IV. The “Greek Question” As An Issue of U.S. Foreign Policy

C4. A Letter from Albert Gallatin to Henry Clay, Secretary of State

(Tozes, 14) (London]

October 16, 1826
Honorable H. Clay
Secretary of State

The attention of the European Powers is now principally turned towards Spain and Turkey ...

It is generally acknowledged that the late Emperor of Russia, in his anxiety to preserve his influence in Europe and to prevent revolutions in every quarter, interfered in questions in which he had no concern and neglected those objects in which he had the most immediatè [sic] interest. The internal administration of Russia was hardly attended to, gross abuses suffered to pass unheeded and the whole left in a chaotic state. Whilst the real weight and respectability of that country was lessened by the recall of Strogonoff from Constantinople in the first instance and afterwards suffering the relations between Russia and Turkey to remain in the most ambiguous state. Whether from the bias of his mind or taught by the conspiracy of the necessity of paying some respect to the public opinion of his Country, Nicholas has taken different ground.

He avowed from the first his extreme desire to preserve peace with Turkey and a good understanding with the European Powers, but his determination also to put an end to the long protracted indirect negotiations with that country and to propose an ultimatum, which if not accepted to, he would enforce by arms. The moment this was understood, Metternik, who had been the principal cause of the delays, yielded: and, Turkey, through the interference of the Austrian Internuncio, agreed to the conferences of Aker-man. The great outlines of the ultimatum have been correctly stated in the newspapers. It is not, so far at least as relates to the Asiatic fortresses, founded in strict justice; and the conditions respecting Moldavia, Valachia and Servia, though they will tend to give a better protection to the inhabitants that heretofore against Turks and Hospodars, have for immediate object to place those provinces more immediately under Russian influence. Yet, considering the relative situation and strength of the two Empires, that ultimatum may be considered as moderate: it has been acquiesced in and is supported by Great Britain. And, if it should be rejected by Turkey, the immediate occupation of the provinces by Russia and consequent hostilities will not at this time disturb the general European peace. It is impossible, however, to foresee the effect which may be produced by the progress of the war and the new pretentions which success may induce the Russian Cabinet to advance.

On any questions not relating to Spain or Turkey, reasoning from what is the obvious interest of a country, some rational conjecture may be formed of the course its Government may pursue. On this occasion, it is indeed believed and hoped that the Sultan, having destroyed the only force which had heretofore defended Turkey, and thereby weakened the spirit which animated the Musulmen, must be sensible that, however necessary to his safety and perhaps to the preservation of his Empire those violent measure may have been, he is at this moment unable to sustain a foreign war; that time is absolutely requisite for the organization of a new modelled army; and that the Russian ultimatum must at once be accepted. But that he shall thus reason and act there is no certainty: and his answer to the demands of Russia is anxiously expected.

What is not a little remarkable is that, since the death of Alexander and notwithstanding the more decisive like of conduct adopted by his successor towards Turkey, there is better understanding than heretofore, indeed an evident approximation between Great Britain and Russia. One of the first results of this has been an arrangement on the subject of Greece. Of this you may have received more detailed and correct information from St. Petersburg than I can to give you. The object is not the absolute independence of the Greeks, but to preserve them from extermination and to give them protection and security against Turkey, still however recognizing her sovereignty (suzeraineté). How this is to be done, whether this sovereignty is to be purely nominal, as with the Barbary powers, or to be on the model of the Hospodar government of Valachia and Moldavia, I have not been able to ascertain, and is not perhaps finally agreed on. What I understand is that by Greece are meant at least Morea and the Islands, that within those limits there shall be no Turkish troops or authorities, and that the Greeks there shall be governed by a Greek Prince; though Prince Gustavus, the son of the Exking of Sweden has also been spoken of. What grounds there are for believing that the consent of Turkey will be obtained I do not know: but it is intended to compel if necessary the Pacha of Egypt to withdraw from the contest; a step which he is believed not to be indisposed to take, as, notwithstanding his successes, his treasures are exhausted and he has gained nothing but Greek heads and slaves. The measures to be adopted will vary according as peace or war may take place between Russia and Turkey. And although Canning is sincere and feels strong on the question, many delays and difficulties may still occur.

This arrangement was made exclusively between Great Britain and Russia, and after-wards communicated to France. She was not pleased with it and less so with its having been made without her being consulted; but she has, on the whole, concluded within a few days to accede and become a party to it. If this circumstance proves that France is not treated with much respect, it must be allowed that her internal situation is more prosperous than that of any of the other great European Powers, and that she now gov-erns herself free of any foreign influence whatever ...

Although I may have erred in some details, I think that you may rely on the correctness of this general outline of European politics.

I have the honor etc.
(Albert Gallatin)

(Booras, pp. 219-21)

(Hatzidimitriou 281-283)

Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).