In today’s day and age, the name Albert Gallatin means very little to most Americans. Unfortunately, this includes those who live in Southwestern Pennsylvania, a place that he called home for some 40 years. Locally, the name Gallatin is now usually associated with a street, a school district, a former bank and maybe, just maybe a National Historic Site near the small village of New Geneva, which he founded. But this man deserves to be remembered for more than landmarks. Americans need to reacquaint themselves with thisimportant historical figure from Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was born on January 29, 1761 in Geneva, Switzerland into a prominent and wealthy family. Orphaned at a very young age, Albert was raised by a family friend, then sent to a boarding school. At the age 14, Albert attended the Academy of Geneva, where he received top honors. In 1779 he and a classmate, Henri Serre, boarded a ship to American where, upon arrival, they spent time in Boston and in Machais, Maine, where they operated a bartering venture. The money he saved from his business ventures afforded him the opportunity to purchase 370 acres in Southwestern Pennsylvania near Point Marion.
In 1784, Gallatin moved to the property where he built a house and named it Friendship Hill. There, he had the land farmed, married twice and had three children. He also used his new property, along the Monongalia River, as a staging area for selling goods and land.
Upon reaching the shores of the United States, Albert was destined to make a name for himself. Over his 88 years of life, this Swiss-American did just that. He served his new country and Southwestern Pennsylvania well. Albert Gallatin was a U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressman, political party leader, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, diplomat, negotiator, linguist, ethnologist, businessman, founder of a university and a town. He achieved this and so much more. Locally, he was known as a man of the people and nationally as a great Secretary of the Treasury and productive politician.
What most people don’t know is that Gallatin participated in the first insurrection against a young and fledgling United States, known as the “Whiskey Rebellion”. As one of the chosen representatives for Fayette County, Pennsylvania, against unfair federal taxation without representation, Gallatin was instrumental in maintaining civility and allowing cooler heads to prevail at intense rebel leader meetings and gatherings. His leadership and calming effect came during a time of increased regional violence against government entities and tax collectors. In late 1794 things came to a head and President Washington ordered the militia into the Pittsburgh area to restore order. Under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, forces entered the Southwestern Pennsylvania region with a list of names of the rebellion’s ring leaders to be rounded up for trial. Although Gallatin’s name was included on the list, he was never arrested unlike many of the others. In his latter years, Gallatin noted that it was the only political sin he ever committed.
On a nation level, Albert Gallatin excelled as a three term U.S Congressman, for the Democratic-Republican Party, where he obtained the rank of majority leader. As such, he was the chief spokesman on financial matters and continually opposed plans by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Did Gallatin’s opposition to Hamilton stem from actions taken by Hamilton during the Whiskey Rebellion?
Albert Gallatin was an excellent choice as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison and served in that position longer than any other person. While in that position, he made it possible for the United States to make the Louisiana Purchase possible without raising taxes. He was also instrumental in quickly paying off the War of 1812 debt.
As Secretary of the Treasury, under the Thomas Jefferson’s Administration, Gallatin was able to talk the President into establishing the first nationally funded highway system into the Ohio Valley, with the intent of opening the door to westward expansion. This road was green lighted in 1806 by Thomas Jefferson and became known as the National or Cumberland Road. The new road, upon construction, extended some 90 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling (West) Virginia, which is located on the Ohio River. A case can be made that Gallatin’s influence allowed the original due east to west road layout through (West) Virginia to be altered so it could pass through his beloved Fayette County and Southwestern Pennsylvania.
In 1813 Gallatin resigned as Secretary of the Treasury when President Madison asked him to head up the United States delegation that became instrumental in securing the Treaty of Ghent that brought about the end to the War of 1812. Afterwards, Albert Gallatin remained in France were he was appointed United States minister to that country and followed that up as minister to Great Britain’s Court of St. James.
In his later life, Gallatin settled down in New York City were in 1831 he founded the New York University. In 1849 he died in the area of New York which is now known as Queens. He is buried at Trinity Churchyard in New York City.
Albert Gallatin played an important role in the development of a young United States and more so Southwestern Pennsylvania, a place he called home!