A scandal arose involving George Crawford, the Secretary of War, and William Meredith the Secretary of the Treasury , both important members of Zachary Taylor's cabinet.
Galphin Affair for kids: Who was George Galphin?
George Galphin (1708–1780) was a businessman and Native Indian trader who operated as an Indian Commissioner with the Creek tribes. The government licensed traders to have some control in Indian territories and gain a share of this area of highly profitable trade and George Galphin was owner of the Silver Bluff trading post in South Carolina where he also owned other substantial amounts of property including a large plantation. George Galphin rose to political prominence when he loaned the Continental Congress $20,000 towards equipping the fleet of Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). George Galphin died a wealthy man in 1780 owning over 40,000 acres of land in South Carolina and Georgia, a large number of farm animals, and 128 slaves.
Galphin Affair for kids: Claim for Compensation for Services
Following the death of George Galphin in 1780, his estate became involved in protracted litigation (legal proceedings). Due to his trading activities prior to the Revolutionary War, George Galphin was owed money by the Creek Indians. The British had promised to settle these debts but before they could do so war with the United States erupted. There was no chance this type of debt would be paid by the British and Congress therefore took the responsibility of settling such claims. On November 23, 1792 the executor of his estate, William Dunbar, petitioned Congress, on behalf of the Galphin estate, for compensation for debts owed to him. The Senate declined to refer the petition to committee and the claim for compensation was unresolved.
Galphin Affair for kids: Zachary Taylor Administration and the Spoils System
Zachary Taylor served in office from March 4, 1849 to July 9, 1850. Like other previous presidential administrations, it had became custom and practice to operate the 'Spoils System' offering loyal supporters occupational rewards. The problem was that the Spoils System bred corruption.
Galphin Affair for kids: The Galphin Claim is settled
The Galphin claim was still outstanding and was reviewed by congress who passed an act that required the Treasury Secretary who was then William Walker to pay the amount of the original debt. The question of interest that had accrued on the original claim was raised - it amounted to $191,000. William Walker was then replaced by William Meredith as the Secretary of the Treasury who decided that the interest should be paid. The Controller advised against the payment of interest but it was then brought before Attorney General Reverdy Johnson who recommended payment of the interest. It then transpired that Judge Joseph Bryant, the Galphin family's attorney, worked for George Crawford Secretary of War. Judge Joseph Bryant was to receive 50% of any claim settlement against the government and he would provide George Crawford with a share of the money.
Galphin Affair for kids: The Scandal
The amount to be paid by the Treasury in settlement of the Galphin claim soon raised angry questions in Congress. Were other members aware of the settlement? Did the President know? Did they know about the involvement of such influential people and if so, when did they know? The scandal broke and became subject to a congressional investigation. The whole cabinet was questioned. George Crawford testified that President Taylor knew about his stake in the claim. In the midst of the Galphin scandal, President Zachary died on July 9, 1850 and was replaced by vice president Millard Fillmore.
Galphin Affair: Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore immediately replaced members of the cabinet involved in the scandal (William M. Meredith, George W. Crawford and Reverdy Johnson) with new appointments (see Presidential Cabinet of Millard Fillmore). Congress later enacted a law in 1853 prohibiting either members of Congress or government employees from receiving payments for helping to settle claims against the government.