James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Albert Gallatin, [ca. 7 March] 1811

From Albert Gallatin

[ca. 7 March 1811]

Dear Sir

I have long & seriously reflected on the present state of things, and on my personal situation. This has for some time been sufficiently unpleasant; and nothing but a sense of public duty and attachment to yourself could have induced me to retain it to this day. But I am convinced that in neither respect can I be any longer useful under existing circumstances.

In a government organised like that of the United States, a government not too strong for effecting its principal object—the protection of national rights against foreign aggressions; and particularly under circumstances as adverse and embarrassing as those under which the United States are now placed; it appears to me that not only capacity & talents in the administration, but also a perfect heart-felt cordiality amongst its members are essentially necessary to command the public confidence, & to produce the requisite union of views and action between the several branches of Government. In at least one of those points your present administration is defective; and the effects already sensibly felt become every day more extensive and fatal. New subdivisions, & personal factions equally hostile to yourself & to the general welfare daily acquire additional strength. Measures of vital importance have been and are defeated: every operation even of the most simple and ordinary nature is prevented or impeded: the embarrassments of Government, great as from foreign causes they already are, are unnecessarily encreased: public confidence in the public councils and in the executive is impaired; and every day seems to encrease every one of those evils. Such state of things cannot last: a radical & speedy remedy has become absolutely necessary. What that ought to be, what change would best promote the success of your administration and the welfare of the U. States, is not for me to say. I can only judge for myself; and I clearly perceive that my continuing a member of the present administration is no longer of any public utility, invigorates the opposition against yourself and must necessarily be attended with an increased loss of reputation to myself.1 Under these impressions, not without reluctance and after having perhaps hesitated too long in hopes of a favorable change, I beg leave to tender you my resignation, to take place at such day, within a reasonable time, as you will think most consistent with the public service. I hope that I hardly need add any expressions of my respect and sincere personal attachment to you, of the regret I will feel on leaving you at this critical time, & of the grateful sense I ever will retain of your kindness to me;

Draft (NHi: Gallatin Papers). Incomplete and possibly not sent. Conjectural date assigned on the assumption that Gallatin probably did not compose this draft until he had received a letter from Joseph H. Nicholson, written on 6 Mar. 1811 (see n. 1). Draft later docketed in an unidentified hand: “Mr. Madison declined receiving Mr. G’s resignation & Mr. Robert Smith Secy. of State was removed from office.”

1On 6 Mar. 1811 Joseph H. Nicholson forwarded to Gallatin a copy of that day’s issue of the Baltimore Whig containing editorial comments, some of which had first appeared in William Duane’s Aurora General Advertiser, attacking both Gallatin and JM. The burden of the attack on Gallatin was to insinuate that the treasury secretary, by virtue of his support for the Bank of the United States and some alleged connections with the Northwest Company, was an agent of British influence. These accusations, Duane observed, were “of serious import,” and he added that the “secretary of the national treasury should be like Caesar’s wife, not merely pure, but unsuspected.” As for JM, the editor of the Whig dismissed him as “a worthy citizen, though destitute of that energy or ‘decision of character,’ so requisite in an executive chief”; and on those grounds he argued that George Clinton would be a better president (Nicholson to Gallatin, 6 Mar. 1811, Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 22).

On 1 and 2 Mar. 1811, as Duane and Irvine were printing their attacks on the administration, JM was visited by two deputations of congressional Republicans, including Henry Clay, William Harris Crawford, and Nathaniel Macon, who apparently urged the president to take action to counter the harmful effects of both the quarrel between Robert Smith and Gallatin and the differences between Smith and JM over foreign policy. Nicholson informed Gallatin that the visits from the deputations “have not had their due weight with Mr. M.,” and he urged the treasury secretary to take further measures in response to the criticisms appearing in the Aurora and the Whig. In a postscript to his 6 Mar. letter Nicholson added: “You will also find in the Whig that the Cabal are beginning their Attack more openly on Mr. Madison, by holding up Clinton. I hope you will shew him the Paper” (Nicholson to Gallatin, 4, 5, and 6 Mar. 1811, ibid., reel 22; Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 5:278).

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