Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 11 October 1809

To Albert Gallatin

Monticello Oct. 11. 09

Dear Sir

I do not know whether the request of M. Moussier, explained in the inclosed letter, is grantable or not. but my partialities in favor of whatever may promote either the useful or liberal arts, induce me to place it under your consideration, to do in it whatever is right, neither more nor less. I would then ask you to favor me with three lines in such form as I may forward him by way of answer.

I have reflected much & painfully on the change of dispositions which has taken place among the members of the cabinet since the new arrangement, as you stated to me in the moment of our separation. it would be indeed a great public calamity were it to fix you in the purpose which you seemed to think possible. I consider the fortunes of our republic as depending, in an eminent degree, on the extinguishment of the public debt, before we engage in any war. because, that done, we shall have revenue enough to improve our country in peace, & defend it in war, without recurring either to new1 taxes or loans, but if the debt shall2 once more be swelled to a formidable size, it’s entire discharge will be despaired of, and we shall be committed to the English career of debt, corruption & rottenness, closing with revolution. the discharge of the debt therefore is vital to the destinies of our government, and it hangs on mr Madison & yourself alone. we shall never see another president & Secretary of the Treasury making all other objects subordinate to this. were either of you to be lost to the public, that great hope is lost. I had always cherished the idea that you would fix on that object the measure of your fame, and of the gratitude which our country will owe to you. nor can I yield up this prospect to the secondary considerations which assail your tranquility. for sure I am, they never can produce any other serious effect. your value is too justly estimated by our fellow citizens at large as well as their functionaries to admit any remissness in their support of you. my opinion always was that none of us ever occupied stronger ground in the esteem of Congress than yourself, and I am satisfied there is no one who does not feel your aid to be still as important for the future as it has been for the past. you have nothing therefore to apprehend in the dispositions of Congress, & still less of the President, who, above all men, is the most interested, & affectionately disposed to support you. I hope then you will abandon entirely the idea you expressed to me, & that you will consider the eight years to come as essential to your political career. I should certainly consider any earlier day of your retirement as the most inauspicious day our new government has ever seen.  in addition to the common interest in this question, I feel particularly for myself the considerations of gratitude which I personally owe you for your valuable aid during my administration of the public affairs, a just sense of the large portion of the public approbation which was earned by your labors & belongs to you, & the sincere friendship and attachment which grew out of our joint exertions to promote the common good, & of which I pray you now to accept the most cordial & respectful assurances.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NHi: Gallatin Papers); at foot of first page: “Mr Gallatin”; endorsed by Gallatin, with comment: “Refers to the intrigues of Rt Smith & Giles against me.” PoC (DLC). Enclosure: J. B. Moussier to TJ, 14 Sept. 1809.

Albert Gallatin (1761–1849), a native of Geneva, Switzerland, immigrated to the United States in 1780 and settled in 1784 in Pennsylvania, which he represented briefly in the United States Senate in 1793 before losing his seat for not meeting the residency requirement, and again in the House of Representatives, 1795–1801, where he quickly established himself as an outspoken and effective critic of Federalist financial policies. In 1801 TJ appointed him secretary of the treasury, a post he retained until 1814. Gallatin was in Europe helping to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent with Great Britain, 1813–15, and he served as minister plenipotentiary to France from 1816–23 and to Britain from 1826–27. He corresponded regularly with TJ, with whom he shared an interest in Native American languages and culture that later culminated with service in 1842 as founder and first president of the American Ethnological Society (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Raymond Walters Jr., Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat [1957]).

TJ sought to dissuade Gallatin from the great public calamity of his resignation as secretary of the treasury. During his August 1809 visit to Monticello with the Madisons, Gallatin had confided to TJ that his disgust with the machinations of a faction headed by his fellow cabinet member Robert Smith and Republican senators Samuel Smith, William Branch Giles, and Michael Leib had led him to consider this option (Walters, Gallatin, 223–5).

1Word interlined.

2PoC: “should.”

Index Entries

  • debt, public; TJ on search
  • Gallatin, Albert; and case of J. B. Moussier search
  • Gallatin, Albert; and W. B. Giles search
  • Gallatin, Albert; considers resigning search
  • Gallatin, Albert; friendship with TJ search
  • Gallatin, Albert; identified search
  • Gallatin, Albert; letters to search
  • Gallatin, Albert; opposes R. Smith search
  • Gallatin, Albert; visits Monticello search
  • Giles, William Branch; and A. Gallatin search
  • Indians; languages search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Family & Friends; friendship with A. Gallatin search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; public debt search
  • language; Indian search
  • Leib, Michael; and A. Gallatin search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Gallatin, Hannah and Albert search
  • Moussier, J. B.; art collection of search
  • Smith, Robert; opposes A. Gallatin search