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Gallatin: Americas Swiss Founding Father

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    You won't find his portrait on our currency anymore and his signature isn't penned on the Constitution, but former statesman Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) contributed immeasurably to the formation of America. Gallatin was the first president of the council of New York University and his name lives on at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, so it is with pride that New York University Press and the Swiss Confederation publish this new biography of Gallatin.Gallatin's story is the opposite of the classic American immigrant tale. Born in Geneva, the product of an old and noble family and highly educated in the European tradition, Gallatin made contributions to America throughout his career that far outweighed any benefit he procured for himself. He got his first taste of politics as a Pennsylvania state representative and went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Gallatin became the Secretary of Treasury in Jefferson's administration and, despite being of the opposite political party to Alexander Hamilton, Gallatin fully respected his predecessor's fiscal politics. Gallatin undertook a special diplomatic mission for President Madison, which ended the War of 1812 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent and gave the United States its genuine independence. Gallatin continued in diplomacy as minister to France and to Great Britain, where he skillfully combined his American experience and European background. In the early 1830s, at the age of seventy, he retired from politics and commenced a new career in New York City as a banker, public figure, and intellectual. He helped establish New York University and the American Ethnological Society, became an expert in Native American ethnology and linguistics, and served as president of the New-York Historical Society. Gallatin died at age 88 and is buried in Trinity churchyard at Broadway and Wall Street.In our own day, as we look at reforming our financial system and seek to enhance America's global image, it is well worth resurrecting Albert Gallatin's timeless contributions to the United States, at home and abroad. Nicholas Dungan's compelling biography reinserts this forgotten Founding Father into the historical canon and reveals the transatlantic dimensions of early American history.Co-published with the Swiss Confederation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8539-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword: Gallatin in Diplomacy
    (pp. ix-x)
    Micheline Calmy-Rey

    The United States of America and Switzerland celebrate together the life and contributions of Albert Gallatin.

    Swiss-born Albert Gallatin became one of America’s most accomplished diplomats, following his eminent tenure as secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He stands in the pantheon of American international envoys alongside Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Without doubt his greatest accomplishment was the successful completion of the complex and tortuous process that led to the Treaty of Ghent, which put an end to the War of 1812 and gave the United States its genuine independence.

    Gallatin was a highly skilled negotiator. Born,...

  4. Foreword: Gallatin in Finance
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Philipp M. Hildebrand

    Albert gallatin, a legendary Swiss American, was the secretary of the Treasury of the United States from 1801 to 1814 under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He remains the longest serving Treasury secretary in U.S. history. The Geneva-born Gallatin stayed true to his roots by displaying a strong work ethic, frugality, and realism throughout his career. He distinguished himself as a financial expert and participated in the founding of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives. When he became secretary of the Treasury, he was urged to dismantle the financial system that Alexander Hamilton had put...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Getting to Know Gallatin
    (pp. 1-6)

    Albert gallatin, born in Geneva and raised in the Swiss and French-speaking tradition, came to America in his youth and, in a lifetime of public service to his adopted country, contributed to the welfare and independence of the United States as fully as any other statesman of his age. After a patrician upbringing in a distinguished family and the finest education that Europe could provide, Gallatin immigrated to New England, lived on the frontier, taught French at Harvard, and settled in the rough lands of western Pennsylvania. He entered local politics as a representative of the common man and soon...

  7. 1 A Son of Geneva, 1761–1780
    (pp. 7-26)

    Albert gallatin came from an old and noble family. As far back as 1258 AD, fully five hundred years before Albert Gallatin was born, the family’s aristocratic status was recorded in a document preserved until this day. In it, the abbess of the convent of Bella Comba, located in that region of northern Italy and southern France called Savoy, acknowledged receipt of a bequest from “Lord Fulcherius Gallatini, Knight.”¹ In 1319, Guillaume Gallatini, knight, and his son Humbert bore witness to a princely contract. In 1334, Humbert’s son, Noble Jean Gallatini of Arlod, pledged his fealty to the local lord...

  8. 2 American Beginnings, 1780–1793
    (pp. 27-48)

    Gallatin had many reasons to regret his departure from Geneva. He upset his family. He and Serre were seriously short of money, even if more had been promised. The first mate of theKattydemanded an exorbitant sum as a freight charge to carry their tea. He stole some of their clothing and money. They had salt beef to eat and contaminated water to drink on the passage across. Yet the excitement of adventure, the exhilaration of independence, the expectation of opportunities all outweighed any residual reluctance. They had a few close encounters with corsairs who chased their ship, but...

  9. 3 The Senate and the House, 1793–1801
    (pp. 49-66)

    Despite Gallatin’s desire to return to Geneva to settle his personal affairs and see Miss Pictet, he did not in fact go back to Geneva that spring. This was not the result of the revolutionary events in his birthplace but because, quite unwittingly and to some degree unwillingly, Gallatin was elected a senator of the United States.

    The system for choosing members of Congress under the original Constitution was, with respect to the House of Representatives, direct election via universal suffrage, as exists today. But the Constitution provided that senators, as representatives of the states and not direct representatives of...

  10. 4 Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1801–1809
    (pp. 67-82)

    Once in office, President Jefferson offered Gallatin the role for which he was clearly the most qualified Republican: secretary of the Treasury. As much as he wished to accept the position, Gallatin hesitated: already ejected from the Senate by the Federalists, he was wary that the current Federalist Senate would refuse his nomination. Jefferson therefore submitted no nomination for secretary of the Treasury and instead designated Albert Gallatin for the position via a recess appointment after Congress had adjourned. Gallatin took the oath of office in Washington on May 14, 1801, but his formal nomination was not submitted by Jefferson...

  11. 5 Madison’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1809–1813
    (pp. 83-98)

    Immediately after James Madison’s election to the presidency was confirmed, Jefferson effectively ceased to behave as president of the United States, on the pretext that he wished to make no decisions that would bind his successor. Yet until Madison’s inauguration on March 4, 1809, only Jefferson was president, and only he had the powers conferred on the president by the Constitution. Neither his secretary of state, the president-elect Madison, nor his secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin, could operate in his stead, however much they had functioned as a triumvirate together over the previous eight years. Furthermore, the catastrophic economic situation...

  12. 6 The Debut of a Diplomatist, 1813–1815
    (pp. 99-116)

    Gallatin was American enough to represent his country in Europe—and European enough to excel in doing so. On Sunday, June 20, 1813, theNeptunereached the quarantine ground outside Gothenburg, in Sweden. Three young men accompanied Gallatin and Bayard as secretaries: the son of Alexander Dallas, George Dallas, who had just graduated from Princeton; George Milligan, an army colonel; and John Payne Todd, Dolley Madison’s son from her first marriage. The next day they took a small boat into Gothenburg and stopped at the house of a Scot living in Gothenburg, named Dixon, who had previously served as American...

  13. 7 American Minister to France, 1816–1823
    (pp. 117-134)

    Following the War of 1812, America truly became an independent country, increasingly free from European commercial, military, and political considerations. Gallatin was instrumental in creating the conditions for the United States to reach that status, but in the years that followed he became increasingly perplexed in trying to find his place in his adopted nation and felt more at home in Europe.

    After arriving in New York in early September 1815, Gallatin wrote a friendly letter to President Madison, in which he thanked Madison for appointing him minister to France the previous March—this was the news Gallatin had received...

  14. 8 Searching for Stability, 1823–1829
    (pp. 135-152)

    The Gallatins arrived in New York on June 23, 1823, in the midst of a heat wave at least as exhausting as the one Gallatin had known on his very first visit to the city in the summer of 1783, some forty years before. They went to stay with Hannah’s mother, Mrs. Nicholson—Hannah’s father had died while they were in Paris—at her house on the corner of Tenth Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan; and they rested there for a month. In July, Gallatin went to Washington, DC, with James. He determined that he could not afford to...

  15. 9 The Capstones of a Career, 1830–1849
    (pp. 153-166)

    Gallatin’s years in New York from 1830 to 1849 were to be the last and among the happiest of his life: he was settled and surrounded by his family, and he earned a decent living. He was able to influence opinions and events without having to bear the burden of executing the policies he recommended, particularly through intellectual interests in fields that he selected. The fruits of these pursuits appeared in published pamphlets and studies and, importantly, in the establishment of educational institutions that have endured until this day.

    The family took a house at 113 Bleecker Street when they...

  16. Conclusion: Gauging Gallatin’s Greatness
    (pp. 167-168)

    Was Gallatin a great man? Greatness is most frequently measured by accomplishments, and on that basis it is hard to challenge Gallatin’s entitlement to the description. Suppose Gallatin had not been Jefferson’s secretary of the Treasury or had not been present at Ghent. Gallatin brought to the Treasury a level of professionalism and attention to detail that had been lacking theretofore. And if the American commissioners at Ghent had been left to their own devices without Gallatin, as they very nearly were, their nationalism (Clay) and obduracy (Adams) would probably have resulted not only in a fracture within the American...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 169-174)
  18. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 175-176)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-182)
  20. Index
    (pp. 183-192)
  21. About the Author
    (pp. 193-193)