Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO GALES & SEATON. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
GALLATIN TO GALES & SEATON. - Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2 
The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1879). 3 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
GALLATIN TO GALES & SEATON.
New York, 27th February, 1846.
I was much gratified by the contents of yours of 21st instant, and of the enclosed memorandum. The only thing in it which seems to me rather objectionable is the apparent inclination to make the action of the Senate to depend too much on the expected accounts from England, which may fluctuate, and should not be permitted to have too much influence.
I have, in the enclosed memorandum, stated freely my views of the subject. It is intrusted to your discretion, and may, if you see fit, be communicated to a member or members of the Senate, but accompanied by my wish that no use be made of my name. I hesitated indeed whether I should write it at all. My essay on that question was addressed to the public at large, and, whilst trying that it should not give any just subject of offence to any one, I used freely the right, which every citizen has, to express my opinion on any public measure. But to give it unasked for to any member of the Senate is quite another question. I have great confidence in, and sincere respect for, that body. Indeed, our hopes are centred in its wisdom; and I pray you to assure him or them, to which you may give a copy of it, that it was addressed to you, and must be considered as a mere suggestion, and not as an obtrusive interference.
With great regard, your friend and servant.
I will thank you to keep me advised now and then of whatever important may occur.
New York, February 27, 1846.
It may be taken for granted that the British government is disposed to renew the negotiations, although the absolute rejection by our government of any arbitration may impede or delay the renewal.
It is impossible to divine the terms of a compromise for dividing the country, to which Great Britain would accede. But I have strong reasons for believing that the line which I suggested is the utmost we can expect at this time, and that she will also insist on the free navigation of the Columbia, for the free exportation and importation of products and merchandise, from and to her territory north of the division line. And I still think that some time is necessary for such subdual of the present excitement, principally in the United States, before any rational hope can be entertained of a successful negotiation.
In the mean while, the great object must be to prevent collisions ultimately productive of war.
The fundamental point on which England has always insisted, for the maintenance of which she is fully committed, from which she will not and cannot recede, is resistance to the exclusive pretensions of the United States, and protection of British interests in Oregon and of British subjects residing therein, until the existing difficulties shall have been definitively settled by an amicable arrangement. The exclusive pretension of the United States alluded to, and which will be resisted, is that of exclusive sovereignty over the territory, or, in other words, the assumption on the part of the United States of jurisdiction over the British subjects residing in Oregon.
The existing convention provides for that object. It contains but one provision which is reciprocal, viz., that the country in question shall, together with its harbors, bays, and creeks, and the navigation of all rivers within the same, be free and open to the vessels, citizens, and subjects of the two powers. Neither power, therefore, can under the convention assume sovereignty or jurisdiction over the vessels, citizens, and subjects of the other.
But the convention neither permits nor forbids anything else. With the single exception of that for which it provides, the rights of both parties will be precisely the same whether the convention remain in force or be abrogated. With that single exception, the United States now have the same right to do all that which they might rightfully do if the convention were abrogated. It is on that account that I have not been able to discover what advantage could accrue to the United States from the abrogation of the convention; unless it was intended as a preliminary step to that assumption of exclusive sovereignty which it forbids.
As, however, a different opinion seems to prevail, and the Senate appears disposed to give the intended notice, but so modified as may promote an amicable arrangement and in the mean while preserve peace, what are the modifications which may answer that double purpose?
The provisions and spirit of the Constitution should be kept steadily in view, and the distinct powers belonging to the President and Congress be equally respected. The power to carry on negotiations with a foreign power is exclusively vested in the President; and all that can be done on the present occasion by the Senate is to express the wish that the negotiations with Great Britain may be renewed, and perhaps to indicate the means by which they may be brought to a favorable issue.
But the power to make war is exclusively vested in Congress; and the President should not be permitted, without its authority, to commence hostilities, or to perform any act towards a foreign power or its subjects which such power has declared it would resist. Such collision is war, or must necessarily lead to war; and the declaration of the President that such is the object in giving the notice, renders it necessary to guard against that contingency.
Independent, therefore, of any modification respecting the course of the negotiations which the Senate may think proper to adopt, it appears to me indispensable for the purpose of preserving peace that some such provision as the following should be added to the resolution for giving the intended notice, viz.:
“That exclusive sovereignty over the Oregon territory or jurisdiction over British subjects residing therein shall not be assumed by the United States unless by virtue of a treaty or of an act of Congress to that effect.”
In this way the respective powers of the President to negotiate, and of Congress to authorize hostilities, would be carefully preserved, and the Executive be only kept within the legitimate limits of his constitutional authority. And Congress, without committing itself, would, in fact, declare that if the negotiations should fail, it was prepared to pursue whatever course might be required by the rights and the interests of the country.
It appears, also, to me that, whilst peace would thus be preserved for the present, the declaration would have a happy influence over the negotiations, inasmuch as it would remove the apparent threat implied in the intended notice without this explanation.