James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Albert Gallatin, [ca. 31] March 1817

To Albert Gallatin

[ca. 31] Mar. 1817

Dear Sir

Notwithstanding the lapse of time, nothing definitive has taken place, in concert with Mr. Hassler, in relation to Mr. Le Sueur.1 Mr. Crawford2 has the subject in hand, and will communicate the result.

I can add but little to the public information which goes to you from the official source,3 and thro’ the press. You will find that specie is at length re-instated in its legitimate functions;4 at which all are rejoicing, except the Banks which were willing to sacrifice justice and the public good to their undue profits. Our Manufactories have had a hard struggle with the glut of imported merchandize. All of them are crippled, some of them mortally; and unless a rise of prices should soon succeed the unexampled depression, the progress made will be in a manner lost, and the work hereafter will have to begin anew. The high price of agricultural products, has co-operated in diverting the attention from Manufactures. We hope however that as these causes are temporary, many who embarked their fortunes in that way, will be able to hold out till a change of circumstances shall bring relief. The appeals made to Congress for a further interposition, have been without effect.5 There is a popular spirit, considerably diffusing itself, which will aid somewhat another experiment at the next session. The proposed reciprocation of the B. W. Inda. navigation Act, was not carried thro’;6 some being unwilling to hazard the market for so much of their high priced produce; others shrinking from the presumed obstinacy of the antagonist, and the tendency of a commercial contest to a more serious one; and others still hoping that a more fair and liberal policy may find its way into the B. Cabinet. This hope is strengthend in some, by the lessons as they view them in the Plaister Act which retaliates that of Nova Scotia;7 and the Navigation Act which applies to G.B. & her imitators, the rule of her General Navigation Act of Chs. II.8 Both of these measures went thro’ with apparent earnestness.

The early part of our Winter was uncommonly mild, the latter part, has been exactly the reverse. I understand however that the Wheat fields generally wear a good aspect. The last Crop of Wheat was good, the quality peculiarly so; and is bringing the farmers the enormous prices of 13-14-15 dolrs. per barrel of flour. The crops of corn were universally and unprecedentedly, bad in the Atlantic States. It sells at from 7 to 10 dolrs. per barrel of 5 bushels. But for the economy which has forced itself into general use, great distress would have been felt; and with that aid the poor are in many places considerably pinched.

I am in the midst of preparations to get to my farm, where I shall make myself a fixture; and where I anticipate many enjoyments, which if not fully realized, will be a welcome exchange for the labors and solicitudes of public life.

Mr. Preston,9 son of Mr. F. Preston formerly a member of Congress, whom an opulent father indulges in spending a little of his wealth in Europe, will wait on you when in Paris.10 He is well spoken of both as to his mind & his principles. Permit [me] to ask your friendly notice of him. With my respectful regards to Mrs. Gallatin, accept for yourself, assurances of my esteem and friendship.

James Madison

Be11 so good as to have the inclosed handed to M. Botta.12 Mr. Fromentin is about to translate & publish his history of the American War.13

RC (NHi: Gallatin Papers); draft (DLC). RC docketed by Gallatin. Day of month not indicated; conjectural day assigned based on the assumption that the letter was written shortly before JM’s departure from Washington on 6 Apr. Minor differences between the copies have not been noted.

1Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770–1843), a Swiss-born mathematician, emigrated to the United States in 1805. He served as acting professor of mathematics at West Point between 1807 and 1809. In 1816, JM appointed him superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, and Hassler directed this work until 1818. In 1830 he was appointed superintendent of weights and measures, and two years later he reassumed direction of the coastal survey, continuing this work until his death (PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 3:42 n. 2). Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1778–1846) was a French naturalist and artist who came to the United States in 1816, where he was employed as curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia until 1825. In 1825 he traveled to New Harmony, Indiana, where he continued his scientific enquiries until his return to France in 1837 (Josephine Mirabella Elliott and Jane Thompson Johansen, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur: Premier Naturalist and Artist [New Harmony, Ind., 1999], 3–7).

2William Harris Crawford (1772–1834), born in Amherst County, Virginia, was brought up and educated primarily in Georgia, from whence he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1807, serving until JM appointed him minister to France in 1813. Crawford resigned that position in 1815, whereupon JM appointed him secretary of war. He served in this post until October 1816 when he was made secretary of the Treasury, a position he held for the remainder of JM’s administration and throughout that of James Monroe. Crawford was a presidential aspirant in 1824 despite an illness which had incapacitated him a year earlier, and which eventually compelled him to leave politics and return to Georgia in 1825. He was appointed judge of the northern circuit superior court of Georgia in 1827 and held that post until his death (Chase C. Mooney, William H. Crawford, 1772–1834 [Lexington, Ky., 1974], ix, 1–4, 13, 50, 73–74, 78–79, 91, 173, 263–68, 302–3, 333–41).

3Albert Gallatin (1761–1849), a Swiss-born congressman from western Pennsylvania, 1775–1801, secretary of the Treasury, 1801–13, and peace commissioner at Ghent, 1814, was U.S. minister to France, 1816–23. The “official source” mentioned in JM’s letter would have been the State Department. Gallatin later served as U.S. minister to Great Britain, 1826–27.

4The suspension of specie payments by banks in most of the United States followed the British attacks on Washington and Baltimore in August 1814. After the Second Bank of the United States was chartered in April 1816, an arrangement was made to resume specie payments in February 1817 (Margaret G. Myers, A Financial History of the United States [New York, 1970], 81–83).

5See, for example, the petitions to Congress of the Philadelphia and Oneida, New York, societies for the promotion of American manufactures as well as others, requesting the adoption of measures “for the encouragement and protection of American manufactures” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States.… (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 14th Cong., 2d sess., 848–51, 1033, 1040).

6Considerable debate took place in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 1817 over a proposed bill “to prohibit all commercial intercourse with ports or places into, or with which the vessels of the United States are not ordinarily permitted to enter and trade.” The bill was aimed at British restrictions on U.S. trade with the West Indies, but after long discussion it was tabled (ibid., 772–840). For a full discussion of the congressional debate and action on the West Indies trade, see F. Lee Benns, “Study No. 56: The American Struggle for the British West India Carrying-Trade, 1815–1830,” Indiana University Studies 10 (1923): 41–46.

7“An Act to regulate the trade in plaster of Paris,” 3 Mar. 1817, prohibited the importation in foreign vessels of plaster of Paris, “the production of any country, or its dependencies, from which the vessels of the United States are not permitted to bring the same article.” This act was passed in retaliation for an act of the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick prohibiting the exportation of plaster of Paris except in British ships (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America.… (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 3:361–62; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States.… (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 14th Cong., 2d sess., 1017, 1057–58). For the history of this controversy, see Gerald S. Graham, “The Gypsum Trade of the Maritime Provinces,” Agricultural History 12 (1938): 209–23.

8“An Act concerning the navigation of the United States,” 1 Mar. 1817, provided that “no goods, wares, or merchandise, shall be imported into the United States from any foreign port or place, except in vessels of the United States, or in such foreign vessels as truly and wholly belong to the citizens or subjects of that country of which the goods are the growth, production, or manufacture.” The measure was designed to be reciprocal, since it did not apply to any nation that had not passed similar regulations, and was modeled on the British Navigation Act of 1651 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America.… (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 3:351–52).

9In the draft, this paragraph begins “Mrs. Madison has introduced to Mrs. Gallatin a son of Mr F. Preston.”

10The phrase “will wait on you when in Paris” does not appear in draft.

11The postscript does not appear in draft.

12Carlo Botta (1766–1837) was an Italian physician exiled to France in 1795. He served in the French army and was the author of Storia della guerra dell’independenza degli Stati Uniti d’America (4 vols.; Paris, 1809), which was translated into English by George Alexander Otis and published in the United States as History of the War of the Independence of the United States of America (3 vols.; Philadelphia, 1820–21) (Jean Tulard, ed., Dictionnaire Napoléon [Paris, 1987], 272).

13Eligius Fromentin (d. 1822) was a French Catholic priest who fled to the United States during the French Revolution and settled in New Orleans where he practiced law. After holding a number of local political offices, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1813 and served until 1819. Apparently, Fromentin did not pursue his plans to translate and publish Botta’s history (Glenn R. Conrad, ed., A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography [2 vols.; New Orleans, 1988], 1:327).

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