Gallatin, Albert (1761–1849)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

GALLATIN, ALBERT (1761–1849)

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Albert Gallatin came to America in 1780 and settled in western Pennsylvania. He opposed ratification of the constitution because he thought the union too consolidated and the presidency too monarchial. In 1788–1789, as a delegate to the Pennsylvania state constitutional convention, Gallatin spoke out for virtually universal suffrage and for popular election of United States senators.

Gallatin served three terms in the Pennsylvania Assembly (1790–1792), where he was leader of the Republican minority. He there advocated public education and internal improvements. In 1792 he was secretary of a convention called to denounce alexander hamilton's federal whiskey excise, and he drafted a petition to Congress against the excise; but two years later he publicly opposed the violence of the whiskey rebellion.

Elected to the United States Senate in 1793, Gallatin was denied his seat on the grounds that he had not been a citizen for the requisite nine years. From 1795 until 1801 he served in the House of Representatives, the last four years as Republican floor leader; he rigorously opposed the alien and sedition acts.

As secretary of the treasury under Presidents thomas jefferson and james madison (1801–1814) Gallatin attempted to reorganize public finance on a Republican basis by abolishing both the national debt and all internal taxes and supporting the government by revenue from the tariff and sale of public lands. That design was ultimately frustrated by the War of 1812. During his tenure at the Treasury, Gallatin introduced more efficient statistical accountability and began the practice of issuing annual reports to Congress of revenues and expenditures.

In 1814 Gallatin helped negotiate peace with Great Britain. He continued his diplomatic career as minister to France (1816–1823) and to Britain (1826–1827). He later became a bank president and devoted his leisure to the study of American Indian languages.

Dennis J. Mahoney
(1986)