Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1848: GALLATIN TO WILLIAM MAXWELL. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
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1848: GALLATIN TO WILLIAM MAXWELL. - 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 WILLIAM MAXWELL.
New York, February 15, 1848.
I write with great difficulty, and I become exhausted when I work more than four or five hours a day. Ever since the end of October all my faculties, impaired as they are, were absorbed in one subject; not only my faculties, but, I may say, all my feelings. I thought of nothing else. Age quod agis: I postponed everything else, even a volume of ethnography which was in the press; even answering the letters which did not absolutely require immediate attention. This is my apology for not having acknowledged sooner your very civil letter of December 20.
I pray you to return my thanks to the Virginia Historical Society for the mark of consideration and kind feelings shown to me by electing me an honorary member. It was most gratifying as coming from Virginia, and specially from Richmond. I need not allude to my intimate political and personal connections and friendship with so many of the most illustrious sons of Virginia during the course of a long public life. There are other recollections of an earlier date. I cannot complain of the world. I have been treated with kindness in every part of the United States where I have resided. But it was at Richmond, where I spent most of the winters between the years 1783 and 1789, that I was received with that old proverbial Virginia hospitality to which I know no parallel anywhere within the circle of my travels. It was not hospitality only that was shown to me. I do not know how it came to pass, but every one with whom I became acquainted appeared to take an interest in the young stranger. I was only the interpreter of a gentleman the agent of a foreign house that had a large claim for advances to the State; and this made me known to all the officers of government and some of the most prominent members of the Legislature. It gave me the first opportunity of showing some symptoms of talent, even as a speaker, of which I was not myself aware. Every one encouraged me and was disposed to promote my success in life. To name all those from whom I received offers of service would be to name all the most distinguished residents at that time at Richmond. I will only mention two: John Marshall, who, though but a young lawyer in 1783, was almost at the head of the bar in 1786, offered to take me in his office without a fee, and assured me that I would become a distinguished lawyer. Patrick Henry advised me to go to the West, where I might study law if I chose, but predicted that I was intended for a statesman, and told me that this was the career which should be my aim; he also rendered me several services on more than one occasion. But I must stop; and if there be some egotism in what I have said, the feelings which I have expressed come at least from a grateful heart.
I remain, with high consideration, dear sir, your obedient and faithful servant.
The secretary of the Ethnological Society of New York will transmit the first volume of its Transactions to the Historical Society of Virginia. The second volume is in the press.
GALLATIN TO GARRETT DAVIS.
New York, February 16, 1848.
I felt highly gratified by the favorable opinion you expressed of my attempt to promote the restoration of peace with Mexico on principles consistent with justice. The war cannot last much longer; but, with regret, I am compelled to say that most of the friends of peace care not what the terms may be, and that many, even of those who think that the war is unjust and was provoked by the United States, are imbued with the notion that our victories and conquests give us a right to extort from Mexico a part of its territory. Even General Taylor, whose military talents I admire, and whose character I respect, expresses a similar opinion in his letter to General Gaines. Have we, then, they say, fought, conquered, covered ourselves with glory, and all that for nothing? Even so; if you will be just, you have won the glory and nothing else. Yet I do not despair; for I have faith in our institutions and in the ultimate prevalence of truth. Indeed, even my essay (seeds thrown to the wind, some of which may fructify) has had a far greater circulation and has met with greater approbation than I had expected; and no one has attempted a direct refutation.
The lessons of history may not altogether be lost. Great Britain came out triumphant at the end of her long war against France, or rather against the French revolution. She was covered with glory, added Malta, the Ionian Islands, as many Dutch and French colonies as she pleased, to her dominion, dictated the conditions of a peace with her victorious army within the walls of her enemy’s metropolis, and, for the sake of France, restored to her the legitimate dynasty. In the mean while she completed the subjugation of an empire,—of India. And what has she in reality gained? An addition of five hundred millions sterling to her former debts, which imposes an enormous weight of oppressive taxation on the people, and has already crippled her resources and her power. And the result of the apparent extension of her commercial monopoly has been to enrich the few, to impoverish the poor, and occasionally to throw one million of people out of employment.
What shall be said of the notion of an empire extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the North Pole to the Equator? Of the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race, of its universal monarchy over the whole of North America? Now, I will ask, which is the portion of the globe that has attained the highest degree of civilization, and even of power,—Asia, with its vast empires of Turkey, India, and China, or Europe, divided into near twenty independent sovereignties? Other powerful causes have undoubtedly largely contributed to that result; but this, the great division into ten or twelve distinct languages, must not be neglected. But all these allegations of superiority of race and destiny neither require nor deserve any answer; they are but pretences under which to disguise ambition, cupidity, or silly vanity.
I would be much gratified by a personal acquaintance with one whose great merit is well known to me. As you express a hope to that effect, it must be by your visiting this city; for now, in my eighty-eighth year, I travel no more. I would feel most happy to see you here, but it must not be deferred. Please to accept the assurance of my most distinguished consideration and personal regard. Your obedient and faithful servant.
GALLATIN TO HENRY A. MUHLENBERG.
New York, May 8, 1848.
A severe cold, which rendered me incapable of attending to any business, has prevented an earlier answer to your letter of the 12th of April.
Although I was at the time probably better acquainted with all the circumstances attending Mr. Jefferson’s election than any other person, and I am now the only surviving witness, I could not, without bestowing more time than I can spare, give a satisfactory account of that ancient transaction. A few observations must suffice.
The only cause of real apprehension was that Congress should adjourn without making a decision, but without usurping any powers. It was in order to provide against that contingency that I prepared myself a plan which did meet with the approbation of our party. No appeal whatever to physical force was contemplated; nor did it contain a single particle of revolutionary spirit. In framing this plan, Mr. Jefferson had not been consulted; but it was communicated to him, and he fully approved it.
But it was threatened by some persons of the Federal party to provide by law that if no election should take place, the Executive power should be placed in the hands of some public officer. This was considered as a revolutionary act of usurpation, and would, I believe, have been put down by force if necessary. But there was not the slightest intention or suggestion to call a convention to reorganize the government and to amend the Constitution. That such a measure floated in the mind of Mr. Jefferson is clear from his letters of February 15 and 18, 1801, to Mr. Monroe and Mr. Madison. He may have wished for such measure, or thought that the Federalists might be frightened by the threat.
Although I was lodging in the same house with him, he never mentioned it to me; I did not hear it even suggested by any one. That Mr. Jefferson had ever thought of such plan was never known to me till after the publication of his correspondence; and I may aver that under no circumstance would that plan have been resorted to or approved by the Republican party. Anti-Federalism had long been dead; and the Republicans were the most sincere and zealous supporters of the Constitution. It was that which constituted their real strength.
I always thought that the threatened attempt to make a President by law was impracticable. I do not believe that if a motion had been made to that effect there would have been twenty votes for it in the House. It was only intended to frighten us; but it produced an excitement out-of-doors, in which some of our members participated. It was threatened that if any man should be thus appointed President by law, and accept the office, he would instantaneously be put to death. It was rumored, and, though I did not know it from my own knowledge, I believe it was true, that a number of men from Maryland and Virginia, amounting, it was said, to fifteen hundred (a number undoubtedly greatly exaggerated), had determined to repair to Washington on the 4th of March for the purpose of putting to death the usurping, pretending President.
It was under those circumstances that it was deemed proper to communicate all the facts to Governor McKean, and to submit to him the propriety of having in readiness a body of militia, who might, if necessary, be in Washington on the 3d of March, for the purpose not of promoting but of preventing civil war and the shedding of a single drop of blood. No person could be better trusted on such a delicate subject than Governor McKean. For he was energetic, patriotic, and, at the same time, a most steady, stern, and fearless supporter of law and order. It appears from your communication that he must have consulted General Peter Muhlenberg on that subject. But subsequent circumstances which occurred about three weeks before the 4th of March rendered it altogether unnecessary to act upon the subject.
There was but one man whom I can positively assert to have been decidedly in favor of the attempt to make a President by law. This was General Henry Lee, of Virginia, who, as you know, was a desperate character and held in no public estimation. I fear, from the general tenor of his conduct, that Mr. Griswold, of Connecticut,—in other respects a very worthy man,—was so warm and infatuated a partisan that he might have run the risk of a civil war rather than to see Mr. Jefferson elected. Some weak and inconsiderate members of the House might have voted for the measure; but I could not designate any one.
On the day on which we began balloting for President, we knew positively that Mr. Baer, of Maryland, was determined to cast his vote for Mr. Jefferson rather than that there should be no election; and his vote was sufficient to give us that of Maryland and decide the election. I was certain, from personal intercourse with him, that Mr. Morris, of Vermont, would do the same, and thus give us also the vote of that State. There were others equally prepared, but not known to us at the time. Still, all those gentlemen, unwilling to break up their party, united in the attempt, by repeatedly voting for Mr. Burr, to frighten or induce some of us to vote for Mr. Burr rather than to have no election. This balloting was continued several days for another reason. The attempt was made to extort concessions and promises from Mr. Jefferson as the conditions on which he might be elected. One of our friends, who was very erroneously and improperly afraid of a defection on the part of some of our members, undertook to act as an intermediary, and, confounding his own opinions and wishes with those of Mr. Jefferson, reported the result in such a manner as gave subsequently occasion for very unfounded surmises.
It is due to the memory of James Bayard, of Delaware, to say that, although he was one of the principal and warmest leaders of the Federal party, and had a personal dislike for Mr. Jefferson, it was he who took the lead, and from pure patriotism directed all those movements of the sounder and wiser part of the Federal party which terminated in the peaceable election of Mr. Jefferson.
Mr. Jefferson’s letter to Mr. Monroe, dated February 15, 1801, at the very moment when the attempts were making to obtain promises from him, proves decisively that he made no concessions whatever. But both this letter, that to Mr. Madison of the 18th of February, and some other of preceding dates afford an instance of that credulity so common to warm partisans, which makes them ascribe the worst motives, and occasionally acts of which they are altogether guiltless, to their opponents. There was not the slightest foundation for suspecting the fidelity of the post.
You may use such portions of this communication as you may think proper for the purpose of correcting or modifying what, in your life of General Peter Muhlenberg, you have to say on that subject. But I pray you to consider this communication, so far as I am concerned, as entirely confidential. My name must not be mentioned as your authority. I have enough to encounter in that which I think it my duty to write concerning the present or future state of the country, and I do not wish to be annoyed in my old age by discussions on past events, to which I attach, indeed, but little importance. When I am no more, you may do what you please with my letter. Permit me to add that, although I have not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with you, there is, on my part, an hereditary friendship for all that bear the revered name of Muhlenberg.
Please to accept the assurance of my high consideration and regard, and believe me to be, dear sir, your faithful and obedient servant.
GALLATIN TO JOHN A. ROCKWELL, M.C.
New York, May 8, 1848.
A severe cold prostrated me and rendered me incapable of attending to any business for seven weeks. But had I even enjoyed good health, I could not have undertaken the task of testing the correctness in all their details of the statements contained in your valuable speech. An impaired memory has compelled me for several years to give up statistics. The facts must be prepared for me, and the only faculty left is that of drawing from these legitimate inferences. I found fault accordingly with the reports of the Secretary of the Treasury as deficient in perspicuity, and as leaving it doubtful whether positive facts, which he ought to have known, were correctly stated. There is enough in your speech sufficiently indisputable to show that he has committed several blunders. I think that he wants an acquirement which is indispensable for a Secretary of the Treasury, a thorough knowledge of book-keeping. I had hoped that the Committee of Ways and Means would investigate the subject thoroughly, and give us a complete and perspicuous statement of the public finances. The most important point, if we have peace, is to ascertain the amount of our public debt.
I pray you to accept the assurance of my most distinguished consideration, and have the honor to be, dear sir, your most obedient servant.
end of volume ii.