Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father

Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father

Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father

Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father

Excerpt

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 joined forces with the nascent Republicans, who were rallying to the leadership of Thomas Jefferson in the cause of states’ rights and individual liberty, inspired by the example of the French Revolution, against the Federalists, who favored a strong central government and the authority of the state on the British model. Gallatin was elected by his fellow Pennsylvanians to the legislature of his state, then by the legislature (as the procedure then was) to the U.S. Senate, then by his constituents once more to the federal House of Representatives. Capitalizing on a talent, rare among his peers, for the analysis and management of public finance, which he had displayed from his earliest days in the legislature, Gallatin proposed and partook in the founding of the Ways and Means Committee of the House, developed as a challenger to Alexander Hamilton as the country’s best expert in government finance, and acceded to the leadership of the Democratic-Republican Party in the House of Representatives. In the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson had emerged as the clear choice of the people, but the election was thrown for constitutional reasons to the House of Representatives, Gallatin organized and implemented the plan that secured the presidency for Jefferson after thirty-six ballots. Jefferson rewarded Gallatin with the position for which he was clearly most qualified, secretary of the Treasury. Gallatin systematized the government’s finances even more thoroughly than . . .

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