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.
New Geneva, 26th October, 1823.
Our mail is so slow and irregular that your letter of the 15th reached me only this day. I had already stated that the situation of my affairs rendered my return to Europe extremely improbable. I have found them still more complex and deranged than I had expected, and it is, at all events, impossible that I should return this winter. This would have been communicated to you before now, had I not understood, on leaving Washington, that you would appoint a successor the moment you thought the public service required it, without taking the trouble of writing to me on the subject. It was at least my intention and wish that it should be so.
It would be gratifying to the people of America, and refreshing to the friends of liberty in Europe, to hear the President of the United States publicly reproving the principle of the Spanish war; the only objection is that we have been heretofore silent on similar occasions,—on the aggressions of Europe against republican France, on the invasion by France of Switzerland, Spain, &c.
I expect to have the pleasure of seeing you about the middle of November, as I intend to call at Washington for the purpose of settling my accounts. I remain, in the mean while, with great respect and regard, dear sir, yours.
GALLATIN TO CHANDLER PRICE, AND OTHERS.
Baltimore, February 11, 1824.
I had the honor to receive your polite letter of the 4th instant, and am gratified to find that my endeavors to obtain justice for our fellow-citizens, though unsuccessful, have met with your approbation. The object of my last visit to Washington was to point out those parts of my correspondence with my own government the publishing of which at this time might, in my opinion, have been prejudicial to the interest of the claimants. They consisted of statements of conversations with the French Ministers, in which objections were made by them and answered by me, some of which at least may not be renewed or officially brought forth; of communications of some secret decrees of Bonaparte, which might be urged against some of the claims, but which are not perhaps known to the present French government, and which, at all events, they have been heretofore unable or ashamed to produce; and of informal suggestions for the settlement of our demands, or of my own opinion, given at several times, of the prospect of success to the different classes of claimants, and of the most practicable means to obtain partial redress or to make a general arrangement. As it may, however, be useful to you in the further prosecution of the claims to have some information on the subject, I will try to give it as far as can be done in the compass of a letter.
The principal objections urged verbally and inofficially against the claims were, 1st, that in the conventions imposed on France by the allied powers for indemnities to their subjects, no claim was included of the same description with ours. To this objection I thought it safe and proper to make an official answer, which will be found in the correspondence communicated to Congress; and it has since appeared that in one instance at least (the claim of Fillietaz) a part of one of our own claims has been deemed by the government of the Netherlands to be embraced by the said conventions, and has accordingly been paid. Vessels burnt at sea have also been provided for by those treaties; but, upon the whole, so small a portion of our claims would be embraced by the stipulations in favor of the subjects of the allied powers, that it will be found safer, except in special cases, to rely on the general answer which I first gave.
2dly. That, in similar and cotemporaneous cases, we had obtained no indemnities from England and Naples. Independent of the obvious and general answer that an unjust refusal from those powers did not lessen our claim on France or justify her in pursuing the same course, I observed, with respect to England, that we had actually sought redress against her by war; that, although unable to obtain it by the treaty of peace, we had, by a cotemporaneous declaration, preserved our rights, and had never abandoned them; that it was true that they were nevertheless impaired by the resort to war, whilst the reverse was the fact with respect to France; and finally, that a very considerable, indeed the greater, portion of our claims on France were either for sequestrations without trial or for condemnations by improper authorities (imperial decisions), instead of a trial by the ordinary tribunal in conformity with existing treaties, or for seizures under decrees executed suddenly and without previous notice, or to which a retrospective effect had been given, and in some cases (Antwerp) made although no existing decree could be applied to them; whilst the decrees of England, however unjust and in violation of the law of nations, had at least always been accompanied with proper notice of the time when they would be put in force, had never received a retrospective construction, and had uniformly been carried into effect by the ordinary and previously established courts of admiralty. With respect to Naples, after stating that we had not abandoned our claim on that government and that we considered the ground assumed by it as untenable, I said that the reason assigned by the Neapolitan Ministry for their refusal was such as could not and would not be alleged by France. The reason thus assigned was that the King of the Two Sicilies had never been dethroned, and had, during the whole contest, maintained undisturbed possession of an important part of his dominions (Sicily) and waged constant war against the invaders of the other part; that the possession of his continental dominions by the enemy could, therefore, be only considered as a military occupation, and not as an established government de facto, any more, and for the same reason, than that of Joseph Bonaparte in Spain, which we had never recognized; and that he, the King of the Two Sicilies, having ultimately gained possession of his whole kingdom, was no more responsible for the outrages committed against neutrals by the invaders than he would have been if they had been perpetrated by any enemy whatever that happened to gain possession of part of the country for the period of a single campaign. And it was evident that this argument, such as it was, was wholly inapplicable to the situation of France, to Napoleon, who had for so many years been in the full and undisturbed possession of all its territories, and had been recognized as her sovereign by all the powers of Europe and of the civilized world.
3dly. That the present government of France was not bound to make compensation in cases which had been finally adjudged under Bonaparte’s reign; a position which embraced all the cases of condemnation, and which, as already known to you, it was attempted to extend to all our claims (vessels burnt at sea only excepted) by giving a false construction to the order for transferring the proceeds of sales of sequestered property to the treasury, and pretending that that order was tantamount to a condemnation. This last attempt has been repelled, and will not probably be renewed; but the ground that the actual condemnations are final will certainly be taken. It is obvious enough that when we ask redress from a government and not from their tribunals for injuries arising from flagrant violations of the law of nations, it is preposterous to refuse it because the injury has been consummated, the capture, trial, and condemnation under unlawful decrees being all parts of the same system, to which the final process and decision can give no sanction. The principle, absurd as it is, will nevertheless be maintained, because the French government can avow it without fear of the public opinion in France revolting against it, since it has been uniformly adhered to with respect to their own subjects; the most just claims of French subjects against their own government having, I believe, without exception, been rejected if there had been a decision against them under Bonaparte, or if barred by some of his very unjust acts of limitation. It is proper here to advert to those secret decrees of Bonaparte which have been or may be construed into acts of condemnation and add to the mass of claims attempted to be excluded under this head. Two of these decrees only have come to my knowledge, but there may be more in reserve. The first is the order already alluded to, by virtue of which the proceeds of sales of sequestered property were transferred from the sinking fund to the treasury. Of the existence of that decree the French government is certain, since without it the money could not have been paid, as it actually was, into the treasury; but the men in power, not knowing that it was to be found in, and was only one of the clauses of, a long decree or imperial budget (a species of supplementary appropriation law by which Bonaparte used to enact in council when those of the legislative body proved insufficient), and thinking that it was a distinct act for that special purpose, have not heretofore been able to produce or indeed to discover the text. It is simply an order for the payment into the treasury of the moneys arising from the sales of the American property seized at Antwerp, of that sold at Bayonne (St. Sebastian’s, &c., seizures), and of the American vessels delivered by Holland to France in consequence of a special unpublished treaty; which moneys, together with certain other funds, are by the decree appropriated to defray the additional expenses provided for by the budget. The other secret decree is of a cotemporaneous date with the official communication to Mr. Armstrong that the Berlin and Milan decrees would be revoked on certain conditions in the month of November next ensuing; it embraces all the vessels and cargoes seized in France or in the dominions of her allies subsequent to May, 1809; or, in other words, all the sequestered American property with the exception of that seized in Antwerp; and, under pretence of retaliation, it directs a disposition of the proceeds in terms not amounting to condemnation but susceptible of being so construed. This decree may not be known to the present French government, or they may be ashamed to avail themselves of such a mean and perfidious act; certain it is that it has never been alluded to. It was sent to me from a private but authentic source, and was sent through mistake instead of another document. I have no copy of it, but left one in the archives of the American mission at Paris, and sent one to the Department of State.
4thly. That the seizures at St. Sebastian’s and in Holland were avowedly made in retaliation of the Act of Congress of March, 1809. The fact that such was the pretence set up by Bonaparte cannot be denied; and he never abandoned that ground; at least, it will be found that in the last letter from his Minister of Foreign Affairs to Mr. Armstrong the determination is expressed to try those cases according to the law of retaliation. This ground may probably be taken by the present government of France, but, not having been distinctly avowed, no opportunity offered to discuss it. The answer will be found in the well-established principle that the law of retaliation cannot go beyond its avowed object,—that of obtaining redress for the injury actually sustained, and in the following facts, viz.: 1st, that the Act of Congress complained of was nothing more than a prohibition to import French or English merchandise, or to admit in our ports French or English vessels, accompanied by the usual clause of forfeiture (as in all other revenue laws) in case the law was infringed; which prohibition was an act lawful in itself, forced on the United States by the previous violations of the law of nations by France and England, and inoffensive to either by being made common to both; 2dly, that this Act was communicated to the French government immediately after its passage, without calling any complaint on its part; instead of which, about seven months after that communication, and without any previous notice, the pretended decree of retaliation was issued. It is very clear that had France issued a decree, with proper notice, forbidding the entrance of American vessels in Spanish and other ports in her possession, none would have attempted to enter such ports, and the seizures in question would not have taken place; 3dly, that it is believed (though this fact requires investigation) that not a single French vessel was forfeited under the Act of Congress complained of.
5thly. That the present government of France is not responsible for any of the injuries committed against the Americans by that of Bonaparte. This doctrine, not having been distinctly asserted, has not been discussed; and it is so contrary to the acknowledged law of nations, to the treaties of France with the allied powers, and to the uniform recognition of all the laws and acts of Bonaparte’s government in relation to French subjects and to the internal concerns of France, that it is not probable that it will be officially sustained. Still, the sentiment, half concealed, half avowed, is entertained; and, together with the want of a sense of justice and with the magnitude of the claims, is the real objection to their admission, everything else which has been mentioned being nothing but pretence and evasion. And the most candid of the French Ministers have declared that they would never grant indemnities for condemnations; that such was the mass of injustice committed by Bonaparte that France was unable to make full compensation for it; that the allied powers, with 500,000 men occupying France, had been so sensible of this truth that they had agreed to accept, in full discharge of the indemnities claimed by their subjects, a sum falling very short of their just demands; and that the United States must agree to a transaction founded on similar principles. On this I will only observe that the British subjects were more than compensated in full, and that, as far as I could form an estimate, the subjects of the other powers received on an average about one-half (or perhaps rather more) of their just demands, to which may be added that ours stand, on the whole, on higher grounds in point of justice than many of theirs which were allowed.
You will, from what precedes, form a correct estimate of the difficulties which stood and stand in the way of an arrangement. And you will see by the correspondence that the whole is now arrested by the demand of France that the subject should be treated in connection with the question arising under the 8th Article of the Louisiana convention. I consider the pretension set up by France under color of that article, and her interference in the case of Beaumarchais, as intended only to obtain better terms in the adjustment of the claims of American citizens.
It being ascertained that the French government would not make compensation in the cases of condemnations, and it being impossible that that of the United States should abandon that description of claims, three modes only suggested themselves of coming to a practicable result, viz.:
I. To attempt to obtain, gradually, payment for the claims which France seemed disposed to allow, without entering into any convention, and reserving therefore, unimpaired, the rights of our fellow-citizens in cases not allowed. It was on that ground that the Antwerp claims were first pressed, as the most unexceptionable. Some progress was made; but Mr. de Villèle, as soon as he took up the subject, declared his opposition to any partial payment, and that a transaction must be made for the whole.
II. To accept in full compensation for all our claims a gross sum, to be distributed by commissioners appointed by the government of the United States. It is not probable that the French government will offer a reasonable sum; and the distribution would be very embarrassing to ours. It seems to me that they could and would make no distinction between sequestrations and unlawful condemnations.
III. To refer all the claims to a joint commission, half American, half French, with a stipulation to refer to a foreign sovereign the decision (as to principle, but not for liquidation) of the cases on which the commissioners should disagree.
Mr. Brown is instructed to press again the subject. Should he fail, you may now be able to judge what course it is best for the claimants to pursue. It was in the Antwerp cases that I was asked whether they had not better sell the claim. I advised against it, because the claim seemed irresistible, because there appeared some prospect to obtain payment, and because, if compelled to sell, I wished, considering the means to which the claimants might be compelled to resort, that the transaction might not take place whilst I was minister of the United States to France.
I believe that the correspondence communicated to Congress will supply all the necessary information not contained in this letter, and I think that it would be advisable to have the said correspondence republished in some newspapers, in order to make the scattered claimants acquainted with the state of the business, and in order to produce some national feeling in favor of the claims. Some parts would then also, perhaps, find their way in the French papers; and there is still in France something like a public opinion, which has its weight.
I regret that I had not more consoling information to give you; but it is proper that you should be in possession of the whole subject. The only advantage gained during a negotiation of more than six years (besides removing prejudices of a general nature arising from our war with England, which gave us the unfounded appearance of concert with Bonaparte) is, that France, unable to deny the justice of our claims and to repel our arguments, has declined the discussion; and that, after so long a silence and even the little she has said, it seems impossible that her government should dare hereafter to deny altogether their responsibility, or advance any of those sweeping objections which would embrace the whole of our claims.
You will have the goodness to excuse this scrawl. I have not time to correct and transcribe.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, gentlemen, your most obedient servant.