Born to an aristocratic Swiss family, Albert Gallatin (1761 - 1849) emigrated from Switzerland to America in 1780. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1795 and serving until 1801, Gallatin fought constantly with the independent minded first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. He was responsible for the law of 1801 requiring an annual report by the Secretary of the Treasury, and he submitted the first one later that year as Secretary. He also helped create the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to assure Treasury's accountability to Congress by reviewing the Department's annual report concerning revenues, debts, loans, and expenditures. Appointed Secretary of the Treasury in 1801 by President Jefferson and continuing under President James Madison until 1814, Gallatin was in office nearly thirteen years, the longest term of any Secretary in the Department's history.
Sec. Albert Gallatin
Oil on canvas
63 1/2 x 54 x 4 3/4"
As Secretary, he followed a Hamiltonian course, establishing the independence of the Secretary of the Treasury and institutionalizing the Department structures. Gallatin considerably reduced the federal debt by setting aside revenue for that purpose, and he revived internal taxes to pay for the War of 1812 but they were not sufficient. Having failed to convince Congress to recharter the First Bank of the United States in 1811, and foreseeing financial disaster, he resigned in 1814. That year Gallatin went to Russia to represent the United States in the peace conference with England and France settling hostilities. The outcome of the conference was the Treaty of Ghent signed in 1814.
About the Artist
Portrait and miniature painter Matthew Wilson (1814 - 1892) was born in London in 1814, came to the United States in 1832, and eventually moved to Philadelphia where he became a pupil of Henry Inman. After a trip to Paris to study under Edouard Dubufe, Wilson returned to the United States and made Brooklyn his home. He traveled extensively from the 1840's through the 1860's, fulfilling portrait commissions in Ohio, Baltimore, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In 1865, while Wilson was in Washington, he painted the last life portrait of President Lincoln weeks before his assassination. Wilson's portrait of Albert Gallatin is probably based on a photograph taken of the former Secretary during the later years of his life.