monroe, who had a fine record of Revolutionary War service, succeed him; Gallatin would then move to the State Department and Crawford would succeed him in the Treasury.

But disunity still permeated Congress. "We can hardly rely on carrying any thing," Gallatin complained of the legislature. It was especially true of the Senate on any matter involving himself, for the Smiths, the Gileses, and the Leibs still were there and exerted great influence. "The exchange of places which you suggested," he replied to the President, "would in my opinion, have a most salutary effect on the conduct of the war; but, on mature reflection, I apprehend that it would not satisfy public opinion, and would be more liable to criticism than almost any other

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