History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/I:8
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The First Administration of Thomas Jefferson, Part I, Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Organization
In 1801, and throughout Jefferson's Administration, the Cabinet consisted of five heads of department,—the Secretaries of State, of the Treasury, of the Army, and of the Navy, with the Attorney-General. The law business of the government being light, the Attorney-General was frequently absent, and, indeed, was not required to reside permanently at Washington. Rather the official counsel of government than a head of department, he had no clerks or office-room, and his salary was lower than that of his colleagues. The true Cabinet consisted of the four secretaries; and the true government rested in still fewer hands, for it naturally fell within the control of the officers whose responsibility was greatest,—the President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury.
Simple as such a system was, Jefferson found that months elapsed before his new Cabinet could be organized and set at work. Although Madison was instantly nominated and confirmed as Secretary of State, some weeks passed before he arrived in Washington and assumed his duties. Gallatin was supposed to be in danger of rejection by the Senate, and his nomination as Secretary of the Treasury was therefore postponed till the next session. This delay was not allowed to prevent his taking charge of the office; but he was obliged first to make the long journey to his residence on the Monongahela, in southwestern Pennsylvania, in order to arrange his affairs and bring his family to Washington. During the interval between the inauguration and the meeting of his completed Cabinet, Jefferson was left without means of governing. For Attorney-General he selected Levi Lincoln, a lawyer of Worcester County in Massachusetts, who had been recently elected to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives, and, being on the spot, was useful in acting as Secretary of State, or in any other capacity in which the services of a secretary were required. For the War Department the President chose Henry Dearborn, a resident of the District of Maine, then a part of Massachusetts. With such assistance as Lincoln and Dearborn could give, and with the aid of Samuel Dexter the Federalist Secretary of the Treasury, and Benjamin Stoddert the Federalist Secretary of the Navy, who consented to remain for a time, Jefferson slowly set his Administration in motion.
The Navy Department seemed likely to baffle the President's utmost efforts. The appointment was intended for Robert R. Livingston of New York, who refused, then it was offered to Samuel Smith of Maryland, a prominent member of Congress; but General Smith was a merchant, and declined to abandon his business. Next, the place was pressed upon John Langdon of New Hampshire, although New England already supplied two members of the Cabinet. Langdon refusing, the President wrote to William Jones of Philadelphia, a member of the next Congress, who declined. Meanwhile Benjamin Stoddert became weary of waiting, and Samuel Smith consented to perform the duties in order to give the President time for further search. At the end of March, Jefferson left Washington to pass the month of April at Monticello, and on his return, May 1, the Navy Department was still unfilled. Not until July did General Smith succeed in escaping the burden of his temporary duties. Then the President abandoned the attempt to place a man of public importance in the position, and allowed Samuel Smith to substitute in his place his brother Robert, a Baltimore lawyer, whose fitness for naval duties was supposed to consist chiefly in the advice and aid which Samuel would supply.
The appointment of Robert Smith, July 15, completed the Cabinet. Of its five members, only two—Madison and Gallatin—were much known beyond their States. Neither Dearborn nor Lincoln was so strong, either in political or social connections or in force of character, as greatly to affect the course of the Cabinet, and both were too honest to thwart it.
- "General Dearborn is a man of strong sense, great practical information on all the subjects connected with his department, and is what is called a man of business. He is not, I believe, a scholar; but I think he will make the best Secretary of War he have as yet had. Mr. Lincoln is a good lawyer, a fine scholar, a man of great discretion and sound judgment, and of the mildest and most amiable manners. He has never, I should think from his manners, been out of his own State, or mixed much with the world, except on business. Both are men of 1776, sound and decided Republicans; both are men of the strictest integrity; and both, but Mr. Lincoln principally, have a great weight of character to the Eastward with both parties."
Thus Gallatin, March 12, before his own appointment, estimated the characters of his two New England colleagues. The confidence reposed in them was justified by the result. Neither Dearborn nor Lincoln showed remarkable powers, but the work they had to do was done without complaint or objection. No charge of dishonesty, of intrigue, or of selfish ambition was made against them; and they retired from office at last with as much modesty as they showed in entering it, after serving Jefferson faithfully and well.
In some respects Robert Smith was better suited than either Dearborn or Lincoln for a seat in Jefferson's Cabinet. The Smiths were strong not only in Maryland, but also in Virginia, being connected by marriage with Wilson Caty Nicholas, one of the most influential Republican politicians of the State, whose relations with Jefferson were intimate. Robert Smith was a Baltimore gentleman, easy and cordial, glad to oblige and fond of power and show, popular in the navy, yielding in the Cabinet, but as little fitted as Jefferson himself for the task of administering with severe economy an unpopular service. The navy was wholly Federalist in tendencies and composition. The Republican party had always denounced this Federalist creation; and that a navy caused more dangers than it prevented or corrected, was one of the deepest convictions that underlay the policy of Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin. In theory they had no use for a sea-going navy; at the utmost they wanted only coast and harbor defences, sloops-of-war and gunboats. During the four years of the last Administration, of a total expenditure averaging about $11,000,000 per annum, not less than $2,500,000 had been annually spent on the navy. The public debt itself required only about $4,500,000, and the army less than $3,000,000. Economies in the debt were impossible; on the contrary, a mass of deferred annuities was to be met, and some provision must be made for more rapid discharge of the principal. Economies in the civil list were equally impossible; for the Federalists had there wasted little money, and salaries were low. The army and navy could alone be cut down; and since the Western people required regular troops for their defence against the Indians, the most radical reformers hardly ventured to recommend that the army should be reduced much below an aggregate of three thousand rank-and-file. The navy, on the other hand, was believed to be wholly superfluous, and Jefferson was anxious to lay up all the larger ships, especially the frigates.
- "I shall really be chagrined," he wrote from Monticello in April, "if the water in the Eastern Branch will not admit our laying up the whole seven there in time of peace, because they would be under the immediate eye of the department, and would require but one set of plunderers to take care of them. As to what is to be done when everything shall be disposed of according to law, it shall be the subject of conversation when I return. It oppresses me by night and by day, for I do not see my way out of the difficulty. It is the department I understand the least, and therefore need a person whose complete competence will justify the most entire confidence and resignation."
Robert Smith was certainly not such a person as Jefferson described, and his appointment, however suitable in other respects, was not likely to attainb the object which Jefferson had at heart.
Hardly was the Navy Department thus bestowed, and the new Cabinet, toward the middle of July, completely organized for the work that was still to be defined, when another annoyance distracted the President's attention from the main objects of his policy. The government had been, for eight years, in the hands of Federalist partisans. If, as Jefferson declared in his Inaugural Address, "we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists;" if differences of opinion were not differences of principle; if he seriously wished all Americans to "restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things,"—he could afford to make few removals for party reasons. On the other hand, if, as he privately declared and as was commonly believed, the actual office-holders were monarchists at heart, and could not be trusted to carry the new Republican principles into practice, the public welfare required great changes. For the first time in national experience, the use of patronage needed some definite regulation.
The most skilful politician must have failed in the attempt to explain that a revolution had been made which ought to satisfy every one, by methods which no one had an excuse for opposing. Jefferson was embarrassed, not so much by the patronage, as by the apparent inconsistency between his professions and his acts concerning it. At first he hoped to make few removals, and these only for misconduct or other sufficient cause. "Of the thousands of officers in the United States," he wrote to Dr. Rush, "a very few individuals only, probably not twenty, will be removed; and these only for doing what they ought not to have done." As these removals began, the outcry of the Federalists grew loud, until the President thought himself obliged to defend his course. The occasion was furnished by the State of Connecticut, where the necessity for a change in office-holders was proved by the temper of the office-holding class. "The spirit in that State," wrote Madison,  July 10, "is so perverse that it must be rectified by a peculiar mixture of energy and delicacy." The spirit of which Madison complained was illustrated, only three days before, by an oration delivered July 7, at New Haven, by Theodore Dwight. The government, said Dwight, which had been established under the auspices of Washington was the sport of popular commotion, adrift without helm or compass in a turbid and boisterous ocean.
- "The great object of Jacobinism, both in its political and moral revolution, is to destroy every trace of civilization in the world, and to force mankind back into a savage state. . . . That is, in plain English, the greatest villain in the community is the fittest person to make and execute the laws. Graduated by this scale, there can be no doubt that Jacobins have the highest qualifications for rulers. . . . We have now reached the consummation of democratic blessedness. We have a country governed by blockheads and knaves; the ties of marriage with all its felicities are severed and destroyed; our wives and daughters are thrown into the stews; our children are cast into the world from the breast and forgotten; filial piety is extinguished, and our surnames, the only mark of distinction among families, are abolished. Can the imagination paint anything more dreadful on this side hell?"
- "If a due participation of office," he said, "is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few; by resignation, none. Can any other mode than that of removal be proposed? This is a painful office, but it is made my duty, and I meet it as such."
The Federalists found much material for ridicule in these expressions, which were certainly open to criticism; but the chief objection was that they admitted an unwilling surrender to the demands of office-seekers.
- "It would have been to me a circumstance of great relief had I found a moderate participation of office in the hands of the majority. I would gladly have left to time and accident to raise them to their just share. But their total exclusion calls for prompter corrections. I shall correct the procedure, but that done, disdain to follow it, shall return with joy to that state of things when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be: Is he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?"
With a degree of deference to his critics which was perhaps unnecessary, and was certainly unfortunate, Jefferson characterized the officials who were to be first removed. "I proceed in the operation," he said, "with deliberation and inquiry, that it may injure the best men least, and effect the purposes of justice and public utility with the least private distress; that it may be thrown, as much as possible, on delinquency, on oppression, on intolerance, on ante-Revolutionary adherence to our enemies." Language so mild soothed and conciliated hundreds of voters who were glad to meet Jefferson's advances, but at the cost of increasing the anger felt by the great mass of Federalists for professions which they believed to be deceptive. For this result Jefferson was probably prepared, but he could hardly have intended that his letter should, by a common accident of politics, serve to create ill-feeling in his own party.
Rules which might suit New England conveyed quite another impression elsewhere. While Jefferson professed tenderness to New England in order to undermine a Federalist majority, nothing of the sort was needed in other States of the Union. New York and Pennsylvania had grown used to the abuse of political patronage, and no sooner had the Republicans wrested these two States from Federalist hands than they rooted out all vestige of Federalist influence. Governor McKean, in Pennsylvania, was arbitrary enough; but when George Clinton, elected Governor of New York in the spring of 1801, came into power, the State government showed no disposition to imitate Jefferson's delicacy or his professions. August 8, 1801, a few weeks after the New Haven letter was written, Governor Clinton called a meeting of the Council which, under the Constitution of New York, had charge of the State patronage. Young De Witt Clinton and his friend Ambrose Spencer controlled this Council, and they were not persons who affected scruple in matters of political self-interest. They swept the Federalists out of every office even down to that of auctioneer, and without regard to appearances, even against the protests of the Governor, installed their own friends and family connections in power.
Had this been all, Jefferson might have ignored it. The difficulties hes encountered in New York were caused not so much by the removal of Federalists, as by unwillingness to appoint Republicans. Jefferson did not like the Clintons, but he liked Aaron Burr still less.The character of Burr was well understood by the party leaders on both sides long before 1800. The Virginians twice refused to vote for him as Vice-President before they were induced to do so in that year. Jefferson himself recorded that he considered Burr as for sale between 1790 and 1800; he even added that the two parties bid against each other in the latter year for the prize. "He was told by Dayton in 1800 he might be Secretary at War; but this bid was too late; his election as Vice-President was then forseen." According to this view the Virginians bought him; but they had no sooner done so than they prayed to be delivered from their bargain; and De Witt Clinton undertook to deliver them, with a tacit understanding, at least on his part, that in 1808 the Virginians must reckon with him for the debt.
Not, therefore, Federalists alone were victims of the scandal in New York. The exhibition of selfish intrigue which centered in New York politics was calculated to startle Jefferson from his confidence in human nature. Burr's overthrow was a matter of offices and public patronage; no principle of reform or pure motive in any person was involved in it. The New York Republicans were divided into three factions, represented by the Clinton, Livingston, and Burr interests; and among them was so little difference in principle or morals, that a politician as honest and an observer as keen as Albert Gallatin inclined to Burr as the least selfish of the three. The Vice-President was popular in the city of New York, and to some extent in the country districts throughout the State. Bad as his morality was understood to be, he had at that time committed no offence that warranted ostracism; but from the moment of Governor Clinton's accession to power, he was pursued and persecuted by the whole Clinton interest.
Burr, aware of the dislike and jealousy with which the Clintons regarded him, had until then depended for a counterbalance on the Livingston interest, of which General Armstrong in the Senate and Edward Livingston in the House were the representatives at Washington; in alliance with them and in accord with Gallatin, he parcelled out the federal patronage of the State. His chief anxiety was to provide offices for his two friends, John Swartwout and Matthew L. Davis; and he succeeded in obtaining for the first the marshalship of New York, for the second a promise of the supervisorship. No sooner did the news of this arrangement reach the ears of De Witt Clinton than he remonstrated, and in a few days drew from President Jefferson a letter addressed to Governor Clinton, which in effect surrendered Burr into the hands of his enemies. "The following arrangement," wrote the President, May 17, "was agreed on by Colonel Burr and some of your senators and representatives,—David Gelson, collector; Theodorus Bailey, naval officer; and M. L. Davis, supervisor." Objections had been made. Would Governor Clinton express his opinion?
In a short time Burr found that the President showed no alacrity for the removal of Federalist officials in New York. Neither Bailey nor Davis was appointed. Bailey, hitherto a friend of Burr, withdrew from his candidacy under a promise, as was supposed, of the postmastership; and Davis was pressed by Burr for the post of naval officer, then held by a Federalist named Rogers, who was charged with adhesion to the British during the Revolution. Within six weeks after Jefferson's letter to Governor Clinton, Burr caught the rumor of some secret understanding, and wrote angrily to Gallatin,—
- "Strange reports are here in circulation respecting secret machinations against Davis. . . . This thing has, in my opinion, gone too far to be now defeated. . . . Davis is too important to be trifled with."
His remonstrances fell on deaf ears. No entreaty, even from Gallatin himself, could thenceforward induce the President to open his mouth on the subject. After waiting two months longer, Davis resorted to the desperate expedient of seeking a personal interview; and early in September undertook the long journey to Monticello, furnished with a strong letter from Gallatin, and supported by a private letter which was stronger still:—
- "I dislike much," wrote the Secretary in this remarkable paper, "the idea of supporting a section of Republicans in New York, and mistrusting the great majority because that section in supposed to be hostile to Burr, and he is considered as the leader of that majority. A great reason against such policy is that the reputed leaders of that section,—I mean the Livingstons generally, and some broken remnants of the Clintonian party who hate Burr,—. . . are so selfish and so uninfluential that they never can obtain their great object, the State government, without the assistance of what is called Burr's party, and will not hesitate a moment to bargain for that object with him and his friends, granting in exchange their support for anything he or they may want out of the State. . . . I do not know that there is hardly a man who meddles with politics in New York who does not believe that Davis's rejection is owing to Burr's recommendation."
Gallatin was not in the secret. Although he was the only Cabinet representative of the Middle States, his advice was neither asked nor followed. Jefferson had decided to let De Witt Clinton have his way, but he explained his intentions neither to Gallatin, Burr, nor to Davis. In reply to Gallatin's remonstrance, he wrote back from Monticello: "Mr Davis is now with me. He has not opened himself. When he does, I shall inform him that nothing is decided, nor can be till we get together at Washington."
That nothing had been decided was not only, as Burr called it, a "commonplace" answer, but was also incorrect. Everything had been decided; and by the time Davis, amid the jeers of the press, rejoined Burr in New York, the results of the Clinton intrigue had become visible. While Jefferson withheld from Burr all sign of support, De Witt Clinton and Ambrose Spencer, acting in unison with the President, detached the Livingstons from Burr's interest. The Chancellor was already provided for. Too important to be overlooked, he was offered and had accepted the mission to France even before the inauguration. Edward Livingston, Burr's friend, was made mayor of New York,—an office then in the gift of the Council, and supposed to be worth ten thousand dollars a year. He also received from Jefferson the appointment of district attorney. The chief-justice and two of the Supreme Court judges were of the Livingston connection. The secretary of state was another of the family, and General Armstrong, one of the senators in Congress, still another. In various meetings of the Council of Appointment during the summer and autumn, the State and city offices were taken from the Federalists and divided between the Clintons and the Livingstons, until the Livingstons were gorged; while Burr was left to beg from Jefferson the share of national patronage which De Witt Clinton had months before taken measures to prevent his obtaining.
That Jefferson and De Witt Clinton expected and intended to drive Burr from the party was already clear to Burr and his friends as early as September, 1801, when Matthew L. Davis forced himself into Jefferson's house at Monticello, while Burr watched the tactics of De Witt Clinton's Council of Appointment. On both sides the game was selfish, and belonged rather to the intrigues of Guelfs and Ghibellines in some Italian city of the thirteenth century than to the pure atmosphere of Jefferson's republicanism. The disgust of Gallatin was deep; but he knew too well the nature of New York politics to care greatly whether Burr or Clinton were to rule, and he was anxious only to stop the use of federal patronage in the interests of party intrigue. The New Haven letter had not pleased him. Within a fortnight after that letter was written, he sent to the President the draft of a Treasury Circular which would not only have stopped the removal of inferior offices, but would have shut them out from active politics. Jefferson declined to approve it. He insisted that one half the tide-waiters and other employees should be changed before he should interfere. Gallatin replied that this had already been done. "The number of removals is not great, but in importance they are beyond their number. The supervisors of all the violent party States embrace all the collectors. Add to that the intended change in the post-office, and you have in fact every man in office out of the seaports." Still Jefferson hung back, and declared that it would be a poor manœuvre to revolt tried friends in order to conciliate moderate Federalists. He could not follow his true instincts; for the pressure upon him, although trifling when compared with what he thus helped to bring on his successors, was more than he could bear. In New York Governor Clinton protested in vain against the abuse of patronage, and from Pennsylvania Governor McKean wrote: "The thirst for office is immoderate; it has become an object of serious attention, and I wish I knew how to check it." The scandalous proceedings of the New York Council of Appointment sharpened the tone of Gallatin, who declared that they disgraced the Republican cause, and sank the Administration itself to a level with its predecessor. With all this, the only removal in New York which Jefferson resolutely resisted, was that of the supposed Revolutionary Tory whose place was asked for Matthew L. Davis by Vice-President Burr.
No other member of the Cabinet offered active support to Gallatin in this struggle against the use of federal patronage. Madison concurred with the President in thinking the proposed Treasury Circular premature. Nevertheless the Secretary of State made no changes in the bureaus of his department, although these were full of zealous Federalists. Not even the chief clerk, Jacob Wagner, was removed, as bitter a Federalist as any in the United States, whose presence in the office was a disadvantage if not a danger to the Government. When Duane came to Washington, after the New York removals had begun, and urged sweeping measures of change, he was coldly received at the State and Treasury departments, which gave him contracts for supplying paper, but declined to give him offices; and Duane returned to Philadelphia bearing toward Madison and Gallatin a grudge which he never forgot, and which, like that of Burr, was destined in due time to envenom a party schism.
Although these disputes over patronage seemed to require more of the President's thoughts than were exacted by the study of general policy, the task of government was not severe. After passing the month of April at Monticello, Jefferson was able to rest there during the months of August and September, leaving Washington July 30. During six months, from April to October, he wrote less than was his custom, and his letters gave no clear idea of what was passing in his mind. In regard to his principles of general policy he was singularly cautious.
- "I am sensible," he wrote, March 31, "how far I should fall short of effecting all the reformation which reason could suggest and experience approve, were I free to do whatever I thought best; but when we reflect how difficult it is to move or inflect the great machine of society, how impossible to advance the notions of a whole people suddenly to ideal right, we see the wisdom of Solon's remark,—that no more good must be attempted than the nation can bear, and that all will be chiefly to reform the waste of public money, and thus drive away the vultures who prey upon it, and improve some little on old routines."
- "Levees are done away," he wrote to Macon; "the first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by message, to which no answer will be expected; the diplomatic establishment in Europe will be reduced to three ministers; the army is undergoing a chaste reformation; the navy will be reduced to the legal establishment by the last of this month; agencies in every department will be revised; we shall push you to the utmost in economizing."
His followers were not altogether pleased with his moderation of tone. They had expected a change of system more revolutionary than was implied by a pledge to do away with the President's occasional receptions and his annual speech to Congress, to cut off three second-rate foreign missions, to chasten the army, and to execute a Federalist law about the navy, or even to revise agencies. John Randolph wrote, July 18, to his friend Joseph Nicholson, a member from Maryland: "In this quarter we think that the great work is only begun, and that without a substantial reform we shall have little reason to congratulate ourselves on the mere change of men."
The task of devising what Randolph called a substantial reform fell almost wholly upon Gallatin, who arrived in Washington, May 13, and set himself to the labor of reducing to a system the theories with which he had indoctrinated his party. Through the summer and autumn he toiled upon this problem, which the President left in his hands. When October arrived, and the whole Cabinet assembled at length in Washington, under the President's eye, to prepare business for the coming session, Gallatin produced his scheme. First he required common consent to the general principle that payment of debt should take precedence of all other expenditure. This axiom of Republicanism was a party dogma too well settled to be disputed. Debt, taxes, wars, armies, and navies were all pillars of corruption; but the habit of mortgaging the future to support present waste was the most fatal to freedom and purity. Having fixed this broad principle, which was, as Gallatin afterward declared, the principal object of bringing him into office, a harder task remained; for if theory required prompt payment of the debt, party interest insisted with still greater energy on reduction of taxes; and the revenue was not sufficient to satisfy both demands. The customs duties were already low. The highest ad valorem rate was twenty per cent; the average was but thirteen. Reduction to a lower average, except in the specific duties on salt, coffee, and sugar, was asked by no one; and Gallatin could not increase the rates even to relieve taxation elsewhere. Whatever relief the party required must come from another source.
The Secretary began by fixing the limits of his main scheme. Assuming four Administrations, or sixteen years, as a fair allowance of time for extinguishing the debt, he calculated the annual sum which would be required for the purpose, and found that $7,300,000 applied every year to the payment of interest and principal would discharge the whole within the year 1817. Setting aside $7,300,000 as an annual fund to be devoted by law to this primary object, he had to deal only with such revenue as should remain.
The net receipts from customs he calculated at $9,500,000 for the year, and from lands and postage at $450,000; or $9,950,000 in all. Besides this um of less than ten million dollars, internal taxes, and especially the tax on whiskey-stills, produced altogether about $650,000; thus raising the income to $10,600,000, or $3,300,000 in excess of the fund set apart for the debt.
If taxation were to be reduced at all, political reasons required that the unpopular excise should come first in order of reduction; but if the excise were abolished, the other internal taxes were not worth retaining. Led by the wish to relieve government and people from the whole system of internal taxation, Gallatin consented to sacrifice the revenue it produced. After thus parting with internal revenue to the amount of $650,000, and setting aside $7,300,000 for the debt, he could offer to the other heads of departments only $2,650,000 for the entire expenses of government. Gallatin expected the army to be supported on $930,000, while the navy was to be satisfied with $670,000,—a charge of less than thirty-three cents a head on the white population.
Of all standards by which the nature of Jeffersonian principles could be gauged, none was so striking as this. The highest expenditure of the Federalists in 1799, when preparing for war with France and constructing a navy and an army, was six million dollars for these two branches. Peace with France being made in 1800, the expenses of army and navy would naturally fall to a normal average of about three million dollars. At a time when the population was small, scattered, and surrounded by enemies, civilized and savage; when the Mississippi River, the Gulf region, and the Atlantic coast as far as the the St. Mary's were in the hands of Spain, which was still a great power; when English frigates were impressing American seamen by scores, and Napoleon Bonaparte was suspected of having bought Louisiana; when New York might be ransomed by any line-of-battle ship, and not a road existed by which a light field-piece could be hauled to the Lakes or to a frontier fort,—at such a moment, the people could hardly refuse to pay sixty cents apiece for providing some protection against dangers which time was to prove as serious as any one then imagined them to be. Doubtless the republican theory required the States to protect their own coasts and to enforce order within their own jurisdiction; but the States were not competent to act in matters which concerned the nation, and the immense territory, the Lakes, and the Mississippi and Mobile rivers, belonged within the exclusive sphere of national government.
Gallatin cut down by one half the natural estimate. That he should have done this was not surprising, for he was put in office to reduce debt and taxation, not to manage the army and navy; but he could hardly have expected that all his colleagues should agree with him,—yet his estimates were accepted by the Cabinet without serious objection, and adopted as a practical scale of governmental expenditure. Encouraged by the announcement of peace in Europe, the Secretaries of War and of the Navy consented to reduce their establishments to suit Gallatin's plans, until the entire expense of both branches for the future was to be brought within $1,900,000; while Gallatin on his side made some concessions which saved his estimates from error. The army bore the brunt of these economies, and was reduced to about three thousand men. The navy was not so great a sufferer, and its calculated reductions were less certain.
Gallatin's scheme partially warranted the claim which Jefferson in his old age loved to put forward, that he had made a revolution in the principles of the government. Yet apart from the question of its success, its rigor was less extreme than it appeared to be. Doubtless, such excessive economy seemed to relieve government of duties as well as responsibilities. Congress and the Executive appeared disposed to act as a machine for recording events, without guiding or controlling them. The army was not large enough to hold the Indians in awe; the navy was not strong enough to watch the coasts; and the civil service was nearly restricted to the collection and disbursement of revenue. The country was at the mercy of any Power which might choose to rob it, and the President announced in advance that he relied for safety upon the soundness of his theory that every foreign country felt a vital interest in retaining American commerce and the use of American harbors. All this was true, and the experiment might be called revolutionary, considering the condition of the world; nevertheless there were shades of difference in the arguments on which it rested. Even Jefferson wavered in asserting the permanence of the system, while Gallatin avowedly looked forward to the time when diminished debt and increasing resources would allow wider scope of action. Viewed from this standpoint, the system was less rigid than it seemed, since a period of not more than five or six years was needed to obtain Gallatin's object.
By an unlucky chance the system never became fully established. The first step in foreign affairs taken by the new Administration plunged it into difficulties which soon forced Congress to reimpose taxation to the full amount of the internal taxes. Jefferson had not been three months in power before he found himself, by no fault of his own or of his predecessors, at war with a country against which he was forced to use in his own defence some of those frigates, the construction of which had been vehemently resisted by his party, and which he was anxious only to leave under the care of a score of marines at the Navy Yard in the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. From time immemorial the northern coast of Africa had been occupied by a swarm of pirates who played a dramatic part in the politics and literature of Europe. They figured in the story of Don Quixote as in the lies of Scapin, and enlivened with picturesque barbarism the semi-civilization of European habits and manners through centuries of slow growth. The four Barbary Powers, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, lived by black-mail. So little sense of common interest had the nations of Europe, that they submitted to the demands of those petty Mahometan despots, and paid yearly sums of money, or an equivalent in ships, arms, or warlike stores, in return for which the Barbary Powers permitted them to trade with the ports on the coast and protected their ships and men. The European consuls at Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli intrigued to impose heavier conditions on rival commerce. Following the established custom, the United States had bought treaties with all four Powers, and had during the past ten years appropriated altogether more than two million dollars for the account of ransoms, gifts, and tribute. The treaty with Tripoli, negotiated in 1796, had been observed about three years and a half. The pacha received under it from the United States Government $83,000 in cash and presents. He suddenly demanded more, and when his demand was refused, May 14, 1801, he ordered the consular flagstaff to be cut down, which was his formal declaration of war.
The conduct of the Dey of Algiers was almost as threatening to peace as that of the Pacha of Tripoli; for the Dey compelled Captain Bainbridge to put his frigate, the "George Washington," under Algerine colors and carry an embassy and presents to the Grand Sultan. Rather than take the responsibility of bringing on a war, Bainbridge and Consul O'Brian submitted, under protest, to this indignity; and in October 1800, the United States flag was first seen at Constantinople in this extraordinary company. At the same time, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco were clamorous for money, and gave reason to fear that they would make common cause with Tripoli in the war which the Pacha was declaring.
Under these circumstances, without knowing that war had actually begun, Samuel Smith, as acting Secretary of the Navy, in May, 1801, sent out Commodore Dale in command of a squadron of three frigates and an armed schooner, the "Enterprise," with orders to meet force by force. On her way to Malta, August 1, the "Enterprise" met and destroyed a Tripolitan corsair. Commodore Dale blockaded Tripoli; and his appearance in the Mediterranean inspired Tunis and Algiers with so much respect as caused them to leave the Pacha of Tripoli to his fate, and to accept the presents which their treaties stipulated. Much injury to American commerce was prevented; but Gallatin found a war and a navy fastened on his resources.
That enlightened governments like those of England, France, and Spain should rob and plunder like an Algerine pirate was in theory not to be admitted; but even if they did so, a few frigates could not prevent them, therefore Jefferson, without regard to this partial failure of his system, prepared to meet Congress with confidence in his reforms.
- Life of Gallatin, p. 276.
- Jefferson to S. Smith, April 17, 1801; Jefferson MSS.
- Jefferson to Dr. Rush, March 24, 1801; Works, iv. 382.
- Madison to W. C. Nicholas, July 10, 1801; Nicholas MSS.
- Writings of Jefferson (Ford), viii. 67-70.
- Jefferson's Anas; Works. ix. 207.
- Gallatin to Jefferson, Sept. 14, 1801; Adams's Gallatin, p. 288.
- Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 53.
- Burr to Gallatin, June 28, 1801; Adams's Gallatin, p. 283.
- Gallatin to Jefferson, Sept. 14, 1801; Adams's Gallatin, p. 288.
- Jefferson to Gallatin; Adams's Gallatin, p. 289.
- Burr to Gallatin, March 5, 1802; Adams's Gallatin, p. 289.
- Jefferson to Livingston, Feb. 24, 1801; Jefferson's Works, iv. 360.
- Hammond's Political History, i. 180.
- Gallatin to Jefferson, July 25, 1801; Gallatin's Works, i. 28.
- Jefferson to Gallatin, August 14, 1801; Gallatin's Works, i. 36.
- McKean to Jefferson, August 10, 1801; Jefferson MSS.
- Gallatin to Jefferson, Sept. 12, 1801; Gallatin's Works, i. 47.
- Jefferson to Gallatin, July 26, 1801; Gallatin's Works, i. 29. Gallatin to Jefferson, Sept. 18, 1804; Gallatin's Works, i. 208.
- Gallatin to Jefferson, August 17, 1801; Gallatin's Works, i. 38.
- Jefferson to Walter Jones, March 31, 1801; Works, iv. 392.
- Jefferson to Macon, May 14, 1801; Works, iv. 396.
- Adams's Randolph, p. 51.
- Life of Gallatin, p. 270.