Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

3. A Political Apprenticeship
1788=1790

On August 18, 1788, in the year before his marriage, Albert Gallatin mounted his horse and rode the fifteen miles from Friendship Hill to Uniontown, the seat of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to attend his first political meeting.

This was no casual act. In the eight years he had been in America he had dropped his youthful indifference to politics and government; the more he saw of the United States, the worse the political system of his native Geneva seemed to him. As he wrote to Badollet, "If you let yourself be swayed by a little enthusiasm, one thousand-to-one it will be in favor of the right side." Now he was convinced that the government of Geneva, with the power tightly held by the aristocrats, was based on "bad principles" suitable only for "tyrants and slaves"; and he was enthusiastic about the state governments of America with their restrictions on the power of the executive and the judiciary, their provision for jury trial, their frequent election of legislators.1

The meeting at Uniontown, drawing men from all parts of Fayette, was in response to a circular letter issued by a group of politicos who the previous winter had fought, bitterly but futilely, ratification by Pennsylvania of the federal Constitution designed to replace the Articles of Confederation. Even after the Constitution had been ratified in June by the ninth state, New Hampshire, and so was considered to be in effect, these die-hards were not reconciled. Now they spoke about amending it to render it less "objectionable," perhaps through a bill of rights--an idea broached by Governor George Clinton of New York in a letter to the other governors. The circular letter in answer to which Gallatin and other Fayette County men were gathering called for the election of delegates to a state-wide meeting, at Harrisburg, to propose amendments and plan for their adoption. It also spoke vaguely of the desirability of drawing up a ticket of delegates from Pennsylvania for election to the new federal Congress.

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