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GALLATIN TO HENRY CLAY. - 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 HENRY CLAY.
London, December 22, 1826.
I had an interview on the 20th instant with Mr. Canning on the affairs of the Peninsula and its possible consequences. He entered at large on the views of the British government and on the steps which they had been compelled to take. They had repeatedly urged the evacuation of Spain by the French army as anti-British and giving an artificial support to the fanatic party. Mr. de Villèle had declared that the French government was equally desirous that it should speedily take place, and the King had last summer written an autograph letter to Ferdinand announcing that the troops would be withdrawn in April next. But the situation of Spain was such that this desirable measure would in all probability be necessarily protracted. It had then been distinctly announced to France that Great Britain was bound to protect the independence of Portugal, that she would not interfere with purely internal divisions in that country, but must assist it if attacked by or with the connivance of Spain. Measures had accordingly been taken in concert by England and France to prevent any such event happening, in consequence of which the Spanish government had entered into the engagements which I have mentioned in my despatch of October. These had been broken through the ascendency of the Apostolic party, perhaps contrary to the will of Ferdinand and of his Ministry. But those circumstances would explain why the British Ministry waited so late, and until the casus fœderis was perfectly clear, before they resorted to decisive measures.
It is, however, clear that Mr. Canning waited too long. He ought in October to have insisted on the recall of Du Moutiers, the French ambassador at Madrid, a tool of the Congregation party, and whose presence would certainly be considered in Spain as an evidence that France would support the Spanish Apostolic party. And he would have prevented every danger of Spanish co-operation with the Portuguese Anti-Constitutionalists had he sent the British troops to Portugal a month sooner. He was evidently uneasy on two accounts. Those troops might arrive too late; Miguel’s and the Queen Mother’s party is strong; the mass of the people superstitious and ignorant; the army, which has been organized under the Queen’s influence, not to be relied on; the new government not yet well organized. On the other hand, there has been a crisis in Paris, and it was still doubtful whether Villèle or the Congregation would prevail. You will see by this morning’s papers that, according to all appearances, Mr. Canning is relieved from anxiety on that subject, and that the French Ministry will act in concert with him. This, if fully confirmed, will in all probability arrest the Spanish party and prevent a war. But this was not certain on the day of our conference.
After Mr. Canning had concluded what he had to say, and from which his extreme desire that peace might be preserved was evident, I told him that, satisfactory as the views of the British government in that respect appeared to me, yet [it] was by no means certain that actual war between England and Spain could be avoided, and I must call his attention to the consequences such an event might have on the relations between the United States and Great Britain. That was the object of the interview I had asked.
It was, I said, understood between Great Britain and the United States that Cuba should not fall in the hands of either. I did not suspect that even the right which a state of war generally gives to attack the enemy anywhere would make any change in that respect, and that it could be the intention of England to attack the remaining Spanish colonies. “We have already too many,” was Mr. Canning’s observation. Yet when I proceeded to say that it would be satisfactory to have positive assurances to that effect, I received no answer. This induced me to enter more at large on the subject, and to try to impress strongly on his mind that it was impossible that the United States could acquiesce in the conquest by, or transfer of that island to, any great maritime power, and that the new American states, particularly Mexico, would be equally averse to it. All this was expressed in strong but general terms, and as if I took it for granted that England had no such object in view for herself and was disposed to act in concert with us. On that account I added that in the state of dissolution where Spain was, and considering the continued war between her and the new American states, it might be proper to consider whether it was practicable to keep Cuba much longer in that state which we had heretofore considered as the most desirable to England and to us. If not, the question would be, whether the island should be attached to Mexico or Colombia, or whether the white population was strong enough to maintain independence without danger from the blacks. Although I could draw no assurance respecting the views of Great Britain as to herself, Mr. Canning said that the subject was worthy of great consideration, and that he certainly would attend to it. His reluctance to speak more decisively must, perhaps, be ascribed partly to his usual caution, partly to some recollection of what had passed between him and Mr. King in regard to that island. I must add that I have no positive information of the presumed understanding to which I alluded as existing between the two countries on that subject; and that a report in circulation, and communicated to me, that there was an intention on the part of England to occupy Cuba, though probably without foundation, was one of my inducements to speak thus early on that subject.
I then proceeded to observe that there was another subject of the highest importance that might at once bring us into collision in case of an actual war between England and Spain. It was that of impressment. Such were the habits of British naval officers that there was imminent danger that in such an event they would, unless expressly forbidden, renew the practice. I then entered into the subject with great earnestness, and stated that it had been the great and leading cause of the last war, referring in proof to the refusal on our part of consenting to an armistice after the orders in council had been revoked, and to the instructions to make an arrangement on the subject a sine qua non condition of the peace, which had been modified only on account of this having become an abstract question in consequence of the general European peace. I gave a short statement of the argument on the question of right, showing that the practice was contrary to all the principles of the law of nations, as acknowledged by Great Britain, and that it could not be justified, even by the most remote analogy, by any of the belligerent rights claimed by herself. I then exposed the odious manner in which, and inconceivable extent to which, it had been carried, and the universal feeling excited thereby in every American heart. I concluded by saying that all this was intolerable; that no nation would submit to it; that it was impossible we should; and that the renewal of the practice would be considered as a declaration of war.
This and the manner in which it was said appeared to make an impression on Mr. Canning. He immediately asked whether I was not authorized to treat on the subject. I answered that he must have perceived by my powers that I was; but the advances heretofore made by the United States had been so received that my government did not think proper to renew them. I was instructed to that effect, but was authorized to receive and discuss any proposal the British government might make. The urgency of the case, events which had not been contemplated, had induced me to speak to him freely on the subject, in order principally to remind him of its importance, and to induce him to take such measures as those events might render necessary in order to prevent the perhaps fatal consequences that might ensue from pure inadvertence. The conversation ended by an assurance on the part of Mr. Canning that he felt the importance of both subjects (Cuba and impressment), and that he would take them into serious consideration.
It seems now probable that war will not take place between England and Spain. Yet this is not fully ascertained; and even in case it shall be avoided, both the subjects to which that possible event has called our attention, and particularly the last, may become part of the pending negotiations. This induces me to request that I may be put in possession of the views and determination of the President in regard to both.
I have the honor, &c.