Albert Gallatin: scholar, lawmaker, ambassador, banker

Albert Gallatin, who was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1761, is a poster boy for young immigrants making good.

After arriving in the not-quite independent United States in 1780, he briefly tutored Harvard students in French. Within a few years, he had embarked on a career in western land speculation that brought him to southwestern Pennsylvania.

In 1786, he bought a 370-acre farm called Friendship Hill in Fayette County near the banks of the Monongahela River. He began construction of a brick home there in 1789 and steadily expanded it for the next 35 years.

He became heavily involved in U.S. and Pennsylvania politics as a supporter of the new anti-Federalist party led by Thomas Jefferson. He served as member of the state assembly, briefly as a U.S. senator and as a member of Congress before Jefferson picked him to become the nation’s fourth secretary of the treasury.

He held that job for almost 13 years under Jefferson and James Madison, becoming the nation’s longest-serving secretary of the treasury. His statue stands outside the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C.

Gallatin remains a favorite among fiscal conservatives for the belief that government, like a family, should always live within its means and for his aggressive efforts to reduce the national debt.

He followed his time as treasury secretary by serving on the diplomatic team that negotiated an end to the War of 1812. He later was U.S. minister, or ambassador, to both France and Great Britain.

In his old age he served as a bank president in New York City and wrote a scholarly work about Native American tribes.

He died in 1849 at age 88 and is buried in Trinity Churchyard in Lower Manhattan.

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