Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Gallatin, Albert

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Appletons' Gallatin Albert.jpg
Appletons' Gallatin Albert signature.jpg

GALLATIN, Albert, statesman, b. in Geneva, Switzerland, 29 Jan., 1761; d. in Astoria, L. I., 12 Aug., 1849. He was descended from an ancient patrician family of Geneva, whose name had long been honorably connected with the history of Switzerland. His father, Jean Gallatin, was engaged in trade, and died when the boy was two years old, while his mother, Sophie Albertine Rolaz du Rosey, survived her husband seven years. Young Albert, who had been baptized by the name Abraham Alfonse Albert, was confided to the care of Mademoiselle Pictet, a relative of his father, and from her he received his early education. In 1773 he was sent to a boarding-school, and a year later entered the University of Geneva, where he was graduated in 1779, standing first in mathematics, natural philosophy, and Latin translation. The liberal spirit of the times was not without its influence on the young man. His grandmother, Madame Susanne Gallatin-Vaudenet, was a woman of strong character, with many friends, among whom were Frederick, landgrave of Hesse Cassel, and Voltaire. Through her influence, a commission of lieutenant-colonel in the Hessian troops, then serving in America, was offered to Gallatin; but he declined it, saying that he would “never serve a tyrant.” In opposition to the wishes of his family, he secretly left Geneva in April, 1780, with his college friend, Henri Serre, for America, where they might “drink in a love for independence in the freest country of the universe.” He sailed from l'Orient late in May, 1780, and reached Boston on 14 July. His experiences for the ensuing year or so were far from encouraging; he wandered from Boston to Maine, where he engaged in trading. He served as a volunteer against a threatened invasion by the British, and at one time was in temporary command of a small fort in Passamaquoddy. His trading ventures failed, and he returned to Boston with a reduced purse in October, 1781. Here for a time he supported himself by giving instruction in the French language, and in July, 1782, was granted permission to teach the students of Harvard in that language, receiving from the corporation a compensation of $300 for his services. When peace was restored, he left Boston and went to Philadelphia, by way of New York, to deliver the letters to eminent Americans which he had received in Paris. In Philadelphia, through the influence of his friend, Savary de Valcoulon, he was led to invest in large tracts of land in West Virginia. This venture proved successful, and in February, 1784, he settled in Fayette county, Pa., then a part of Virginia, where he opened a country store. During the next few years he was constantly engaged in purchasing property and in locating claims for others, spending his winters generally in Richmond, then the gayest city in the Union. He appears to have been interested in politics, and his ideas seem to have influenced the speeches of John Smilie, who represented Fayette county in the convention of ratification held in September, 1787. Two years later he was a member of the State constitutional convention held in Philadelphia, and was among those who shared the anti-federalist views then prevalent. This was his entrance into the public service. In 1790 he was sent to the legislature from Fayette county, and was re-elected in the two following years. He took an active part in its proceedings, and in 1793 was elected to the U. S. senate; but, after serving two months, he was declared ineligible by a strict party vote on the ground that he had been a citizen of the United States only eight years, having taken the oath of allegiance in October, 1785. In November, 1793, he married Hannah, the daughter of Com. James Nicholson, and this alliance greatly widened his political connection. A year later, through his tact, courage, and fidelity, he succeeded in bringing about a peaceful settlement of the “Whiskey Insurrection.” Indeed, historians have agreed in giving to Gallatin the honor of preventing a more serious outbreak. At the subsequent election he was chosen to represent Fayette county in the Pennsylvania legislature, and also was elected to congress. His election to the legislature was contested, and finally declared void after a long debate, during which he made his speech “on the western elections.” Another election was then held, in which Gallatin was victorious. After remaining in the legislature till 12 March, he obtained leave of absence. He entered congress on 7 Dec., 1795, as a follower of James Madison, who was then the leader of the Republican opposition, and continued a member of that body until his appointment as secretary of the treasury in 1801. One of the first measures introduced by him was a bill calling for the precise condition of the treasury. His object was to establish the expenses of the government in each department of the service on a permanent footing, for which annual appropriations should be made, and for any important expenditure to insist on a special appropriation. He also came into prominence when the house demanded from the president papers connected with the treaty of 1796 with Great Britain. The president returned answer that he considered it a dangerous precedent to admit the right of the house to see the papers, and absolutely refused compliance with the request. In the debate that followed, Gallatin charged John Jay and other Federalists with having pusillanimously surrendered the honor of their country. In reply to this, Uriah Tracy, of Connecticut, said: “I cannot be thankful to that gentleman for coming all the way from Geneva to give Americans a character for pusillanimity.” Throughout his congressional career Gallatin participated in all of the important debates, but always made the treasury department and its control, past and present, the object of his unceasing criticism. The establishment of the committee of ways and means was due to his suggestion, and he was ever a warm advocate of internal improvements. His third term closed in 1801. In the first term he asserted his power, and took his place in the councils of the party. In his second, he became its acknowledged chief. In the third, he led its forces to final victory. Besides maintaining his views in debate, he published pamphlets on “A Sketch of the Finances of the United States” (Philadelphia, 1796) and “Views of the Public Debt, Receipts and Expenditures of the United States” (1800). When Thomas Jefferson became president, Gallatin was made secretary of the treasury, and held the office continuously until 1813. He at once applied himself to the mastery of the details of the public finances, and undertook not only the reduction of the debt, but also of the taxes. His management of the treasury department was eminently successful, and he soon obtained a reputation as one of the greatest financiers of the age. The public debt on 1 Jan., 1802, was $86,712,632.25, and this he reduced until, on 1 Jan., 1812, it was only $45,209,737.90. In his annual reports, which were models of clearness, he pointed out methods for the gradual extinction of the debt. In 1812 his report says: “The redemption of principal has been effected without the aid of any internal taxes, either direct or indirect, without any addition during the last seven years to the rate of duties on importations, which, on the contrary, have been impaired by the repeal of the duty on salt, and notwithstanding the great diminution of commerce during the last four years.” The war of 1812 then occurred, and the national debt in- creased steadily until it reached, on 1 Jan., 1810, $127,334,933.74. After negotiating several loans, he severed his connection with the treasury department, and he was sent with James A. Bayard to St. Petersburg as U. S. commissioner to treat for peace with Great Britain under the mediation which the emperor Alexander had offered to the United States. The British government refused to accept the intervention of a foreign power, and the conference was not held. Meanwhile he was continued as commissioner, and subsequently was associated in the negotiations conducted at Ghent. After months of tedious delay, during which the British, flushed with their successes on the continent over Napoleon, made exorbitant demands, a treaty was signed on Christmas day of 1814. Gallatin's biographer, Henry Adams, says: “Far more than contemporaries ever supposed, or than is now imagined, the treaty of Ghent was the special work and the peculiar triumph of Mr. Gallatin.” John Austin Stevens says: “By his political life Mr. Gallatin acquired an American reputation; by his management of the finances of the United States he placed himself among the first political economists of the day; but his masterly conduct of the treaty of Ghent showed him the equal of the best of European statesmen on their own peculiar ground of diplomacy.” His services were rewarded with the appointment of minister to France in February, 1815, but he spent some time in travel both in Europe and in the United States, finally entering on the duties of his office in January, 1816. Meanwhile he took part in the commercial convention held in London during the summer of 1815. During his career in Paris he aided John Quincy Adams in preparing a commercial treaty with Great Britain, and also was associated with William Eustis in negotiating a treaty with the Netherlands in 1817. He left France in 1823, and returned to the United States, where he was occupied for some time in attention to his private affairs, refusing a seat in the cabinet as secretary of the navy, and declining to be a candidate for the vice-presidency, to which he was nominated by the Democratic party. In 1826, at the solicitation of President Adams, he accepted the appointment of envoy extraordinary to Great Britain, and negotiated commercial treaties by means of which full indemnification was obtained from England for injuries that had been sustained by citizens of the United States in consequence of violations of the treaty of Ghent. On his return to the United States he settled in New York city, where from 1831 till 1839, he was president of the National bank of New York. In 1831 he published his “Considerations on the Currency and Banking System of the United States,” and during the same year he was a member of the free-trade convention held in Philadelphia, preparing for that body the memorial which was submitted to congress. Mr. Gallatin was likewise associated in the movement which led in October, 1830, to the foundation of the New York university. He became the first president of the council, but resigned at the end of the year. After his resignation from the bank, his life was devoted to literature, and especially to historical and ethnological researches. In 1839 he prepared an argument in behalf of the United States to be laid before the king of the Netherlands as an umpire on the Maine boundary question, and in connection with this undertaking he collected a statement of the facts, which he revised and, together with the speech of Daniel Webster, a copy of the Jay treaty, and eight maps, published at his own expense as the “Right of the United States to the Northeastern Boundary” (New York, 1840). He presided in 1844 at a meeting held in New York to protest against the annexation of Texas, and, in the course of the address which he made, said that “the resolution of the house declaring the treaty of annexation by the United States of America and the republic of Texas to be the fundamental law of union between them was a direct and undisguised usurpation of power and a violation of the constitution.” The war with Mexico he regarded as “the only blot upon the escutcheon of the United States,” and he published “Peace with Mexico” (1847) and “War Expenses” (1848), pamphlets of which 150,000 were gratuitously circulated, and which had undoubted influence in bringing about peace. In 1846, when Lord Ashburton visited the United States in connection with the treaty which bears his name, Mr. Gallatin published a pamphlet on the “Oregon Question,” which was distinguished by impartiality, moderation, and power of reasoning. It put before the people, as well as the negotiators, the precise merits of the controversy, and powerfully contributed to the ultimate peaceful settlement. In 1842 he was associated in the establishment of the American ethnological society, becoming its first president, and in 1843 he was elected to hold a similar office in the New York historical society, an honor which was annually conferred on him until his death. His scientific publications include “Synopsis of the Indian Tribes within the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, and in the British and Russian Possessions in North America” (Cambridge, 1836) and “Notes on the Semi-Civilized Nations of Mexico, Yucatan, and Central America, with Conjectures on the Origin of Semi-Civilization in America” (New York, 1845). John Austin Stevens says of him: “To a higher degree than any American, native or foreign born, unless Franklin, with whose broad nature he had many traits in common, Albert Gallatin deserves the proud title, aimed at by many, reached by few, of Citizen of the World.” See “Writings of Albert Gallatin,” by Henry Adams (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1879); “Life of Albert Gallatin,” by Henry Adams (1879); and “Albert Gallatin,” by John Austin Stevens, in “American Statesman Series” (Boston, 1883).