Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Albert Gallatin, 24 December 1801

From Albert Gallatin

Dec. 24. 1801

Dear Sir

I enclose Mr Gerry’s letter—There was, in my opinion, but one way in which he might have saved his brother, and that was to have at once paid the deficiency for which he is, at all events, ultimately responsible as security.

I had seen the attack as to over drawing Heth, & had ascribed it to himself. His vanity is such that he cannot believe that it was his own fault in not making his return in the manner prescribed by regulations of the Treasury. And I found that he had talked so much on the subject that it was well known in Richmond. The fact of the weekly returns being in my possession, & of the data stated in the paragraph are precisely his own statement as contained in his letter to me on the subject, which, as it remains unanswered, until the business shall have been closed, has never been in the possession of any clerk.—Yet I may be mistaken & it may have been written by a clerk—I would not be misunderstood that Heth wrote the piece or wished it written—but only that the information was derived from him.

I am informed that the list of officers of revenue & salaries cannot be extracted under 12 days—they have already been at least 12 days at it.1 Shall we wait that time or give the other officers by themselves?

With sincere respect & affection Your obedient Servant

Albert Gallatin

The words which in my understanding of the idioms would with most precision have conveyed the meaning of the words bien entendu are “it being understood however”—The word “however,” is in that case a better translation of “bien” than “well” would be.—

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received from the Treasury Department on 24 Dec. and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Gerry,” “Heth,” “officers,” and “bien entendu.” Enclosure not found.

His Brother: Samuel R. Gerry, customs collector at Marblehead, was the younger brother of Elbridge Gerry. In August 1801, Gallatin wrote the Marblehead collector “a very pressing letter” about his delinquent accounts. In November, the Treasury secretary ordered Benjamin Lincoln, customs collector at Boston, to head an investigation into the state of the records at the custom house at Marblehead. Gallatin had recently received the results of that inquiry and he sent the report to John Steele so that the account could be compared with the last quarterly figures received from Marblehead. Gallatin noted: “If I understand this rightly, he has applied the public money to his private use. Who are his securities?” Elbridge Gerry, serving as security for his brother, owed the government nearly $6,800 in 1810 (George A. Billias, Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman [New York, 1976], 5, 305–6; Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 6:299; Vol. 35:108, 109n, 587n).

Attack as to Over Drawing Heth: on 14 Dec., the Washington Federalist printed a letter addressed to William Heth, collector at Petersburg, signed by “A Virginian.” The anonymous author had heard from Norfolk and Richmond that on 29 Oct., the Treasury Department drew on the Petersburg collector for $12,000 more than his weekly returns to the Treasury indicated that he had in hand. He asked Heth what would induce the secretary of the Treasury “by overdrawing, to embarrass a public officer, and to bring the character and the credit of the government, in its most tender and vital part, into hazard and disrepute?” and further queried: “Are our fiscal affairs under the guidance of the present wise and frugal administration forced from an inadequacy of funds to resort to such measures to prop the sinking credit of the nation.” The Petersburg collector should not have to protect the Treasury secretary from charges of misconduct or inability to discharge his duties. Heth’s letter to the Treasury secretary on the subject of the overdraft has not been found. On 22 Dec., Heth assured Gallatin that he was not author of the anonymous letter, as he was accused of by “some base, underhanded, & malignant wretch” at Petersburg. Months earlier, Virginia Republicans expressed surprise that Heth had not been removed from office. In 1801, Heth’s fees and commission exceeded $8,000 (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 5:251; 6:294–5; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:274).

Idioms: Gallatin commented on a letter dated 23 Dec. from Washington and signed “Observator” that was printed in the Washington Federalist on 24 Dec. The writer questioned the translation of Bien entendu as “Provided that,” rather than “understanding,” in the president’s 21 Dec. Proclamation on Ratification of the Convention with France, noting that the translation “grossly mistated” Bonaparte’s ratification. “Observator” claimed “that the expunging of the second article of the convention was in effect a renunciation of all claims, on the subject matter of it. The First Consul in his ratification expresses that to be his understanding of the procedure.” Other newspapers commended the Washington Federalist for detecting “a very material error” in the translation (Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 29 Dec.; New-York Evening Post, 30 Dec.; Massachusetts Spy, or Worcester Gazette, 6 Jan. 1802). The president discussed Bonaparte’s proviso in letters to Peter Carr and Stevens Thomson Mason on 25 and 28 Oct., respectively.

1Preceding nine words and figure interlined.

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