He was born in 1761 in Geneva Switzerland to a prominent family. By the age of 10, he was an orphan and taken care of by a distant relative of his father. Feeling stifled by the social system in Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States.
After living for a while in New England, he decided to move to the undeveloped west, what is now Pennsylvania. He became an American citizen. He attempted to establish several businesses, but none of those were successful.
He decided to pursue a career in politics and first became a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. This was followed by an election to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the U.S. Senate.
He strongly opposed the Federalist economic practices of Alexander Hamilton. It was this opposition that led to his disqualification from the Senate because he had not been a citizen of the U.S. for nine years when he was elected. The vote to oust him was in a closed session and decided upon a pure party-line basis. In spite of his disqualification from the Senate, his economic policies were respected by those who opposed Hamilton.
Within a short period of time, he returned to Congress serving in the House of Representatives. He became the go-to authority on the new nation’s financial system. He was instrumental in creating the House ways and Means Committee as a counter balance to Hamilton. He became his party’s leader in the House. When the election of 1800 moved to the House for selection of the President, he helped Thomas Jefferson become President.
He became the natural choice to serve as Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury since he was one of the very few people who understood the nation’s treasury. He was a fiscal conservative and helped reduce the national debt. His prudent management of the treasury allowed President Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase, greatly expanding the footprint of the U.S.
He remained the Secretary of the Treasury during much of the administration of President Madison. He remains the longest serving Cabinet Secretary in U.S. history.
With Presidents Jefferson and Madison spending much of their summer at their estates, he was the de facto leader of the country. After retiring from his Treasury position, he served his country as a diplomat. He founded New York University. He was an opponent of slavery, and an advocate for free trade and individual liberty. His studies and support for Native Americans were vital in opposition to the relocation policies of President Jackson and others.
Albert Gallatin is known as America’s Swiss Founding Father but is little remembered today. His contributions to the early days of American society have been forgotten by most Americans. Hidden heroes who make a true difference often fall into obscurity and their contributions are largely forgotten. We owe much to them.
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“Leaders come in many forms, with many styles and diverse qualities. There are quiet leaders and leaders one can hear in the next county. Some find strength in eloquence, some in judgment, some in courage.” – John Gardner (author)