In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed George Bruce Cortelyou (1862 - 1940) to his third Cabinet position, as Secretary of the Treasury. Previously, and also under Roosevelt, he had been the first head of the Department of Commerce and Labor and had served as Postmaster General. Cortelyou was Secretary of the Treasury during the devastating Panic of 1907 in which the business of the country was brought to a standstill. Like his predecessor, Secretary Leslie M. Shaw, Cortelyou believed it was Treasury's duty to protect the banking system, but he realized that the Treasury was not equipped to maintain economic stability.
Sec. George Bruce Cortelyou
Charles Harold L. MacDonald
Oil on canvas
67 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 3"
He eased the crisis by depositing large amounts of government funds in national banks and buying government bonds. To prevent further crises, Cortelyou advocated a more elastic currency and recommended the creation of a central banking system. In 1907, the Aldrich-Vreeland Act was passed, providing special currency to be issued in times of panic, and additionally establishing a Commission that helped prompt the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. Cortelyou resigned at the end of Roosevelt's term.
About the Artist
A popular Washington artist in the 1890's, Charles Harold L. MacDonald (1861 - 1923) painted portraits of Secretaries Dexter, Windom, Gresham, and Gage in addition to George Cortelyou for the Treasury Department. He is also represented in the collections of the Supreme Court and the U.S. Naval Academy. His portrait of Cortelyou is one of his finest, painted from life in 1907. A victim of an unfortunate fall on the ice shortly after painting Cortelyou's portrait, MacDonald lost his left arm and did very little painting after that. He died in 1923, destitute and alone, at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.