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Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin (January 29, 1761 – August 12, 1849) was a Swiss-American ethnologist, linguist, politician, diplomat, Congressman, and the longest-serving United States Secretary of the Treasury. He was also a founder of New York Universitymarker.

Born in Switzerlandmarker, Gallatin immigrated to America in the 1780s, ultimately settling in Pennsylvaniamarker. He was politically active against the Federalist Party program, and was elected to the United States Senate in 1793, but was removed from office by a 14–12 party-line vote after a protest raised by his opponents suggested he had fewer than the required nine years of citizenship. In 1795 he was elected to the House of Representatives and served in the fourth through sixth Congresses, becoming House Majority Leader. He was an important leader of the new Democratic-Republican Party, and its chief spokesman on financial matters and opposed the entire program of Alexander Hamilton. He also helped found the House Committee on Finance (later the Ways and Means Committee) and often engineered withholding of finances by the House as a method of overriding executive actions to which he objected. While Treasury Secretary, his services to his country were honored in 1805 when Meriwether Lewis named one of the three headwaters of the Missouri Rivermarker after Gallatin.

Early life

Gallatin was born in Genevamarker, Switzerlandmarker, to the wealthy Jean Gallatin and his wife, Sophie Albertine Rollaz. Gallatin's family had great influence in Switzerland, and many family members held distinguished positions in the magistracy, military, and in Swiss delegations of foreign armies. His parents married in 1753. Gallatin's father, a prosperous merchant, died in 1765, followed by his mother in April 1770. Gallatin, now orphaned, was taken into the care of Mademoiselle Pictet, a family friend and distant relative of Gallatin's father. Here, Gallatin remained, until January 1773 when he was sent to boarding school. Four years later, he suffered the death of his only sister Susanne, who had long been institutionalized with a nervous disorder. Gallatin entered the Academy of Genevamarker at the age of fourteen and after finishing with top marks in May 1779, he secretly left Geneva and planned a voyage to Massachusettsmarker with his classmate Henri Serre in 1780. Gallatin and Serre set sail on May 27 from L'Orient, a coastal French commune, in the Kattie, an American vessel under the command of Captain Loring. The men arrived at Cape Annmarker, at the coast of Massachusetts, on July 14. They traveled to Gloucestermarker, and then to Bostonmarker on horseback.

Bored of monotonous Bostonian life, the men set sail with a Swiss female companion, to the settlement of Machiasmarker, located on the northeastern tip of the Maine frontier. At Machias, Gallatin operated a bartering venture, in which he dealt with a variety of goods and supplies. He enjoyed the simple life and the natural environment surrounding him. Gallatin and Serre returned back to Boston in October 1781, after abandoning their bartering venture in Machias. Gallatin supported himself by giving French language lessons. Soon afterwards, he sent a letter to Mademoiselle Pictet, offering a frank account of the troubles he was having in America. Pictet sensed this would be the case, and she had already contacted Dr. Samuel Cooper, a distinguished Bostonian patriot, whose grandson was a student in Geneva. With Cooper's influence, Gallatin was able to secure a faculty position in July 1782 at Harvard Universitymarker, where he would be permitted to teach French.

Gallatin used his early salary to purchase of land in Fayette County, Pennsylvaniamarker, near Point Marionmarker south of Pittsburghmarker which he thought well suited for farming and as a staging area for selling land and goods. Gallatin honored his friends by naming the new property Friendship Hill ( Friendship Hill National Historic Site). He moved there in 1784. In the spring of 1789, Gallatin eloped with Sophia Allegre, the attractive daughter of his landlady, who disapproved of him. However, she fell ill and died later that year. He was in mourning for several years and seriously considered returning to Geneva. However, on November 1, 1793, he married Hannah Nicholson, daughter of the well-connected Commodore James Nicholson. They would have two sons and a daughter.

In 1794, Gallatin was hearing rumors of mass exodus of Europeans fleeing the French Revolution. An idea struck his fancy; perhaps he should develop a settlement for these emigrants. Throughout the spring and summer of 1795 Gallatin pondered, planned and finally selected Wilson's Port, a small river town located one mile (1.6 km) north of his Friendship Hill. Collecting four other investors, three of which were also Swiss, Gallatin had the partnership incorporated as Albert Gallatin & Company. Together they purchased Wilson's Port, Georgetown and vacant lots across the river in Greensboro. The partners named their new settlement New Geneva. With a company store, boat yard and mills along Georges Creek the partners awaited the rush of settlers.

An improved European situation and mild economic recession in 1796-1797 did not bring the expected wealth to the Gallatin partnership. As Gallatin struggled with the Federalists in the Congress, his partners happened upon six German glassblowers traveling to Kentucky. Convinced that glass would revive their sagging investment, the partners asked the Germans to set up shop in New Geneva. Gallatin was appalled with the idea and considered it to be a lottery ticket. Nonetheless production of glass began on January 18, 1798. Window glass, whiskey bottles and other hollow ware were produced. This was the first glass blown west of the Alleghenies.

The glass business was not without its problems. Poor initial profits, material shortages and a labor "insurrection" combined to make Gallatin believe that the glass industry should be abandoned. By 1800, though, the business had made a turnaround. With the availability of coal across the river, the glass works were moved to Greensboro in 1807. Later in 1816 Gallatin would call the glass works his most "productive property".

Another industry to make its appearance at the New Geneva complex was the manufacture of muskets. In 1797 a crisis with France had flared into an undeclared war. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania called out to its militia only to find a shortage of muskets, bayonets and cartridge boxes. Contracts were awarded to private manufacturers to produce 12,000 stands of arms.

Seeing an opportunity to relieve festering debts from the land and glass businesses, the western partners sought Gallatin's advice and political pull in the state government to acquire an arms contract. Initially against the idea, the mounting debts forced Gallatin to reconsider. He signed a contract in January 1799 to produce 2000 muskets with bayonets. The Gallatin partners subcontracted Melchior Baker of Haydentown to make the muskets. Lack of skilled labor and quality steel supported by poor management plagued the business. By April, 1801 only 600 muskets had been delivered, fifteen months behind schedule. Seeing only complete financial ruin if he remained in the agreement, Gallatin transferred all contractual obligations to Melchior Baker and Abraham Stewart.

During his fifth year as Minister to France, Albert Gallatin longed for retirement to Friendship Hill. Hoping to live off the profits of the glass business, Gallatin made substantial improvements to the house and grounds. It was not a happy homecoming. The economic "Panic of 1819" caught up with the glass business and forced its closure in 1821. While "contented to live and die amongst the Monongahela hills"Albert Gallatin sold his beloved Friendship Hill and other western holdings at great financial loss.

Political career

Almost immediately, Gallatin became active in Pennsylvania politics; he was a member of the state constitutional convention in 1789, and was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1790.


In 1793, Gallatin won election to the United States Senate. When the Third Congress opened on December 2, 1793, he took the oath of office, but, on that same day, nineteen Pennsylvania Federalists filed a protest with the Senate that Gallatin did not have the minimum nine years of citizenship required to be a senator. The petition was sent to committee, which duly reported that Gallatin had not been a citizen for the required period. Gallatin rebutted the committee report, noting his unbroken residence of thirteen years in the United States, his 1785 oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia, his service in the Pennsylvania legislature, and his substantial property holdings in the United States. The report and Gallatin's rebuttal were sent to a second committee. This committee also reported that Gallatin should be removed. The matter then went before the full Senate where Gallatin was removed in a party-line vote of 14–12.

Gallatin's brief stint in the Senate was not without consequence. Gallatin had proven to be an effective opponent of Alexander Hamilton's financial policies, and the election controversy added to his fame. The dispute itself had important ramifications. At the time, the Senate held closed sessions. However, with the American Revolution only a decade ended, the senators were leery of anything which might hint that they intended to establish an aristocracy, so they opened up their chamber for the first time for the debate over whether to unseat Gallatin. Soon after, open sessions became standard procedure for the Senate.

Party leader

Entering the House of Representatives in 1795, he served in the fourth through sixth Congresses, and went on to become majority leader. He was an important leader of the new Democratic-Republican Party, and its chief spokesman on financial matters. He opposed the entire program of Alexander Hamilton, though when he came to power he found himself keeping all the main parts.

As party leader, Gallatin put a great deal of pressure on Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott, Jr. to maintain fiscal responsibility. He also helped found the House Committee on Finance (which would evolve into the Ways and Means Committee) and often engineered withholding of finances by the House as a method of overriding executive actions to which he objected. Among these was the Quasi-War, of which he was a vociferous foe. His measures to withhold naval appropriations during this period were met with vehement animosity by the Federalists, who accused him of being a French spy. It was the opinion of Thomas Jefferson that the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed largely as a way to rein in Gallatin.

Secretary of the Treasury

When Jefferson became President, Gallatin was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. Gallatin served in that post for thirteen years, the longest term in history for that office. During the first part of his tenure, he made great progress in balancing the federal budget. The U.S. was able to make the Louisiana Purchase without a tax increase in large part due to Gallatin's efforts. Gallatin also involved himself in the planning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, mapping out the area to be explored. Upon finding the source of the Missouri Rivermarker at present-day Three Forks, Montanamarker, Captains Lewis and Clark named the eastern of the three tributaries after Gallatin; the other two were named after President Jefferson and James Madison, the Secretary of State (and next President). The Gallatin River descends from Yellowstone National Parkmarker, followed north by U.S. Highway 191 past the Big Sky Resortmarker, towards Bozemanmarker. A few miles southwest of the city the river turns northwest, where Interstate 90 follows it to Three Forks.

In 1812, the U.S. was financially unprepared for war. For example, the Democratic Republicans allowed the First Bank of the United Statesmarker to expire in 1811, over Gallatin's objections. He had to ship $7 million to Europe to pay off its foreign stockholders just at a time money was needed for war. The heavy military expenditures for the War of 1812, and the decline in tariff revenue caused by the embargo and the British blockade, sent the budget into the red. In 1813, the Treasury had expenditures of $39 million and revenue of only $15 million. Despite anger from Congress, Gallatin was forced to reintroduce the Federalist taxes he had denounced in 1798, such as the taxes on whiskey and salt, as well as a direct tax on land and slaves. He succeeded in funding the deficit of $69 million by bond issues, and thereby paid the direct cost of the war, which amounted to $87 million. He later helped charter the Second Bank of the United Statesmarker, in 1816.


In 1813, President James Madison sent him as the United States representative to a Russian-brokered peace talk, which Britainmarker ultimately refused, preferring direct negotiations. Gallatin then resigned as Secretary of the Treasury to head the United States delegation for these negotiations in France and was instrumental in the securing of the Treaty of Ghent, which brought the War of 1812 to a close.

At war's end, Gallatin, preferring to remain in France, was appointed United States Minister to that country and held that post for another seven years. He returned to America in 1823 and was nominated for Vice President by the Democratic-Republican Congressional caucus that had chosen William H. Crawford as its Presidential candidate, although he later withdrew from the race. Gallatin was alarmed at the possibility Andrew Jackson might win; he saw Jackson as "an honest man and the idol of the worshippers of military glory, but from incapacity, military habits, and habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions, altogether unfit for the office."

He returned home to Pennsylvania where he lived until 1826.

By 1826, there was much contention between the United States and Britain over claims to the Columbia River system on the Northwest coast. Gallatin put forward a claim in favor of American ownership, outlining what has been called the "principle of contiguity" in his statement called "The Land West of the Rockies". It states that lands adjacent to already settled territory can reasonably be claimed by the settled territory. This argument is an early version of the doctrine of America's "manifest destiny". This principle became the legal premise by which the United States was able to claim the lands to the west.

In 1826 and 1827, he served as minister to the Court of St. James's (i.e., minister to Great Britain).

Later life

He then settled in New York City, where he helped found New York Universitymarker in 1831, in order to offer university education to the working and merchant classes as well as the wealthy. He became president of the National Bank (which was later renamed Gallatin Bank). In 1849, Gallatin died in Astoriamarker in what is now the Borough of Queens, New Yorkmarker; he is interred at Trinity Churchyard in New York City. Prior to his death, Gallatin had been the last surviving member of the Jefferson Cabinet and the last surviving Senator from the 18th century.

Native American studies

Throughout his public service career, Gallatin pursued an interest in Native American language and culture. He drew upon government contacts in his research, gathering information through one-time Secretary of War Lewis Cass, explorer William Clark, and Thomas McKenney of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gallatin developed a personal relationship with Cherokee tribal leader John Ridge, who provided him with information on the vocabulary and structure of the Cherokee language. Gallatin's research resulted in two published works: A Table of Indian Languages of the United States (1826) and Synopsis of the Indian Tribes of North America (1836). His research led him to conclude that the natives of North and South America were linguistically and culturally related, and that their common ancestors had migrated from Asia in prehistoric times.

In 1842, Gallatin joined with John Russell Bartlett to found the American Ethnological Society. Later research efforts include examination of selected Pueblo societies, the Akimel O'odham (Pima) peoples, and the Maricopa of the Southwest. In politics, Gallatin stood for assimilation of Native Americans into European based American society, encouraging federal efforts in education leading to assimilation and denying annuities for Native Americans displaced by western expansion.


  • The Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University honors his founding.
  • The ALBERT student information system at New York University is named for him.
  • Gallatin's portrait was on the front of the $500 United States Note issued in 1862–63.
  • Gallatin's portrait was on the standard 1¼ ¢ stamp from 1967–73.
  • Friendship Hill National Historic Sitemarker, a estate which includes the beautifully restored home of Albert Gallatin, is run by the National Park Service and is located in Fayette County, PA. It is open to the public.
  • The United States Department of the Treasury'smarker highest career service award is named the Albert Gallatin Award in his honor.
  • USCGC Gallatin , a , high-endurance Coast Guard cutter homeported in Charleston, S.C., is named for him.
  • The school district of Fayette County called Albert Gallatin Area School District was named in his honor.


See also


  1. Stevens (1888), p2.
  2. Stevens (1888), pp9-10.
  3. Stevens (1888), p12.
  4. Stevens (1888), p16.
  5. At the time of the purchase, his land was originally a part of Virginia, but it became part of Pennsylvania soon afterward.
  6. Adams (1879), p599.


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