After Van Buren’s success with Britain’s trade disputes, he turned his attention to France. There he faced a taller order. American citizens had financial claims against the French government dating back to the Napoleonic era, and Van Buren was eager to put the issue to rest. Previous administrations had tried to resolve the issue but got nowhere, so the possibility of bringing to an end another long-simmering feud with another one of Europe’s great powers greatly appealed to the ambitious politician. Once again he had to simmer down his boss. If Jackson didn’t like the Brits, he disliked the French even more: “The claims of our citizens,” he said in his first annual message to Congress, could result in “possible collisions between the two Governments.” Van Buren’s hand-picked ambassador to France, William C. Rives, boarded the same Europe-bound boat as British ambassador Louis McLane late in 1829. He met with French officials and after months of negotiations they offered him a deal: the government would pay the claims in return for a reduction in duties on French wines, which must have appealed to the oenophile Van Buren. Rives suggested Van Buren advise the president to tone down the bellicose rhetoric and to say a few kind words about the French in his 1830 annual message. Jackson obliged, lauding the new French monarch, Louis Philippe, and his “enlarged views and pure integrity.” A settlement was signed on July 4, 1831.
The issue dragged on for another five years, but Van Buren paved the way for the resolution. It was another feather in his cap. Van Buren was quickly becoming a star in Jackson’s quarreling cabinet.