1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dallas, Alexander James
DALLAS, ALEXANDER JAMES (1759–1817), American statesman and financier, was born on the island of Jamaica, West Indies, on the 21st of June 1759, the son of Dr Robert C. Dallas (d. 1774), a Scottish physician then practising there. Dr Dallas soon returned to England with his family, and Alexander was educated at Edinburgh and Westminster. He studied law for a time in the Inner Temple, and in 1780 returned to Jamaica. There he met the younger Lewis Hallam (1738–1808), a pioneer American theatrical manager and actor, who induced him to remove to the United States, and in 1783 he settled in Philadelphia, where he at once took the oath of allegiance to the United States, was admitted to practise law in 1785, and rapidly attained a prominent position at the bar. He was interested in the theatrical projects of Hallam, for whom he wrote several dramatic compositions, and from 1787 to 1789 he edited The Columbian Magazine. From 1791 to 1801 he was secretary of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Partly owing to his publication of an able pamphlet against the Jay treaty in 1795, he soon acquired a position of much influence in the Democratic-Republican party in the state. During the Whisky Insurrection he was paymaster-general of the state militia. His official position as secretary did not entirely prevent him from continuing his private law practice, and, with Jared Ingersoll, he was the counsel of Senator William Blount in his impeachment trial. Dallas was United States attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania from 1801 until 1814, a period marked by bitter struggles between the Democratic-Republican factions in the state, in which he took a leading part in alliance with Governor Thomas M‘Kean and Albert Gallatin, and in opposition to the radical factions led by Michael Leib (1759–1822) and William Duane (1760–1835), of the Aurora. The quarrel led in 1805 to the M’Kean party seeking Federalist support. By such an alliance, largely due to the political ingenuity of Dallas, M’Kean was re-elected. In October 1814 President Madison appointed Dallas secretary of the treasury, to succeed George W. Campbell (1768–1848), whose brief and disastrous term had been marked by wholesale bank suspensions, and an enormous depreciation of state and national bank notes. The appointment itself inspired confidence, and Dallas’s prompt measures still further relieved the situation. He first issued new interest-bearing treasury notes of small denominations, and in addition proposed the re-establishment of a national bank, by which means he expected to increase the stability and uniformity of the circulating medium, and furnish the government with a powerful engine in the upholding of its credit. In spite of his already onerous duties, Dallas, with characteristic energy, served also as secretary of war ad interim from March to August 1815, and in this capacity successfully reorganized the army on a peace footing. Although peace brought a more favourable condition of the money market, Dallas’s attempt to fund the treasury notes on a satisfactory basis was unsuccessful, but a bill, reported by Calhoun, as chairman of the committee on national currency, for the establishment of a national bank, became law on the 10th of April 1816. Meanwhile (12th of February 1816) Dallas, in a notable report, recommended a protective tariff, which was enacted late in April, largely in accordance with his recommendation. Although Dallas left the cabinet in October 1816, it was through his efforts that the new bank began its operations in the following January, and specie payments were resumed in February. Dallas, who belonged to the financial school of Albert Gallatin, deserves to rank among America’s greatest financiers. He found the government bankrupt, and after two years at the head of the treasury he left it with a surplus of $20,000,000; moreover, as Henry Adams points out, his measures had “fixed the financial system in a firm groove for twenty years.” He retired from office to resume his practice of the law, but the burden of his official duties had undermined his health, and he died suddenly at Philadelphia on the 16th of June 1817. He was the author of several notable political pamphlets and state papers, and in addition edited The Laws of Pennsylvania, 1700–1801 (1801), and Reports of Cases ruled and adjudged by the Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania before and since the Revolution (4 vols., 1790–1807; new edition with notes by Thomas J. Wharton, 1830). He wrote An Exposition of the Causes and Character of the War of 1812–15 (1815), which was republished by government authority in New York and London and widely circulated. He left in MS. an unfinished History of Pennsylvania.
His brother, Robert Charles Dallas (1754–1824), was born in Jamaica, and lived at various times in the West Indies, the United States, England and France. He was an intimate friend of Lord Byron. He wrote Recollections of Lord Byron (1824), and several novels, plays and miscellaneous works.
See G. M. Dallas, Life and Writings of Alexander James Dallas (Philadelphia, 1871).