Albert Gallatin

On this date in 1761, Albert Gallatin (née Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin) was born in Geneva. He studied mathematics, natural history and Latin at Geneva University, where he graduated with honors in 1779. Voltaire had been a friend of his grandmother, and was an influence on Gallatin, also a deist. In 1780, to evade family pressure to join up with the the Hessians, Gallatin gave up family fortune to move to the United States, to demonstrate "a love for independence in the freest country of the universe." He set up shop in Boston, taught French at Harvard, then moved to Virginia in 1785, where he was soon elected a member of the state legislature. After being elected to the U.S. Senate, Gallatin was rejected by the body as a non-citizen, but returned to Congress in the House in 1795. He wrote "Views of the Public Debt, Receipts & Expenditures of the U.S." in 1800, which is described by the U.S. Department of the Treasury website as "still a classic" analysis of the fiscal operations of government under the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson believed the Sedition Act was framed to drive Gallatin--who worked to keep down expenses, especially for war and the military--from office. As president, Jefferson offered Gallatin the position of Secretary of State. He served under both Jefferson and Madison from 1801-1813. It was considered an enormous compliment when Pres. Tyler reoffered Gallatin the post in 1843, which the octogenarian declined. Gallatin was minister to France from 1815-1823, then served as an envoy in Great Britain. A lifelong scholar, he was a cofounder of New York University. Determined to keep it secular, he later resigned from a position there when "a certain portion of the clergy had obtained control" (Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). Gallatin opposed slavery, promoted fiscal responsibility and peace, and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. He served with the American Ethnological Society, helping to preserve native languages, and was president of the New York Historical Society. D. 1849.

“ . . . a foundation free from the influence of clergy . . . ”

—Albert Gallatin's stated aim for New York University, cited by Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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