Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO MONROE. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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GALLATIN TO MONROE. - Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2 
The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1879). 3 vols.
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GALLATIN TO MONROE.
Paris, 23d April, 1817.
I had an interview on the 13th instant with the Duke de Richelieu, in which he announced to me that he had concluded not to give a written answer to my note of the 9th of November last on the subject of American claims. The claims of the subjects of European powers, which France was by the conventions of 1815 bound to pay, had been estimated at a sum not exceeding at most one hundred and fifty millions of francs (or an annuity of seven and a half millions). But it was now found that the terms thus imposed were much harsher than the French government had expected, or than the allies themselves had intended. The reclamations under the convention with Great Britain did not, indeed, exceed the sum of fifty millions at which they had been estimated; but those of the subjects of Continental powers, filed with the commission appointed for that purpose, exceeded twelve hundred millions, without including a portion of Spanish claims; the time for presenting which has not yet expired. Many of those demands would undoubtedly be rejected or reduced by the commission. Still, the probable amount which might be declared justly due so far exceeded every previous calculation, and was so much beyond the ability of France to pay, that he (the Duke) was now employed in seeking some means of obtaining modifications which might bring the payments in some measure within the resources of the country. Under such circumstances, and whilst unable to face the engagements which superior force had imposed on them, it was, he said, utterly impossible for his Majesty’s government to contract voluntarily new obligations. They were not willing to reject absolutely and definitively our reclamations in toto; they could not at this time admit them. What he had now verbally communicated could not, for many reasons, become the ground of an official answer to my note. He had, therefore, concluded that a silent postponement of the subject was the least objectionable course, since having now made our demand for indemnity in an official manner, the question would be left entire for discussion at some more favorable time, after France was in some degree disentangled from her present difficulties. He added that if there was any apparent inconsistency between the language he had formerly held and what he was now compelled to say, it must be ascribed to the circumstances he had stated, to the extraordinary and frightful amount to which he had lately found other foreign claims to have swelled.
After some remarks on the disappointment which, after what had passed in our first conversations, this unexpected determination must produce, I replied that the payment by France of exaggerated and doubtful claims to the subjects of every other foreign power did but increase the injustice of refusing to admit the moderate and unexceptionable demands of the American citizens. The present embarrassments of France, however increased by the magnitude of these foreign private claims, could form no solid objection to the recognition and liquidation, although they might impede the immediate discharge, of our reclamations. It was with this view of the subject that I had, from the first outset, expressed the disposition of the government of the United States to accommodate that of France as to the time and manner of making compensation to the claimants. I added that his declining to answer my note in writing would, exclusively of other objections, leave no trace of the ground on which he placed the postponement of the subject.
The Duke, without answering my observations in a direct way, gave me to understand that after the great sacrifices to which the King’s Ministers had been compelled to give a reluctant assent, and the magnitude of which would soon be known, they would not dare to take the responsibility of acknowledging a new debt, although made payable at a distant period. He then took new ground, and alluded to the refusal of England and of Naples to give us any indemnity.
On this last point, after having observed that a failure of justice on the part of those nations did not justify a similar conduct on the part of France, I repeated what had already been mentioned in former conversations, that our having made war against England had placed our claim for indemnity on a different footing from that on which we still stood towards France. There is, I added, another material difference with respect to a large mass of claims. England had adopted most illegal and unjustifiable measures towards our commerce; but after having laid down the rule, the application had been left to the ordinary courts of admiralty, and all the property for which we claimed indemnity had been unlawfully but regularly condemned by those courts; a considerable portion of the condemnations in France had been made not by the ordinary tribunal (the council of prizes), but, contrary to the usual course of law, and even to a positive treaty, by the arbitrary order of the Emperor; and we claimed the payment of much property which had not even been condemned, but had only been sequestered.
As to Naples, I reminded the Duke that the ground assumed by that Court was, that having always kept possession of a part of the monarchy, the domination of Murat on the remainder must be considered only as a temporary military occupation, and not as a regular government de facto, for whose acts they could now be made responsible. Even this plea, untenable as it was, could not be urged by France, and I was satisfied that her present government, if resolved to reject our claims, would not give as a reason that they were not answerable for the acts of the former government.
The Duke answered that they might at least say that such was the mass of acts of injustice and of iniquities, to repair which was the legacy bequeathed to the King by that former government, that it had become physically impossible to do complete justice; for necessity was a barrier before which justice itself must stop. Their resources were not sufficient to satisfy every claim, and a superior force had engrossed the whole and put it out of their power to make an equal distribution.
On my mentioning that his Majesty’s government had voluntarily recognized all the engagements previously contracted with French subjects, and which constituted what was called the arriéré, and suggesting that the sequestrations of American property might be considered as coming under that description, which would prevent the necessity of asking a specific credit for that object from the legislative body, he answered that the law would not justify such a construction.
Having exhausted every argument which the occasion suggested, I ended the conference by saying that, as I could not compel him to give me a written answer, I would reflect on the course which it behooved me to pursue, and that probably I would refer the case to my government. He said that he intended to write to Mr. de Neuville to make to you a communication similar to that which he now had made to me.
Had I only listened to my feelings, I would have written to the Duke to demand, at all events, an answer to my note of the 9th of November. But as, after what he had told me, this might have provoked a decisive rejection of our claims, I did not think myself at liberty to adopt a course which might prove so injurious to our fellow-citizens, and place the relations between the two countries on an ineligible footing, without having previously submitted the question to you.
I therefore addressed to him, yesterday, the letter of which a copy is enclosed. Its principal object, as you will perceive, is to put on record the ground on which he had himself placed the postponement of the subject, and to leave the door open to further representations respecting cases of property not condemned, in case you should think it best not to urge further at present the demand for indemnity in all cases.1 I must add that there is still a hope of obtaining hereafter justice in cases of property sequestered or burnt, but that I have not the least expectation that any compensation will ever be made for property which has been definitely condemned. . . .
I regret that my endeavors should not have been attended with better success, and that the versatility of the Duke de Richelieu should have raised expectations which are now disappointed. But had I even anticipated this result, I should nevertheless have thought it necessary to make a formal demand to this government of an adjustment of our claims. For you will be pleased to recollect that, owing to the time necessary to give a new commission near the King to Mr. Crawford, to the ensuing departure of Prince Talleyrand for Vienna, and to the subsequent political events, no opportunity had yet occurred to make that demand since the first restoration of the Bourbons. If longer delayed, and especially at a time when they were liquidating every species of claim, foreign and domestic, it might have been justly viewed as an abandonment of the claims.
[1 ]This note is printed in American State Papers, v. 289 (Foreign Relations).