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Albert Gallatin
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Secretary of the Treasury
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"The whole of the Bill (of Rights) is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals.... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of." (Albert Gallatin at the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789)

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Albert Gallatin came of an old and noble family, born in Geneva, switzerland. He graduated with honors from the Geneva Academy, but in 1780 gave up fortune and social position because of "a love for independence in the freest country of the universe." Offered a commission as Lieutenant Colonel by the Landrave of Hesse, whose hated "Hessians" were mercenaries with the British forces, he refused by saying he "would never serve a tyrant." He escaped the resulting family indignation by secretly leaving home. With a friend, he took passage for America.

His first business venture was launched in Boston. He later taught French at Harvard, but soon went south. In October 1785, he took the Oath of Allegiance in Virginia. Settling finally in Pennsylvania, he was a member of the State Legislature before being sent to the United States Senate. His citizenship being in debate, he was rejected by that body, but not before calling upon the Secretary of the Treasury for a statement of the debt as of January 1, 1794, distinguishing the money received under each branch of the revenue, and expended under each appropriation. When Gallatin was again returned, this time to the House of Representatives, he immediately became a member of the new Standing Committee on Finance, the forerunner of the Ways and Means Committee.

In July 1800, he prepared a report entitled, "Views of the Public Debt, Receipts and Expenditure of the United States." This report, analyzing the fiscal operations of the Government under the Constitution, is still regarded as a classic. In Congress, he struggled successfully to keep down appropriations, particularly those for warlike purposes. The opposition party attacked him personally, as well as politically, because of his foreign birth. Thomas Jefferson believed the Sedition Bill was framed to drive Gallatin from office. However, as soon as Jefferson was elected President, early in 1801, he tendered Gallatin the post of Secretary of the Treasury.

Gallatin took his oath on a "platform" of debt reduction, the necessity for specific appropriations, and strict and immediate accountability for disbursements. Eight years after assuming office, his estimates on revenues and debt reduction had proven uncannily accurate. He had succeeded in reducing the public debt by $14 million, and had built up a surplus. At the same time, $15 million had gone for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, an acquisition which established the United States as a great continental power.

A meticulous bookkeeper and originator of many accounting practices still in use in the Department, Gallatin also sponsored the establishment of marine hospitals, the forerunner of our present Public Health Service. In 1807 he submitted to Congress an extensive plan for internal improvements, particularly the construction of highways and canals.

His greatest contribution, however, was that for the first time Congress received a detailed report of the country's fiscal situation. Earlier Secretaries had conscientiously reported disbursements, but Gallatin gave a breakdown of receipts, a concise statement of the public debt, and an estimate of expected revenue.

Gallatin served in the Treasury until 1814, and was offered the post again by President Madison in 1816. He declined, though, because he thought its responsibilities demanded "an active young man." He felt this even more strongly in 1843, when President Tyler offered him the post, but must have recognized this as a striking tribute to his past achievements.

His public service was by no means over when he left the Treasury. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was considered largely Gallatin's personal triumph, for he was the most effective of the American Commissioners. Thereafter, he negotiated a commercial convention with England, by which discriminating duties were abolished. He served as Minister both to France and to England, concluding his years in the field of diplomacy in 1817, when he returned to New York take up his residence.

He became the President of the National Bank of the City of New York, later known as the Gallatin National Bank of the City of New York. He participated in the community's cultural activities. He was a founder of New York University, and of the American Ethnological Society, making valuable contributions on languages of the Indian tribes. While serving as President of the New York Historical Society, he presided at an anniversary celebration in 1844. At that celebration, John Quincy Adams, a long-time political opponent, paid high tribute to Gallatin as a patriot and citizen.

Albert Gallatin died on Long Island on August 12, 1849, at the age of 88. Always an enthusiast for American ideals on liberty, he was a firm believer in the essential soundness of the Government and its finances. "If I have not wholly misunderstood America," he wrote, "I am not wrong in the belief that its public funds are more secure than those of all the European powers." For the greater part of his life, he devoted himself to making this ideal an actuality, and carried out his vision with honor to himself and for the lasting benefit of this country and fellow citizens.

(US Department of the Treasury, Office of Public Correspondence)

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(US Department of Treasury)
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