As President of the State Bank of Indiana, Hugh McCulloch first came to Washington to protest Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase's National Banking System. Ironically, Chase asked McCulloch to launch the System in 1863 as the first Comptroller of Currency. After some hesitation McCulloch accepted, and the National Banking System was largely successful due to his influence with existing state banks. McCulloch became President Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury in 1865 and continued in office under President Andrew Johnson.
Sec. Hugh McCulloch
George P.A. Healy
Oil on canvas
62 x 53 x 4"
Immediately confronted with inflation caused by the Government's wartime issue of greenbacks, he recommended their retirement and a return to the gold standard. However, this would have reduced the supply of currency and was unpopular during the period of postwar reconstruction and westward expansion. Adopted in 1866, the gold standard was abandoned two years later and the battle over its revival raged for the next fifty years . During his tenure, McCulloch maintained a policy of reducing the federal war debt and the careful reintroduction of federal taxation in the South. McCulloch was appointed Secretary a second time in 1884 by President Chester Arthur. During his six months in office at that time, he continued his fight for currency backed by gold, warning that the coinage of silver used then as backing for currency, should be halted.
About the Artist
George P.A. Healy (1813 - 1894), one of America's most successful nineteenth-century portrait painters, was born in Boston in 1813. He went to France in 1834 to study under Baron Gros, and in 1838 he began the first of many commissions for Louis Philippe, King of France. The King desired a gallery of American presidents and statesmen as part of the French State Collection at Versailles. Although Louis Philippe was deposed before Healy completed his commission he had launched Healy's career as a portraitist. (The paintings were soon purchased by W.W. Corcoran and now hang in the Washington gallery that bears his name.) From 1844 to 1877 Healy spent most of his time in the United States, filling innumerable commissions in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. He resided in Europe after 1880, though he continued to travel on important commissions, including return trips to the United States. His portrait of Hugh McCulloch was probably painted from life during one of these trips.