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Albert Gallatin

Gallatin, Albert (gălˈətĭn) [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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