Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

22. Peace at Ghent
1814

For quality and variety of talents, the five-man commission that entered the Hôtel des Pays Bas early on the afternoon of August 8, 1814, is unsurpassed in the history of American diplomatic relations.1 Ablest of the group in the long, tedious negotiations was Albert Gallatin. This was the first time he had ever represented his adopted land internationally, and, through the spite of the Senate, his name was last instead of first among the commissioners. But at fifty-three he was the eldest and was the ripest in experience with men. He combined a thorough understanding of American temperament and aspirations and an instinctive comprehension of the ways of European courts that reminded perceptive men of Benjamin Franklin.2 His calmness, his tact, his reasoned judgment had already impressed his colleagues; his intense application to detail and his unquestioned devotion to his country were to awe them as the days passed.

Nominal head of the commission was John Quincy Adams, just fortyseven, who had lived much of his life abroad as secretary to his father and as a diplomat in his own right. His intellect as well as his experience qualified him for international negotiation; his personality did not. He once described himself as "a man of reserve, cold, austere, and forbidding manners."3

Ten years younger and--on the surface--temperamentally a world apart was the tall, lanky Kentuckian, Henry Clay. He radiated charm, talked brilliantly, told salty stories, played cards and gamble, and pursued ladies zealously; but, when crossed, he entered into towering rages and brandished a sharp tongue. Clay had come to Ghent to find an acceptable end for a war he had done much to start, and to forward his ambition ultimately to become President. In Gallatin's view, his "great fault" was "that he is devoured with ambition."4

Gallatin's almost constant companion of fifteen months, James A. Bayard, nicknamed "Chevalier" by his colleagues, was counted on to represent the Federalist view at the peace table; of the group, he was coolest

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