Front Page Titles (by Subject) GALLATIN TO JEFFERSON. - The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 1
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GALLATIN TO JEFFERSON. - Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, vol. 1 
The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1879). 3 vols.
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GALLATIN TO JEFFERSON.
New York, 12th September, 1805.
I enclose at last some observations on the Spanish affairs. The anxiety and occasional absence occasioned by the lingering illness of a child I finally lost had prevented my taking a sufficiently comprehensive view of the subject to commit anything to writing, and even now I feel that it is very defective. Accept my congratulations on the Tripolan peace, and my wishes that you may terminate as favorably the Spanish differences.
With sincere attachment and great respect, your obedient servant.
12th September, 1805.
Subjects of difference:
1. Boundaries of Louisiana, East and West.
2. Spoliations, refusal to ratify convention, and French Spanish captures.
Modes of acting:
1. War. 2. Active negotiations. 3. Suspension of discussions.
War.—1. Its justice as it relates to boundaries.
The claim of the United States is not evident, but is derived for the east, by construction, from the Treaty of St. Ildefonso, and rests for the west on the accidental landing of La Salle at St. Bernard, and on the French establishment of the Mississippi being prior to those of Spain east of Rio Norte. It is not presumed that the last object (the west boundary) shall by any one be considered as a just subject of war. To me the claim has always appeared doubtful. The doctrine of European rights to uncivilized countries as derived from discovery and possession is not reducible and never has been reduced to fixed rules. The positive right of discovery extends in this case only to the Mississippi; that of occupancy, beyond what is actually possessed by us on the sea-shore west of that river, is confined to the accidental and transient settlement of La Salle. Crozat’s charter, being a public act acquiesced in by the silence of Spain, gives the most valid title, but embraces only the waters emptying into the Mississippi. On the other hand, the Adayes and Nacogdoches settlement, whatever was its origin (and Spain may assert that it was as legal as that of La Salle), was formed before the short war between the Quadruple Alliance and Spain (the Regent and Alberoni). During that war Pensacola was three times taken and retaken. At the peace it was restored, and Perdido fixed as the boundary of Florida and Louisiana. But, although it does not appear that the western boundary was then fixed, the Adayes settlement was suffered to remain. That acquiescence on the part of France, confirmed by her subsequent silence and by the undisturbed possession and exercise of the rights of sovereignty of Spain during more than forty years (1718-1762), throws such uncertainty on our claims, that a resort to arms for that cause will, I think, appear unjustifiable in the opinion of mankind and even of America. That we have still an undefined claim is true; this may, when a proper opportunity shall offer, be used for the purpose of obtaining a convenient eastern boundary; for it will certainly be the interest of unbiassed Spain to obtain from us a relinquishment to the country bordering on the Mexico settlements; but if no arrangement should take place on that subject during the present generation, the natural growth of the United States will hereafter naturally enforce the claim to its full extent.
The claim of the United States on the east as far as Perdido is much better founded.
The word “retrocede” is the only expression in the Treaty of St. Ildefonso which countenances the construction of Spain. She insists that that expression confines her cession to so much only as she had received from France. But every other expression and sentence of the treaty supports the construction of the United States. Yet it must again be repeated that the claim is not self-evident, but constructive; and the following considerations seem to render the justice of a war in its support extremely doubtful: 1st. Whether ascribed to policy, or to precipitancy, or to any other cause, it is not less the fact that the acquisition of Louisiana without any fixed boundaries was the act of the United States; for the act of their negotiators is theirs; if they intended at all events to obtain the now disputed territory between Mississippi and Perdido, if they then attached such value to it as to risk a war for securing it, they would not have signed the treaty without placing the subject beyond the possibility of dispute. The manner in which the treaty is drawn betrays either unpardonable oversight or indifference to that object, and a disposition to trust to a mere contingency for securing it. 2dly. Not only we neglected, when the treaty was made, to obtain from France, if not a guarantee, at least an official declaration of what she considered as the boundary of the territory ceded to her by the Treaty of St. Ildefonso, but Spain was not consulted on the subject. If, therefore, a previous explanation had taken place between Spain and France on that subject, however we may complain of the duplicity of France for having withheld such communication, Spain may justly oppose it to our demands. If A purchases from B a tract of land, and the boundaries are not precisely defined by the deed; if by subsequent articles the parties explain the meaning of the deed; if neither the deed nor articles have been made matter of public record; and if afterwards C shall purchase from A on the face of the first deed, and, notwithstanding its want of precision, shall neither ask from A a guarantee or even explanation of the boundaries, nor inquire from B what he had intended to convey; it is true that he may have recourse against A for the deception in not showing the articles, but it is very doubtful whether the disputed land can be recovered from B, who has in the mean while never given possession, and who had even, before C’s purchase was ratified, warned him not to purchase. 3dly. We cannot deny that we had before the ratification of the treaty a knowledge of the intention of the parties to the Treaty of St. Ildefonso, so far as related to the eastern boundaries. For we knew that Laussat was instructed to demand and the Spanish officers to deliver, east of the Mississippi, that part only which is in our possession.
As it relates to the spoliations.—This appears a more just cause of war; and if the original offence was of a recent date, if the refusal to restrain or compensate for the aggressions had been made whilst they continued to exist, the question would certainly become one of policy alone. The conduct of Spain was not, however, at the time considered as a cause of war; and it may be said at this moment that, in the relation in which she then stood towards France, of alliance against an enemy, and of vassalage to that great power, her conduct was a natural consequence of our hostilities with that nation. It is certain that when we were negotiating for the purpose of obtaining reparation for our merchants, we had no idea of going to war in case of failure. It is her refusal to ratify what by the convention itself she had acknowledged as justly due to us which is the cause of offence. And supposing that the other objections of Spain have been removed, the only ground of dispute on this point is the modification which they ask, and which, although they have no right to demand it, amounts only to expressions which, without impairing the reserved rights of either party, shall only prevent a constructive admission of our right by Spain to be inferred from the instrument. The only words to which Spain objects are those which seem, by construction, to convey an idea that she recognizes in the abstract the justice of our claim for French aggressions originating or countenanced in her ports. Is the preservation of those equivocal words which give us very little more than a mere general reservation of the rights of the parties a just cause of war?
That, in case of rupture on the grounds on which we stand, plausible and in some respects solid arguments may be urged in answer to the preceding remarks I have no doubt; but from the nature of the subject, they will be so refined that they cannot carry that conviction of the justice of our cause which is necessary to justify a war in the public opinion and to our own hearts. The high station which American and, I flatter myself, Mr. J.’s administration now occupy in the eyes of other nations, is principally due to the opinion which is entertained of their wisdom, justice, and moderation; and I think it (exclusively of every reason derived from duty) of primary importance that nothing should be done to weaken those favorable impressions; and that if war must be ultimately resorted to, we should previously place the controversy on such ground as will evidently put Spain in the wrong.
2. Its policy.
Whether the issue of a war be favorable or not, some unavoidable consequences must ensue. 1st. We will be shut up from our commercial intercourse with Italy, Spain, France, and Holland. 2dly. Our remaining commerce, particularly with the West and East Indies, will, to a certain extent, be injured. 3dly. Our existing revenue will be diminished. It is not possible to form any precise calculation or even probable estimate of the degree to which we will be injured in those several respects; but it would be a much more favorable conjecture than comports with my view of the subject to suppose that the unavoidable effect of even a successful war on our revenue would be to reduce it to a level with our current peace expenditure (sinking fund, 8 millions; war, navy, foreign intercourse, civil list, and miscellaneous demands, 2½ to 3 millions; in all, 11 millions), and that all the expenses of the war must be supported by loans or new taxes. The extent of those would depend on that of our operations; their nature would be a matter of subsequent consideration. I will only name the principal resources in the order in which they would probably be resorted to. Increase of impost; sales of lands on cheaper terms by wholesale; stamps; direct tax; taxes on manufactures. Our expected gain by the war (I do not speak of the injury done to the enemy) would be the improbable ratification of the convention; a probable establishment of boundaries eastwardly to Perdido, westwardly on just terms; and perhaps the acquisition of Florida. We would at any time, even after a successful campaign, accept of the terms proposed by Mr. Monroe, viz., establish the boundaries of Louisiana and take Florida in exchange of the convention. What are both Floridas worth? For this is exactly what we may gain. What were we willing to give for them? and what would be the cost of one year’s war?—not merely the positive expense, but the national loss?
(Here let it be observed that in case of rupture, it is to be expected that France and Spain will seize or sequester property to an immense amount. Amsterdam, Antwerp, and even Bordeaux, Cadiz, and Leghorn, are filled with our merchants’ property, exclusively of vessels which might be there at the time. With all those nations the American commerce is now carried on with American capital, and the exchange 5 to 10 per cent. in our favor.)
I think that every view of the subject will enforce a conviction that a war, even more successful than our resources render it probable, would, as a matter of calculation, be most unprofitable; and that the only ground on which it can be defended is the necessity of asserting our rights from a fear that passive endurance will provoke a succession of injuries. That there is a point where forbearance must cease cannot be doubted; whether we have reached that point in relation to Spain I doubt; and it may be questioned whether, both as a real injury and as a point affecting the national dignity, the annual blockade of our ports and the perpetual impressment of our seamen be not more essential wrongs than any we have suffered from Spain. But what will be the probable result of a war, and how shall we carry it on? I believe that we may, with our existing military resources, or at least with little addition, take possession of both Floridas, perhaps reach through the wilderness the miserable establishments of Santa Fé and San Antonio, and alarm the outposts of Mexico. But it does not appear to me that we can go beyond that without a waste of treasure and of men which we cannot supply. The taking of Havana, the most decisive stroke for forcing a peace, would require some naval co-operation on the part of the British, an army of fifteen or twenty thousand men, six months’ siege, and from ten to twenty millions of dollars. Vera Cruz might perhaps cost less, but would be less important. If we were not able to take either, peace must depend less on our exertions than on the course which the French government may pursue. If Bonaparte, haughty and obstinate as he is, shall think proper to persevere, notwithstanding our taking Florida, then our fate becomes linked to that of England, and the conditions of our peace will depend on the general result of the European war. And this is one of the worst evils which the United States could encounter; for an entangling alliance, undefined debts and taxes, and in fine a subversion of all our hopes, must be the natural consequence.
Negotiations.—Three advantages may result from a renewal of negotiations in some shape or another: 1st. The hope of a permanent and complete, or at least temporary and partial arrangement, in which last case war will be at least prevented. 2dly. Such modification of our demands as will, in case of refusal, place the justice of our cause on evident ground. 3dly. Some time gained which may enable us to be somewhat better prepared for the conflict. By active negotiations, I meant such as would have for object a complete arrangement of every existing difference; by suspension of discussion, I contemplated some temporary agreement which, without affecting the question, might save the rights and the credit of both nations, leaving the final result to future contingencies. In whatever shape these negotiations may be carried on, they will still relate either to the boundaries or to the convention; to which I would add the subject of new and existing aggressions, especially from Cuba.
1st. Boundaries.—The present moment does not appear favorable for pressing a renewal of negotiations for a final arrangement on that subject. Unless a very unexpected revolution should take place in the political situation of Spain, it seems that such arrangement must depend on France, and that it is with her that we ought to negotiate. But there is so little hope of success with either, that the attempt would only, in all probability, aggravate the evil we mean to parry. Yet, as it is impossible to foresee the fluctuations which may take place in the councils of both nations and the events which may offer a favorable opportunity, it would be prudent to vest our ministers at Paris and Madrid with such powers as may enable them, not to urge a negotiation, but to be ready to enter into one if it shall be offered; and for that purpose an ultimatum may be prepared and sent to them. The terms may be the subject of further consideration; and I will only say that I would think it for the interest of the United States, and no improper relinquishment of their rights, to take the Sabine and Perdido for boundaries on the sea-shore, including always within Louisiana all the waters of the Mississippi. In the mean while two propositions may be made for a temporary arrangement, which had been already suggested to our ministers, but do not seem to have been mentioned by them, viz., a statu quo, and the free navigation of the Mobile.
Statu quo.—Although this seems to be a simple and reasonable demand in the abstract, its application presents some difficulties. 1st. If Spain be sensible that she can strengthen her positions only by increase of military force, whilst we strengthen ourselves by forming new settlements, she may object to a plan which would preclude only her progress and would not affect us. 2dly. If the arrangement should be proposed for the disputed territory only; as the whole is in the possession of Spain, and as we might in the mean while increase our force at New Orleans and in the now disputed part of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, whilst she should be precluded from adding to her posts from Perdido to the Mississippi and to those of Nacogdoches and San Antonio; the conditions would be substantially unequal, since we would then be enabled at any time to take possession of the whole at a single stroke. And, on the other hand, we could not agree generally not to increase our force at New Orleans, &c., nor Spain to a similar condition for Havana, Pensacola, &c.; so that there is an equal difficulty in forming an arrangement which will preclude either party from reinforcing its existing posts, whether that arrangement be confined to the disputed territory or embrace the adjacent establishments. The only proposition which appears practicable is that neither party should form any new military post in advance of what they have, nor particularly between Natchitoches and San Antonio, leaving both at liberty to reinforce all existing military posts. If Spain shall insist that not only new military posts but also new settlements be precluded, the precise lines must be defined, and so save the pride of Spain, by abandoning our right to settle for the present some part of what she acknowledges to be ours; the river Mermenteau or Calcasieu, at her choice (both lie a little east of the Sabine), might be fixed on our side, and the Colorado on hers; but it would be preferable to say nothing about settlements, for it must be recollected that the offer of a desert for fifteen years was intended, in case the western boundary could not be settled, as an inducement for a relinquishment on the part of Spain of her claim to the country between Perdido and Mississippi. For us the condition of no new military post being erected is sufficient, both as an honorable means to extricate ourselves from our present embarrassment and as a matter of security; for, if an arrangement is made, it is not very material that Spain should increase her existing posts, nor will she be very able now to do it. To this there is but one exception: she must not if possible be permitted to erect new posts on the Mississippi, nor to strengthen her works or military force at Baton Rouge. Nor would it be necessary to consider a refusal on the part of Spain to accede formally to the statu quo as a cause of war. For although, if she shall act in such a manner in every respect as to force a war, that refusal will strengthen the justice of our cause; yet, if other matters be arranged, it might be sufficient on that subject to state that we would advance in case they should, leaving to Spain the odium both of the encroachment and of the rupture, if she should think proper to oppose by force such advance on our part.
Mobile.—Although this subject may be mentioned, I would not consider it as an ultimatum, or a refusal on the part of Spain as cause of war: 1st, because its importance is not at present sufficient to run any great risk on that account; 2dly, because the right is not by the law of nations generally acknowledged. It is undoubtedly a natural right, but usage and treaties have modified it amongst European nations in so many different ways, that I believe there is not a single similar case in which the right when used does not rest on prescription or positive treaty. It will also be well to consider that if acceded to by Spain, she will probably claim the same privilege for Baton Rouge; and yet the cases are not similar, since our settlements on Mobile lie within our boundaries as acknowledged by Spain, and Baton Rouge is within the disputed territory.
2d. Convention.—This, under existing circumstances, seems to be the most delicate part of the business. If we insist on it and fail, it leads to a war, and we cannot abandon it altogether without some disgrace, blended as the subject is with the other negotiation. For had it stood alone, our delay during fifteen months to ratify it, by showing that we did not set a very high value on it, would in fact have served as an apology for our not resenting the refusal of Spain to ratify. It was for that reason that I was of opinion last fall that it was better to lose the whole instrument than to accept the modification, nominal as it was, proposed by Spain. But now that the question presents itself under a very different aspect, it seems to me that it is of primary importance, having failed in the other objects, to obtain the ratification even on terms somewhat similar to those proposed by Spain. What I would then suggest is that, demanding in the first place a pure ratification, should no other objection be made by Spain than that of its containing an admission (by inference) on her part of our right to compensation for French spoliations, our minister should accept a ratification with a bien entendu or a declaration in the procès-verbal of the exchange of ratifications, that nothing contained in the instrument shall be construed as a recognition or relinquishment by either party of the claims not provided for, or any other words to that effect.
3d. New aggressions.—These are to a great extent, and afford a just ground for complaint. I am told that the rate of insurance, which is but 3½ per cent. to the British Windward Islands, is from 10 to 15 to Jamaica, and that almost solely owing to the French and Spanish privateers often armed in Cuba, and who uniformly take their prizes there and plunder them. It might not be advisable under other circumstances to take any other measures on this subject than we do in relation to the aggressions of other nations; but it may be proper, particularly if the refusal of Spain to give us any kind of satisfaction on the other subjects shall render a war probable, to press the subject with great force upon them. I think that it will, at all events, have a good effect on the whole negotiation, and in case of rupture will place the justice of our cause on the best possible ground. For then, supposing the other ideas to have been, under proper modifications, adopted, instead of giving for principal cause of the war a dispute for boundaries on which opinions would be divided, and which might lay us under an imputation of ambition, we would say: the boundaries of Louisiana were not fixed; we proposed to Spain that until they were, no new posts should be established by either party, and Spain will not agree to that proposal; Spain had by a convention acknowledged wrongs formerly done by her, and promised compensation; she afterwards objected to the ratification under pretence that some expressions in the instrument might be construed to bind her beyond her intention; we agreed to a modification in the form of ratification which would remove that objection, and she refuses to ratify; not satisfied with former wrongs, she suffers in her ports the most flagrant violation of the law of nations, the plunder without trial and condemnation of our vessels employed in an innocent trade, and she refuses redress. Unless Spain is predetermined to risk a war in order to obtain a positive relinquishment of our claim to the disputed territory, it appears extremely improbable that she would place herself in such awkward situation.
Nothing else has struck me on the subject of negotiations; and I would only add that if it shall appear, which may easily be previously ascertained by our minister, that Spain will ratify the convention in any admissible shape, it would be more eligible to urge each subject by itself, and as entirely unconnected with each other. But if no ratification is expected, all three, convention, statu quo, and new aggressions, should be pressed together on Spain.
Preparations.—Some time will be gained by the negotiation, which if it produces no other advantage than to accumulate two or three millions of dollars in our Treasury, exhausted by the payment of the French bills, will not have been altogether useless. The militia and military preparations, which cost little or nothing, and which might be necessary to take possession at once of both Floridas the moment a rupture should take place, might also be made. But it is principally on Congress that the decision of those points and of all other preparations will rest; and it is even proper to recollect that as the power of making war is constitutionally vested in that body, it is the duty of the Executive to leave it so substantially, and to do no act which may put the peace of the country in jeopardy. This alone should induce particular moderation in the manner of negotiating; and such course being adopted, the next question will be whether the President should lay the subject before Congress at their next session, and if so, in what shape? As it is not doubted, however, that in some shape or another the subject will be communicated to the Legislature, it will be sufficient to examine what preparatory measures can be taken by that body, on the supposition that they will not as yet vote any additional taxes, nor, on the other hand, diminish, as had been contemplated, the existing revenue, but will even for the present, notwithstanding the Tripolan peace, continue the additional duty of 2½ per cent., which, after discharging all current expenditures (including the 8 millions for the sinking fund and 600,000 dollars for the current navy expenses), will leave a probable annual surplus of two millions of dollars.
It is probable that the greater part of that surplus will be applied to the formation of a navy; and if Congress shall decide in favor of that measure, I would suggest that the mode best calculated in my opinion to effect it, and so impress other nations that we are in earnest about it, would be a distinct act enacted for that sole purpose, appropriating for a fixed number of years (or for as many years as would be sufficient to build a determinate number of ships of the line) a fixed sum of money, say one million of dollars annually, which will be about equal to the 2½ per cent. duty heretofore appropriated for the Tripolan war; and in order effectually to prevent the fund being diverted to current, contingent, or other purposes, to place it under the general superintendence of commissioners, in the same manner as the sinking fund, but leaving, of course, the immediate application and direction under that superintendence to the Navy Department. The money to be exclusively applied to the building of ships of the line; for there would still be a sufficient surplus to add immediately a few frigates to our navy. These last might be built by contract within the year; what progress might be made within the same time with the ships of the line I cannot say; but that it would lay the foundation of an efficient navy I have no doubt; and that the act would have a favorable effect on our foreign relations, and even on the pending negotiation, is also certain. Nor indeed, supposing Congress to be at all events averse to a war with Spain for the present, would it be an undignified course to make efficient provision for the preparation of a force that would prevent a repetition of wrongs which the United States did not at this moment feel prepared properly to resent. Whether the creation of an efficient navy may not, by encouraging wars and drawing us in the usual vortex of expenses and foreign relations, be the cause of greater evils than those it is intended to prevent, is not the question which I mean to discuss. This is to be decided by the representatives of the nation; and although I have been desirous that the measure might at least be postponed, yet I have had no doubt for a long time that the United States would ultimately have a navy. It is certain that so long as we have none, we must perpetually be liable to injuries and insults, particularly from the belligerent powers, when there is a war in Europe; and in deciding for or against the measure, Congress will fairly decide the question whether they think it more for the interest of the United States to preserve a pacific and temporizing system, and to tolerate those injuries and insults to a great extent, than to be prepared, like the great European nations, to repel every injury by the sword. The Executive will, from their decision, know the course which it behoves them to pursue in our foreign relations and discussions.
There is another measure which might be adopted by Congress, if they were determined on peace for the present at all events. It would be the appointment of commissioners to settle the claims for Spanish spoliations, showing thereby that though not willing to enforce at this time that just demand, they were determined not to abandon it, and to wait a favorable opportunity to press it. It is on a somewhat similar principle that the British government has lately ordered a distribution of the Spanish prize-money taken before the declaration of war amongst a certain description of merchants who had claims for former captures and contracts against Spain.
I have but one subject more on which to make any observations; it is on the interference of a war with our revenue system, and on the great advantage of a perseverance in the pacific system, if it was only for three or four years longer. Our existing revenue has been calculated to meet our current expenses. Our neutrality and the Tripolan additional duty may give us a surplus of about two millions, which, and it is a very low calculation, I consider as lost in case of war. These two millions alone applied to the building of a navy during the four ensuing years would, with what we have, give us ten or twelve ships of the line besides frigates, a force nearly equal in point of efficiency, considering the superiority of the men, to the Spanish navy. But this is not the most important consideration. Eight millions of our revenue are pledged for the sinking fund until the redemption of the whole debt, with a proviso (designedly inserted that the resources of the nation might not be palsied beyond a certain period) that when the whole debt, the old six per cent. deferred and three per cent. excepted, shall have been paid, there will be no necessity to apply the whole sum of eight millions annually. There now remain to be paid (besides the six, three, and deferred thus excepted) only 6½ millions eight per cent. and about 4 millions foreign, five and half, and navy six per cent. The redemption of those ten millions and half will be effected during the ensuing three years. And from the year 1809 inclusively, we shall not be compelled to pay any more annually than the interest on the remaining debt and annual reimbursement on the six per cent. and deferred stocks, amounting altogether to less than 4½ millions of dollars, and leaving, therefore, 3½ millions of dollars annually, which may be applied either to the purchase of the debt or to more pressing demands, according to circumstances. If the savings or preparations of the three ensuing years be added to the circumstance of having at once three millions and half of dollars annually at our disposal beyond what we now have, and that exclusively of our intermediate growth, the importance of our preserving peace during those three years will be easily understood.