Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

29. Political Oracle
1830=1849

During the 1830's such highly inflammable issues as nullification and slavery were concealed if not banished by the dexterity of Andrew Jackson and his followers, and the political wars were fought almost entirely over economic matters. Thus, with but a few exceptions, Gallatin's excursions into public life in his first decade as a private citizen centered about the Bank of the United States and the currency system.

The exceptions involved matters that had concerned him as a diplomatist. In 1829 a State Department emissary called on him for advice on the French spoliation claims. Gallatin advised that the Secretary of State "take five millions if he could get it."1 Two years later Jackson's minister to France worked out an agreement whereby France was to make settlement for the claims outstanding. The French Chamber of Deputies declined to enact authorizing legislation. President Jackson--that "pugnacious animal," Gallatin called him privately--asked Congress in 1834 for authority to take reprisals on French property.

Although a vocal section of the public favored war, Gallatin felt that hostilities must be avoided at almost any cost. "Remember 1798 and how little reliance can be placed on popular excitement when, though there is a just cause for war, there is not sufficient motive for it, as there are strong considerations against it," he wrote to Vice President John C. Calhoun in February, 1835.2 In letters to Congressman Edward Everett of Massachusetts, he drew upon seven years' experience of the French government and French public opinion to show the President's request was ill conceived.3 As Gallatin predicted, the French recoiled from open hostilities. At the last minute they authorized the necessary appropriations and so brought to a happy conclusion a matter that had troubled Franco- American relations for many years.4

The spoliation case was a trifle compared with another unfinished piece of diplomatic business that continued well into the 1840's. In his eighty-second year Gallatin ruefully observed to a friend that he had "be-

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