Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

Preface

If you cared to speculate on the posthumous reputation of great Americans, you could not pick a more fruitful case than that of Albert Gallatin. Consider a few of his attainments during nearly sixty years in public life: his leadership in Congress and in party organization that helped bring about the election of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency; his application during twelve years as Secretary of the Treasury (a length of service still unsurpassed) of financial principles that complemented those of Alexander Hamilton; his skill, as the "laboring oar" of Jefferson's and Madison's cabinets, in handling administrative and policy problems of all departments of the federal government; his tact and intelligence in representing the United States abroad for more than a decade--service that helped bring the War of 1812 to a satisfactory end and contributed to the maintenance of peaceful relations with France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Canada. No less exceptional were his activities during the last two decades of his life, after he had passed the Biblical threescore and ten: his leadership of the financial community during periods of great stress, and his contributions to the ethnology of the American Indian, contributions that have become part of the essential, enduring fabric of the science.

Gallatin's eminence was widely recognized during his own lifetime in America and in Europe. When Lewis and Clark, on the expedition they made in part at his instigation, named one of the three forks of the Missouri River for him and the others for Jefferson and Madison, it was a token of Gallatin's place in the Age of Jefferson. Besides this river, he was immortalized geographically by the naming of a mountain range and of counties in three states. If you have ever had occasion to examine the public prints or the private correspondence of his time, you must have been struck by the respect--and, because he was a political power, in some instances the hatred--that his contemporaries held for him. By them he was ranked only slightly below Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, as a peer of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster.

In our day, students of government have given Gallatin a higher place in public administration than any other man of his century, remarking that political fortune rarely permits a master of administrative theory to apply it to the common weal. Students of fiscal practice have estimated his abilities as on a par with those of Hamilton. Diplomatic historians count his contributions as second only to those of John Quincy Adams in

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