Swiss-born Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) was U.S. secretary of the Treasury, as well as a diplomat, banker, and ethnographer.
Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 29, 1761. His father was a prosperous merchant descended from an aristocratic family long politically prominent. Orphaned at the age of 9, Gallatin grew up in the home of a relative. He graduated from the Academy of Geneva in 1779. A young man of the age of the Enlightenment, he was sympathetic to the American Revolution and sailed for America in 1780, happy to be in "the freest country in the universe."
After a winter as a merchant in Maine, and a brief time with the colonial militia, Gallatin tutored in French in Boston in 1781. In 1782 he was appointed a tutor at Harvard College.
In 1783 Gallatin and a Frenchman planned to purchase western land and located an area in Virginia. Gallatin carried out surveying, mapped the interior, and registered land titles until an Indian uprising forced him to retreat. He took an oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1785.
Early Political Career
In 1786 Gallatin bought a 400-acre farm in western Pennsylvania and devoted himself to farming and land development. But his training and talents were unusual on the frontier, and he quickly became a political leader. In 1788 he was elected as a delegate to a meeting to propose amendments to the new U.S. Constitution. In 1789 he attended the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. He was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1790 and reelected the next 2 years. Quickly establishing a reputation for hard work and integrity, Gallatin became a skillful and logical orator. His greatest contribution came in the field of public finance. In 1793 he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican.
However, when Gallatin took his Senate seat, the Federalists challenged his eligibility, based on the fact that he had not applied for citizenship early enough to meet technical citizenship requirements. The Senate ruled against him, and Gallatin returned to Pennsylvania, where the new excise tax on whiskey stills had stirred up the rioting known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Though he opposed the tax, Gallatin also opposed violence and tried to moderate the local militia's use of force. He was largely responsible for persuading his comrades to submit to the new law.
Elected to Congress
Meanwhile, Gallatin had been elected to Congress again. He entered the House of Representatives in 1795 and became the most knowledgeable Republican on public finance. He proposed creation of the Ways and Means Committee—Congress's first permanent standing committee— to receive financial reports from the secretary of the Treasury and to superintend government finances. His A Sketch of the Finances of the United States (1796), a moderate, detailed analysis of the Federalist financial program, argued that a public debt was a public curse. Because the debt had grown since 1790, he proposed several new measures.
When James Madison retired in 1797, Gallatin became the Republican spokesman in the House. He opposed the Federalists' warlike measures against France and, when the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) to silence domestic political opposition, he resisted with powerful arguments defending basic civil liberties.
Secretary of the Treasury
With Thomas Jefferson's presidency in 1800 and the triumph of the Republicans, Gallatin was named to head the Treasury Department. He held this position longer than had any other secretary of the Treasury, serving from 1801 to 1814. Pledged to reduce the national debt and eliminate the excise tax, he projected a plan to pay off the debt by 1817, outlined proposals for appropriations for specified purposes, advocated promotion of manufacturing, and argued for constructing a nationwide network of roads and canals with Federal aid.
For 6 years Gallatin's policies worked. But after 1807 the Embargo Act and other American efforts at peaceful coercion to avoid involvement in the Napoleonic Wars wrecked his policies. Although Gallatin favored rechartering the Bank of the United States in 1811, Congress refused, and America entered the War of 1812 with its monetary system in disarray. The war dealt the final blow to Gallatin's financial system.
President Madison granted Gallatin leave from the Treasury to join John Quincy Adams and James A. Bayard in exploring Russia's offer to mediate in the war. When Great Britain rejected this offer, Madison appointed Gallatin to the commission to negotiate directly with Britain. He became its most influential member. Adams, not much given to praise, rated him as the leading negotiator on both sides. Historian Henry Adams labeled the Treaty of Ghent "the special and peculiar triumph of Mr. Gallatin."
Gallatin continued in diplomatic service for most of the next decade. He served as American minister to France (1816-1823). In 1818 he joined Richard Rush in London to work out a treaty extending earlier commercial agreements, securing American fishing rights off Newfoundland, drawing the northern boundary between Canada and the United States at the 49th parallel, and leaving the Oregon Territory open for joint occupation.
In 1823 Gallatin returned to the United States. Nominated for vice president on the Republican ticket headed by William H. Crawford, he withdrew when Crawford's manager attempted to substitute Henry Clay as the vice-presidential candidate. After Gallatin spent an interlude as a gentleman farmer, President John Quincy Adams appointed him minister to Great Britain in 1826. Gallatin's public career ended with his final report relating to the Maine boundary dispute.
Settling in New York, Gallatin served as president of the National Bank from 1831 until his retirement in 1839. He unsuccessfully supported renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, but he was instrumental in obtaining the resumption of specie payments after their suspension following the economic panic of 1837. Although he criticized high tariffs and advocated free trade, he affirmed Congress's right to levy protective tariffs.
In his last years Gallatin was prominent in cultural affairs. He became president of New York University's council in 1830. In 1836 he was elected to the American Antiquarian Society, and in 1843 he headed the New York Historical Society. However, he devoted most of his attention to the ethnology of the American Indian and founded the American Ethnological Society in 1842.
In 1789 Gallatin had married Sophia Allegre, who died 5 months later. He married Hannah Nicholson in 1793, and they had two sons and three daughters. Gallatin died on Aug. 13, 1849.
A good biography of Gallatin is Raymond Walters, Jr., Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat (1957), though the older study by Henry Adams, The Life of Albert Gallatin (1879), remains useful. Special studies include Frederick Merk, Albert Gallatin and the Oregon Problem: A Study in Anglo-American Diplomacy (1950); Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801-1829 (1951); and Alexander Balinsky, Albert Gallatin: Fiscal Theories and Policies (1958).
Adams, Henry, Albert Gallatin, New York: Chelsea House, 1983.
Aitken, Thomas, Albert Gallatin: early America's Swiss-born statesman, New York: Vantage Press, 1985.
Gallatin, James, The diary of James Gallatin, secretary to Albert Gallatin, a great peace maker, 1813-1827, West Port, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979, 1916.
Kuppenheimer, L. B., Albert Gallatin's vision of democratic stability: an interpretive profile, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996. □
"Albert Gallatin." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/albert-gallatin
"Albert Gallatin." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/albert-gallatin
Gallatin, Albert (1761-1849)
Albert Gallatin (1761-1849)
Economist and politician
Visionary . As the third secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin faced many obstacles. Appointed by the new president, Thomas Jefferson, in 1801, he needed to ensure that the economy flourished while following the dictates of his party, which insisted on less control by the federal government and the country’s financial elite. At the same time he had his own vision of the future of the United States, which included federal aid for the economic development of the Trans-Appalachian West.
Political Origins . Albert Gallatin was born on 12 January 1761 in the Swiss city of Geneva. After acquiring an education, Gallatin left for North America in the spring of 1780 and ended up in Pennsylvania, where he entered politics in 1788 as an Anti-Federalist (one who objected to certain features of the new Constitution). In 1790 he was elected to the Pennsylvania assembly. In 1793 this assembly elected him as one of their U.S. senators (which, at this time, were chosen by state legislatures). However, the Federalists, who felt threatened by Gallatin’s persistent and informed attacks on their agenda, managed to nullify his election to the Senate. Nevertheless, in 1795 Gallatin returned to Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
Secretary of the Treasury . When Jefferson won the presidential election in 1801, he appointed Gallatin secretary of the treasury, a position he held for the next thirteen years. Gallatin helped finance the Louisiana Purchase while still managing to reduce the national debt. Gallatin recommended that the First Bank of the United States be rechartered. Although few people in his party supported the renewal of the national bank, he insisted that this institution, which had both public and private investors, could help stabilize the economy without harming the people of the United States.
Later Career . Because the Charter of the First Bank of the United States was not renewed, Gallatin had various problems funding the War of 1812. Before the war was over Gallatin resigned as secretary of the treasury and went to Europe as an American diplomat. Shortly after he returned in 1823 Gallatin was chosen to run as William Crawford’s vice president in the 1824 election. Because his candidacy created so much controversy, he dropped out of the race. Gallatin spent his remaining years as a diplomat, banker, and ethnologist. He helped prevent a war with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory and, after retiring, studied the cultures of Native Americans. Gallatin died in 1849 in Astoria, New York. He was a close friend of the fur-trade magnate John Jacob Astor.
Need for Federal Programs . Gallatin remains an important part of U.S. history because of his work as a public official and his vision for the future of the American economy. He advocated economic diversity by insisting on federal support for agriculture, trade, and industry. Gallatin pushed for a level of equality of opportunity and a public land policy where the government helped all citizens, not just an elite group of merchants and speculators. Yet Gallatin also accepted his Federalist opponents’ belief that the federal government needed to be involved in the economy. His fellow Jeffersonians often argued that the less government the better. Gallatin, by contrast, realized that in order for the U.S. economy to expand in a way that benefited the most people, some federal programs were necessary.
Transportation Visionary . Gallatin’s vision included a nationwide transportation program, which he proposed to Congress in 1808, that was to be partially funded by the federal government. He hoped to connect all Americans to the market system while maintaining a national unity that would overcome local and sectional disputes. Gallatin pushed for roads and canals connecting the East to the newly settled West. He also suggested that certain roads be constructed to connect the new cities within the West. He asserted that canals should be built to join the Mississippi River valley to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. He believed that all Americans would benefit from this program. Gallatin’s specific plan was never carried out though the nation’s transportation system did develop through partnerships between federal and state governments on the one hand and private firms on the other. This less organized program managed to link much of the United States together by 1860. Still, Gallatin’s 1808 plan anticipated such aspects of the Transportation Revolution as the Erie Canal, which facilitated the economic development and American settlement of the Trans-Appalachian West.
L. B. Kuppenheimer, Albert Gallatin’s Vision of Democratic Stability: An Interpretive Profile (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996);
D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800–1867 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 311–352.
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Gallatin, Albert (1761-1849)
Albert Gallatin (1761-1849)
Secretary of the treasury and diplomat
Democratic Heritage . Albert Gallatin was born on 29 January 1761 into an aristocratic French family with a history of over four hundred years of leadership in the area around Geneva in what is now Switzerland. Geneva was the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the eighteenth-century democratic political philosopher, and as a young man Gallatin embraced Rousseau’s romantic ideas about returning to nature and celebrating the common man. These ideas inspired him to go to the United States in 1780, rejecting an offer to be an officer in the Hessian army sent by King George III to fight the American Patriots. Once in America, Gallatin took little part in the conflict, instead attempting to set up a trading business.
Western Politics . After the Revolution, Gallatin moved to the frontier area of western Pennsylvania, settling along the Monongahela River. He was not successful as a pioneer or a land speculator, although he became deeply identified with the interests of western settlers as he began a career in politics. First in state politics and then at the federal level, he advocated reforms sought by his western constituents which were at the heart of the policies of the Jeffersonian party of the 1790s. In Pennsylvania he urged changes to the penal code, the establishment of a public-school system, and the abolition of slavery. Gallatin played an important mediating role during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, an uprising of western Pennsylvanians angered by federal liquor taxes. Because he had supported them in the past, the crowd listened to Gallatin’s pleas for moderation, and he helped minimize the military conflict that followed.
Treasury Secretary. It was in public finance where he made his greatest contribution, however, ironically by promoting policies favored by the Federalists for both Pennsylvania and the nation. He supported the founding of a state bank, greater control over the currency, retirement of public debt, and greater accountability of the Treasury Department to the legislature. This last effort earned him Federalist enmity after Gallatin became a congressman in 1795, as Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton saw it as meddling in his job. Despite Federalist opposition, Gallatin succeeded in establishing a standing committee on finance (today the House Ways and Means Committee) to centralize legislative efforts to control the nation’s finances. After Jefferson’s election as president in 1800, Gallatin naturally became secretary of the treasury, a post he held into the administration of James Madison, resigning in 1814. Gallatin established a system of regular financial reports to Congress and worked hard to reduce the national debt in order to secure the nation’s independence. He also sought to fund internal improvements to open up the western territories, including plans for $20 million worth of canals and roads connecting eastern rivers with the Mississippi. The Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812 ruined these plans as government revenues sank with the disruption of trade and expenses rose for waging war. In 1811 Congress refused to recharter the Bank of the United States, despite Gallatin’s objections, further undermining the currency. He resigned in the wake of intense Federalist opposition to the war and the financial policies needed to support it.
Statesman . Gallatin left for Europe in 1813 as part of a commission sent to negotiate with Britain to end the war. He was ultimately successful in framing the Treaty of Ghent of December 1814, which secured a number of economic advantages for the United States despite the nation’s poor military record in the war. Over later years Gallatin pursued a distinguished diplomatic career, with periods as minister to France and Britain. He succeeded in settling many boundary disputes and negotiating many commercial treaties that served the nation well. He retired to New York City in 1827, spending some years as head of John Jacob Astor’s National Bank and helping to end the financial crisis of the Panic of 1837. In his retirement he also pursued an interest in Native Americans, writing and sponsoring a number of ethnographic works about various tribes. Outliving many of his colleagues from the early days of the republic, he died on 12 August 1849.
L. B. Kuppenheimer, Albert Gallatin’s Vision of Democratic Stability (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996);
Raymond Walters, Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat (New York: Macmillan, 1957).
"Gallatin, Albert (1761-1849)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gallatin-albert-1761-1849
"Gallatin, Albert (1761-1849)." American Eras. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gallatin-albert-1761-1849
Albert Gallatin (găl´ətĬn), 1761–1849, American financier and public official, b. Geneva, Switzerland. Left an orphan at nine, Gallatin was reared by his patrician relatives and had an excellent education. He emigrated to the United States in 1780 and later settled (1784) in W Pennsylvania. A member of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention in 1789–90, he also served in the state legislature from 1790 to 1792. Although elected U.S. Senator in 1793, he was deprived (1794) of his office by the Federalist-controlled Senate, which claimed he had not been a citizen long enough to hold a seat. Returning to Pennsylvania, his statesmanlike efforts helped restrain the Western farmers in the Whiskey Rebellion (1794), although Gallatin himself opposed the tax on whiskey. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1795–1801), Gallatin became a recognized leader of the Republican (Jeffersonian) minority and was active in advocating financial reform and in opposing war with France. His demand that the Treasury Dept. be accountable to Congress led to the creation of a standing committee on finance in the House (later the Ways and Means Committee). As Secretary of the Treasury under President Jefferson, Gallatin undertook to change aspects of the country's financial policy from Federalist to Jeffersonian principles, and he reduced the country's debt despite the war against the Barbary States and the Louisiana Purchase. Continuing in office under President Madison, he helped to curtail appropriations for the armed forces and opposed the war hawks prior to the War of 1812 because he believed that federal money should go toward realizing the democratic vision of a broadly expanding internal economy. His fiscal accomplishments were virtually destroyed by the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812. Gallatin left the Treasury Dept. to undertake a diplomatic mission in 1813. He was a key figure in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war with Great Britain. He later served as minister to France (1816–23) and to Great Britain (1826–27). Greatly interested in the Native Americans, Gallatin wrote papers on them and was responsible for founding the American Ethnological Society in 1842. Gallatin's eclectic financial policies—although a Jeffersonian he was a supporter of the Bank of the United States—have been widely praised by conservatives and liberals alike; he was one of the most brilliant and successful of Jeffersonian statesmen.
See biographies by R. Walters, Jr. (1957, repr. 1969), F. E. Ewing (1959), and N. Dungan (2010).
"Gallatin, Albert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gallatin-albert
"Gallatin, Albert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gallatin-albert