Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO HENRY A. MUHLENBERG. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
GALLATIN TO HENRY A. MUHLENBERG. - 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 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.