Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO J. Q. ADAMS. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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GALLATIN TO J. Q. ADAMS. - 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 J. Q. ADAMS.
Paris, April 23, 1822.
In several conversations I had with Viscount de Montmorency on the subject of the Antwerp cases, he always evinced a sense of the justice of the claim and a disposition that indemnity should be made. But I have not yet been able to obtain an official answer, and, finding that objections, which were not distinctly stated, were still made by the Department of Finances, I asked Mr. de Montmorency’s permission to confer on the subject with Mr. de Villèle, in order that I might clearly understand what prospect there was of obtaining justice. This was readily assented to, and I had accordingly an interview yesterday with that Minister.
I found that Mr. de Villèle had only a general knowledge of the subject, and had not read my note of 10th January last, to which I referred him, and which he promised to peruse with attention. It appeared, however, to me that, although he was cautious not to commit himself, he was already satisfied, from the inspection of the papers in his Department, and without having seen my argument, that the claim was just, and that the ground assumed by Baron Louis in his letter to Mr. Parish was untenable.
His objections to a payment of the claim at this time, supposing that on a thorough investigation it proved to be just, were the following:
1st. There were no funds at his disposal from which the payment could be made; and it was absolutely necessary that an application should be made to the Chambers for that purpose: a demand which would be very ill received, as it had been generally supposed that France was relieved from every foreign claim of that description.
2dly. Such was [the] amount of wrongs committed by Bonaparte, and the acknowledged impossibility that France could repair them all, that all the European powers, although with arms in their hands and occupying a part of the country, had consented to receive, as a payment in full, a stipulated sum which fell very short of the amount of their claims. The payment thus made by France had therefore been in every instance the result of an agreement (une transaction) founded on equitable principles and on an abandonment on the part of the foreign powers of a considerable part of their claims. It appeared to him impossible that an application for funds could be made to the Chambers for the purpose of satisfying American claims, unless it was also the result of a transaction of a similar nature.
3dly. Even in that case the engagement to pay any sum at this time for that object would, for the reasons already stated, and for many others arising from the change of government, appear extremely hard. The only way to render it palatable was that it should be accompanied by the grateful information that our commercial difficulties were arranged in a satisfactory manner; he regretted, therefore, extremely that the discussion of the two subjects had been separated, one being treated in the United States and the other here; and he asked whether it was probable that the result of the negotiation at Washington would be known at Paris before the next session of the Chambers, which is to take place in June next.
I must say that these observations did not appear to be made with an intention of throwing new obstacles in the way of an adjustment of our claims, but for the purpose of stating the difficulties which this government would have to encounter in any attempt to effect that object. It was not the less necessary to reply [to] suggestions thus made; and I observed, with respect to the delays which had taken place, that they were to be ascribed solely to the French government. It was in consequence of the determination of the Duke of Richelieu, and I referred to my letter to him of the 22d of April, 1817; it was against my opinion, and notwithstanding my strong remonstrances, that the subject had been postponed and that provision was not made for our claims at the same time as for those of subjects of European powers. But I had taken care to remind the Duke of Richelieu, when the communication for the last object was made to the legislative body, that the American claims were not included in the settlement; and he had accordingly expressly stated in that communication that the sum to be voted would discharge France from all demands on the part of the subjects of European powers. This was so well understood that a subsequent grant of seven millions had been voted for the purpose of discharging the Algerine claims. Ours alone remained unsettled; and the Chambers must have expected, and could not therefore be astonished, that an application for that object should also be made to them.
As to the propriety of a convention for the general adjustment of the claims of American citizens, I informed Mr. de Villèle that this was precisely what the United States had asked; and I referred him to my note of the 9th of November, 1816, which to this day remained unanswered. The extraordinary silence of the French government was at least a proof of its reluctance to adopt that mode of settlement; and there was an intrinsic difficulty in what he called a transaction. The United States could have no objection to a partial admission and reimbursement of the claims of their citizens; but they would not, in order to obtain that object, sacrifice other reclamations equally just, and give that general release which France was desirous to obtain in consideration of that partial payment. Under those circumstances, it was a natural and perhaps a more practicable course to press a settlement of those claims which it might be presumed she intended ultimately to pay. To repel this, on the plea that a convention embracing the whole was a preferable mode, was an untenable position so long as our overture having the last object in view remained unanswered.
After having expressed my sincere wishes that an arrangement of our commercial difficulties might soon be effected, and having shown from a recapitulation of what had taken place at the time that the transfer of the negotiations for that object to Washington was owing to the French government, I stated that there was no connection whatever between that and the subject of our claims, and that even when discussed at the same place they had always been treated distinctly. Our reclamations were of much older date, and, not to speak of the former government of this country, they had since the restoration been pending for near four years before any discussion of our commercial relations had commenced. I was ready to acknowledge that it would be at any time an unpleasant duty for his Majesty’s Ministers to be obliged to ask funds for the purpose of repairing the injuries sustained during a former period by the citizens of a foreign nation; and I was sensible that the task would be more easy after the settlement than during the existence of other difficulties. But justice, and our perseverance, on which he might rely, required that the duty, however unpleasant, should at some time be performed; and I was the less disposed to acquiesce in new and vexatious delays on the ground alluded to, because the result of the negotiation was very uncertain. The delay in that respect was also solely due to the French government. They had thrown great obstacles in the way of an arrangement by blending other subjects with that immediately to be attended to. Afterwards they became sensible, in the latter end of September last, that it was necessary to send new instructions to Mr. de Neuville. I had in the month of October made every representation and given all the explanations which could be necessary. Yet the instructions to Mr. de Neuville were not, as I understood, sent till late in January, and had not yet, I believed, been received on the 12th of March. The success of the negotiation depended on the nature of those instructions, with which I was not acquainted. If they produced no favorable result, the consequence would only be that the commerce between the two countries would be lessened and flow through indirect channels, probably to our mutual loss and to the profit of the British manufactures and navigation. But, however this might be lamented, it was only a question of policy. Each of the two nations had a right to regulate her commerce as in her opinion best suited her interest. But with respect to our claims it was a question of right, the consideration of which ought not and could not be abandoned or postponed, even if the commercial relations should continue to be less extensive and less advantageous than they had formerly been or might again become in case a satisfactory arrangement respecting the discriminating duties was made. Whether the result of the negotiation could be known here in June it was of course impossible for me to say.
Mr. de Villèle, having taken memoranda, and promised [to] read the notes to which I had alluded, asked me whether there was any difference between Mr. Parish’s claim (meaning the three vessels consigned to his house) and that for the four other Antwerp ships; to which I answered most decidedly in the negative. He then, having the decree of 22d July, 1810, before him, inquired in what consisted the difference between the Antwerp claims and those for other property sequestered and embraced by the same decree, viz., the St. Sebastian seizures and the vessels given up by Holland. I answered, none whatever in substance, and that the reason why a specific application was made for the Antwerp claims alone in my letter of 10th of January last was that having already demanded indemnity for all the claims in my note of 9th November, 1816, the claimants who relied on the exertions of their government to obtain redress had generally thought it unnecessary to make separate applications. Mr. Parish, however, being on the spot, had urged a special decision in his case, and my government having, for the reasons already stated, acquiesced in that course, the Antwerp claims were in that manner first presented to the consideration of that of France. But I had expressly stated in my note that this was not in any way to be construed as an abandonment of other claims equally just, although their features might not in every respect be precisely the same. Between the Antwerp and the other claims for property sequestered and not condemned I knew none but merely nominal differences. The St. Sebastian vessels and cargoes had been seized and sold under an untenable and frivolous pretence, that of retaliation, to which a retrospective effect had been given. The Antwerp cargoes had been seized and sold without any pretence whatever being assigned for it. In neither case had a condemnation taken place. In both cases we had always claimed restitution or trial before the ordinary competent tribunal. The right to ask for such trial was in both cases derived from the law of nations, and it was for the Antwerp cargoes also founded on positive treaty stipulations.
Mr. de Villèle then said that he intended to shut up that abyss the arriéré, to ask from the Chambers in June the funds necessary for that purpose, and to pledge himself that the sum asked for that purpose would be the last, and would be sufficient to discharge every species of arrears without exception. He had not, he said, sufficiently examined the subject of our claims to give any decisive opinion, but he believed, at all events, that a reasonable indemnity for what had not been definitively condemned was the maximum of what could or should under any circumstances whatever be expected; and even for that he did not mean to commit himself: indeed, the decision belonged to another Department, but he would wish to know, for the purpose above mentioned, what was the aggregate of our claims for property of the last description.
I answered that this was a subject on which I had not sufficient information. I knew indeed generally, but not officially, that the sales of the property included in the decree of 22d July, 1810, amounted to more than fourteen millions of francs; but on that point the records of his own Department would give him the most precise information. Of the value of the vessels burnt at sea I had not any correct estimate. There might be other cases as yet unknown to me which would fall under the same description (of property not condemned). And, upon the whole, I had not in the present stage of the business attended to details of that kind, having been exclusively employed in pressing on the French government the justice of our claims, and having left for a subsequent discussion what related to their amount. I added that he must be sensible that I would not take any step which might be construed into an abandonment of the claims for property unlawfully condemned. He immediately answered that our conversation was not at all official, that he expected nothing of that kind or that would commit me, and he wanted only a rough estimate to guide him in his calculations. But he must say that the amount of sales was not in his opinion the proper basis of a liquidation. It was well known that the continental blockade had raised foreign produce to an extravagant rate, and we could not claim an indemnity for the advance arising from that cause.
I replied that, although I did not intend at this time to enter on the subject of liquidation, it was proper to remind him, 1st, that Bonaparte had, immediately before the sales, laid such extraordinary duties on the property already in port and sequestered that, whilst the Bayonne sales for the property seized at St. Sebastian amounted to about seven, the duties exceeded eight millions, so that the portion of the advance to which he alluded had already been detained by the treasury in the shape of duties; 2dly, that even allowing interest to the claimants would not compensate for the loss arising from the detention of the capital for such a number of years.
It is not as yet possible for me to conjecture what effect the view which Mr. de Villèle seems to have taken of the subject may have on the decision of the present Administration, in which he has very justly a great weight. But should the decision be to open a negotiation for a general settlement of the claims, it may become necessary for you to transmit instructions on the various points with respect to which they had been asked in my despatch No. 67, of the 27th April, 1818.
I have the honor, &c.