Front Page Titles (by Subject) J. Q. ADAMS TO GALLATIN. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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J. Q. ADAMS TO GALLATIN. - 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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J. Q. ADAMS TO GALLATIN.
Washington, 20th March, 1827.
I have received from you several very kind and friendly letters, for which the unremitted pressure of public business during the session of Congress has not permitted me to make the due return of acknowledgment. The march of time, which stays not for the convenience or the humors of men, has closed the existence of that body for the present, and they have left our relations with Great Britain precisely where they were.
The sudden and unexpected determination of the British government to break off all negotiation concerning the colonial trade, and the contemporaneous measure of interdicting the vessels of the United States from all their ports in the West Indies, as well as many others, have taken us so much by surprise that a single short session of Congress has not been sufficient to mature the system by which we may most effectively meet this new position assumed by the colonial monopoly of Great Britain. One of the principal causes of our anxiety to regulate the trade by treaty was the precarious uncertainty of all regulations by legislative enactment; and the necessity, inconvenient in its operation to both parties and necessarily ruinous to numerous individuals, that each party should adapt its laws to the measures of the other. Without going beyond the period of our peace of Ghent, it is obvious that the legislation of Great Britain upon this subject since her first interdict of July, 1815, has been variable as the winds. Our Acts of 1818, of 1820, and of 1823 have been mere expedients on our part, successively applied to her successive changes of position by Act of Parliament or by order in council. For it is observable that the British system of regulation, in this concern, has not even the stability of common or statute law. It is always left to the arbitrary discretion of the King in council, while the unchanging spirit which guided and governed every movement both of Parliament and of the council has been that, distinctly avowed by Mr. Huskisson, of promoting the British navigation and of thwarting and depressing ours. Our preference of negotiation for the adjustment of this complicated and perplexing subject was chiefly because we believed it the most effective means for bringing the parties to a satisfactory result. But the tenor of Mr. Canning’s communications since the British government have reverted to the system of absolute interdict to our shipping has very much the appearance of a purpose the ostensible reason for which was different from the real motive by which it was dictated.
Mr. Canning appears to be very solicitous to impress the idea that Great Britain was ready and willing to meet us on principles of reciprocity, by the offers contained in her Act of Navigation of 5th July, 1825; and that she resorted to the interdict of the order in council of 27th July, 1826, only because we did not immediately accept those offers and conform our legislation to them. But it would be a very unworthy motive for rejecting now a commercial arrangement suited to the interests and promotive of the harmony of both parties, upon the mere ground that it was not accepted at the instant when it was proposed.
At the late session of Congress the disposition was common to all parties in both Houses to accede to the terms upon which the trade was opened by the Acts of Parliament of 5th July, 1825. But on the one hand it was believed that in the acceptance of those terms we conceded great and uncompensated advantages to the British shipping, and that these concessions ought at least to be so limited as to provide for the contingency of their proving to be unavailing; while, on the other, less value was set upon the trade than upon the political convenience of exaggerating its value and descanting upon its loss. Bills for regulating the trade in full conformity with the Acts of Parliament of 5th July, 1825, were introduced into both Houses, and one of them passed both Houses under modifications of amendment upon which they could not agree, and by their difference upon which the bill failed.
This has left upon the Executive the obligation of issuing the proclamation prescribed by the Act of March, 1823, by which our Navigation Acts of 1818 and 1820 are revived. It is understood that by the construction given to the Acts of Parliament and the order in council in the West Indies the produce of the United States will not be admitted even in British vessels from the Swedish and Danish islands. The effect of the double interdict will therefore be tried by fair experiment,—on our part with much reluctance, but because we have no other alternative.
From the state of your negotiation upon the other subjects of interest in discussion between the two governments, as exhibited in your latest despatches and letters, there is little encouragement to expect a satisfactory result regarding them. There are difficulties in the questions themselves; difficulties still more serious in the exorbitant pretensions of Great Britain upon every point; difficulties, to all appearance insuperable, in the temper which Great Britain now brings into the management of the controversy. For the causes of this present soreness of feeling we must doubtless look deeper than to the report of a committee of our House of Representatives, or to the assertion by the late President that the American continents were no more subject to future colonization from Europe. As the assertion of this principle is an attitude which the American hemisphere must assume, it is one which no European power has the right to question; and if the inference drawn from it of danger to existing colonies has any foundation, it can only be on the contingency of a war, which we shall by all possible means avoid. As to the report of Mr. Baylies, if Mr. Canning has not enough upon his hands to soothe the feelings of foreign nations for what he says in Parliament himself, he would think it passing strange to be called to account for offences of that character committed by Mr. Brougham or Mr. Hume. He surely cannot be so ill informed of the state of things existing here as not to know that Mr. Baylies is not the man by whom the sentiments or opinions of this or of the last Administration of the government of the United States were or are wont to be expressed. The origin, rise, and progress of this “Oregon Territory Committee,” of which Mr. Baylies became at last the chairman, is perhaps not known even to you; but you may remember it was the engine by means of which Mr. Jonathan Russell’s famous duplicate letter was brought before the House of Representatives and the nation, and that incident will give you a clue to the real purposes for which that committee was raised, and to the spirit manifested in the report of Mr. Baylies.
Upon the whole, if the same inflexible disposition which you have found prevailing upon the subject of the colonial trade, and of which indications so distinct have been given upon the boundary questions and the navigation of the St. Lawrence, should continue unabated, our last resource must be to agree upon the renewal for ten years of the convention of 1818. This would probably now obtain the advice and consent of the Senate for ratification. On the colonial trade question the opposition here have taken the British side, and their bill in the Senate was concession unqualified but by a deceptive show of future resistance. But you must not conclude that the same spirit would be extended to anything in the shape of concession which you might send to us in a treaty. One inch of ground yielded on the North-West coast, one step backward from the claim to the navigation of the St. Lawrence, one hair’s-breadth of compromise upon the article of impressment, would be certain to meet the reprobation of the Senate. In this temper of the parties, all we can hope to accomplish will be to adjourn controversies which we cannot adjust, and say to Britain, as the Abbé Bernis said to Cardinal Fleuri, “Monseigneur, j’attendrai.”
Your instructions will be forwarded in season that you may be subjected to no delay in bringing the negotiation to an issue; but I regret exceedingly the loss to the public of your continued services. The political and commercial system of Great Britain is undergoing great changes. It will certainly not stop at the stage where it now stands. The interdicting order in council of last July itself has the air of a start backwards by Mr. Huskisson from his own system to the old navigation laws. His whole system is experimental against deep-rooted prejudice and a delusion of past experience. I could earnestly have wished that it might have been consistent with your views to remain a year or two longer in England, and I should have indulged a hope that in the course of that time some turn in the tide of affairs might have occurred which would have enabled us, with your conciliatory management of debatable concerns, to place our relations with Great Britain upon a more stable and friendly foundation.
Your proposal that a troy pound weight of platina should be procured for the use of our mint deserves serious consideration. But I incline at present to the opinion that the copy of a standard weight should be of the same metal as the standard itself. You are aware that the standard platina kilogramme at Paris is of no earthly use except to verify the weight of other standards in vacuo; with all which it disagrees when weighed anywhere but in an exhausted receiver.
There are some other observations in your letters upon which I shall take the opportunity of conferring with you when we meet; remaining in the mean time, with unaltered respect and attachment, your friend.