Albert Gallatin, an American statesman, born in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 29, 1761, died at Astoria, N. Y., Aug. 12,1849. His original name was Abraham Albert Alphonse de Gallatin. His father was a councillor of state, and a connection of the celebrated Necker. Albert graduated at the university of Geneva in 1779, and the next year embarked for America. He landed at Cape Ann and went to Maine, where he enlisted in the continental army, and was soon after placed in command of the fort at Passamaquoddy. In 1783 he taught French in Harvard college, and in 1784 he purchased a large tract of land in Virginia for the purpose of forming a settlement, but was deterred from his undertaking by the hostilities of the Indians. While surveying these lands he first met Washington, who also owned large estates in that region. Washington was seated in a land agent's log cabin, surrounded by a number of squatters and hunters, whom he was examining with a view to ascertain the best route for a road across the Alleghanies. Gallatin stood in the crowd looking on for some time, while Washington put his questions with slowness and deliberation, and carefully noted down the answers. It was soon evident to the quick-minded Swiss that there was but one practicable pass.
He grew impatient at Washington's slowness in coming to a conclusion, and suddenly cried out: Oh, it's plain enough that [naming the place] is the most practicable." The bystanders stared with astonishment, and Washington, laying down his pen, looked at him in evident displeasure, but did not speak. Presently he resumed his pen, put a few more questions, then suddenly threw down his pen, and, turning to Gallatin, said:
"You are right, sir." After Gallatin went out Washington inquired about him, made his acquaintance, and urged him to become his land agent. Gallatin declined the situation, and in 1786, by the advice of Patrick Henry, he purchased land on the banks of the Monon-gahela in Fayette co., Pa., settled there, became naturalized, and devoted himself to agriculture. In 1789 he was a member of the convention to revise the constitution of the state, and in the two succeeding years was a member of the legislature, to which he was chosen as the candidate of the republican or democratic party. In 1793 the legislature elected him United States senator. He took his seat, but his right to it was contested, and at the end of two months he was declared to have been ineligible, on the ground that he had not been a citizen of the United States the nine years required by the constitution, as he did not take the oath of allegiance till 1785. Opposition to the excise laws having ripened in western Pennsylvania into the whiskey insurrection in 1794, Gallatin was instrumental, at considerable personal risk, in bringing about a peaceful accommodation between the government and the people.
In recognition of his services he was elected to the house of representatives as a people's candidate, and continued a member of that body from 1795 to 1801. On April 26,1796, he delivered a speech in which he showed himself to be an unflinching republican. He even went so far as to charge Washington and Jay with having pu-sillanimously surrendered the honor of their country. As this speech came from a man whose accent betrayed that he was of foreign birth, and whose youth indicated that he could not have arrived in the country much before the termination of the war, it exasperated the federalists, one of whom remarked in reply tha "the could not feel thankful to the gentleman for coming all the way from Geneva to accuse Americans of pusillanimity." Mr. Gallatin participated in all the important debates in the house, and soon became the acknowledged leader of his party. On his motion the committee of ways and means was first organized as a standing committee of the house in 1795. He directed his attention particularly to financial questions, and besides maintaining his views in debate published two pamphlets, "A Sketch of Finances" (1790), and " Views of Public Debt," etc. (1800). He made important speeches on "Foreign Intercourse," March 1, 1798; on the "Alien Law," March 1, 1799; and on the "Navy Establishment," Feb. 9 and 11, 1799. On May 15, 1801, he was appointed by President Jefferson secretary of the treasury, which office he held under him and Madison till 1813. He was eminently successful in his management of the treasury department, and soon attained a reputation as one of the first financiers of the age.
His annual reports exhibit great ability, and had the highest influence upon the general legislation of the republic. He opposed the increase of the national debt, and prepared the way for its gradual extinction. He systematized the mode of disposing of the public lands, and was a zealous advocate of internal improvements, particularly the national road and the coast survey. He also exercised great influence on the other departments of the government, and on the politics of the country. In 1809 President Madison offered him the state department, which he declined. He was opposed to going to war with Great Britain in 1812, and as a member of the cabinet exerted himself strenuously to restore amicable relations with the British government. An offer having been made by the Russian government to mediate between the United States and Great Britain, President Madison, March 8, 1813, nominated as ministers to negotiate, Gallatin, James A. Bayard of the senate, and John Quincy Adams, at that time American minister at St. Petersburg. Gallatin and Bayard in May sailed for St. Petersburg in a private ship, with a cartel from the British admiral, granted at the request of the Russian ambassador at Washington. The senate, on meeting in extra session a few weeks later, refused to confirm Gallatin's appointment, because it was incompatible with his secretaryship.
The attempt at mediation resulted in nothing, but in January, 1814, an offer was received from the British government proposing a direct negotiation for peace. President Madison nominated as commissioners John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Jonathan Russell, Bayard, and Gallatin. Gallatin was still abroad, and to obviate the objection of the senate on account of his holding the office of secretary of the .treasury, he resigned that post definitively. It was finally decided that the negotiations should be conducted at Ghent. In the discussions which resulted in the treaty of peace, Dec. 24, 1814, and in the commercial convention with Great Britain a short time afterward. Gallatin had a prominent and honorable share. In 1815 he was appointed minister to France, where he remained till 1823. During this period he was twice deputed on special missions of importance, to the Netherlands in 1817 and to England in 1818. While in this office he rendered some essential service to Mr. Alexander Baring in the negotiation of a loan for the French government.
Mr. Baring in return pressed him to take a part of the loan, offering him such advantages in it that without advancing any funds he could have realized a fortune.I thank you," was Gallatin's reply;I will not accept your obliging offer, because a man who has had the direction of the finances of his country as long as I have should not die rich." On his return from France he refused a seat in the cabinet, and declined to be a candidate for vice president, to which he was nominated by the democratic party. In 1826 he was appointed by President Adams envoy extraordinary to Great Britain. After negotiating several important commercial conventions, he returned to the United States in December, 1827, and took up his residence in the city of New York. Soon after his return he prepared the argument in behalf of the United States to be laid before the king of the Netherlands as an umpire on the Maine boundary question. In 1830 he was chosen president of the council of the university in New York. In 1831 he published Considerations on the Currency and Banking System of the United States," in which he advocated the advantages of a regular bank of the United States. He was a member of the free trade convention at Philadelphia in 1831, and prepared for that body the memorial which was submitted to congress.
From 1831 to 1839 he was president of the national bank in the city of New York, and on resigning the office was succeeded by his son James Gallatin. The remainder of his life was devoted to literature, and especially to historical and ethnological researches. In 1842 he was one of the chief founders, and was chosen first president, of the ethnological society. He was president of the New York historical society from 1843 till his death. During the controversy with Great Britain on the northeastern boundary, he published a pamphlet on the subject, which displayed great research. Again, in 1846, during the Oregon difficulties, he published letters on the "Oregon Question," distinguished by impartiality, moderation, and power of reasoning. He was strongly opposed to war, and during the war with Mexico he wrote a pamphlet of which 150,000 copies were printed, and which had a marked influence on public opinion. At an early period Mr. Gallatin turned his attention to the ethnological and philological characteristics of the American Indians. His first essay on this topic was written in 1823 at the request of Humboldt. He afterward published " Synopsis of the Indian Tribes within the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains, and in the British and Russian Possessions in North America," forming vol. ii. of the Archceologia Americana (American antiquarian society, Worcester, 1836); and the subject was one of the last that occupied him in a work on the "Semi-Civilized Nations of Mexico, Yucatan, and Central America, with Conjectures on the Origin of Semi-Civilization in America," published by the American ethnological society (New York, 1845).