Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat

By Raymond Walters | Go to book overview

8. Freshman Congressman
1795=1797

On December 7, 1795, when Gallatin walked into the plain brick building on Independence Square in Philadelphia known as Congress Hall and took the oath of office as federal congressman, he came face to face with much that was challenging and new, and even more that was comfortably familiar. Only a few yards away was the chamber in which he had served briefly as United States senator; only a long stone's throw across the yard was the State House, scene of his triumphs as an assemblyman. Close by were the streets, the taverns and boardinghouses, the homes of friends that had given him pleasure during the five preceding winters.

As he looked about the chamber--described by a member as "a room without ventilators, more than sufficiently heated by fire," and made more oppressive by the breathing and sweat of the assemblage1--he saw many familiar faces. His previous legislative service made him already as well known to most of those who had served several terms as congressmen.

For the first time Gallatin was part of a legislative majority: the Fourth Congress contained only forty-nine Federalists, while he and his fellow "Antis" numbered fifty-six. He believed--and on such matters his opinion was judicious--that his own party had a similar edge in ability. Most of the Democratic-Republican leaders were from Virginia: James Madison, short, inconspicuous, usually solemn; William Branch Giles, gay and acute; John Nicholas, young, handsome personification of the southern aristocrat. New York was represented by one of its finest in lineage and talents--Edward Livingston, a witty, dashing newcomer. The Federalists, too, Gallatin conceded, had "many clever men": a solid, combative, resourceful phalanx led by Uriah Tracy, Roger Griswold, James Hillhouse from Connecticut, and William Smith and Robert Goodloe Harper from South Carolina. Harper, formerly an ardent Democratic-Republican, was almost more Federalist than Hamilton. Gallatin called him "as great a bungler as I ever knew, very good hearted, and not deficient in talents, exclusively of that of speaking, which he certainly possesses to a high

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