PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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Gallatin, Part 1

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Albert Gallatin

William Shakespeare died two centuries before the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, but he left us a clear outline of his style. Tragedies end with everyone getting killed, comedies end with everyone getting married, but histories have no clear beginning or end. The Holingshead chronicle underlying this particular effort is the excellent history by Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen, called Financial Founding Fathers. The story of the young Swiss aristocrat Albert Gallatin, plonked into the backwoods of Pennsylvania only to be relentlessly pursued by his arch enemy General Alexander Hamilton, ends in 1804 when Hamilton is killed in a duel by the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr.

Act 1. Ex-Senator Gallatin.

Aged 33, Gallatin was young to be a U.S. Senator, but his Swiss background in finance made him one of only five or six Americans who knew anything about banks. Unfortunately, his passionate Swiss frugality immediately made him the arch enemy of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton who wanted to combine state debts from the Revolutionary War into a national debt. This thorn in Hamilton's side was removed by evicting Gallatin from the Senate on the grounds that he had not been a citizen for the ten years required by the Constitution. Unfortunately, that was true. It was nevertheless galling that Robert Morris, the other Pennsylvania Senator, would vote against him. The humiliation of being forced to leave Philadelphia and ride horseback to his home in Fayette County, right on the Indian frontier among the semi-barbarian Scotch Irish, was extreme.

Act 2. Caught in the Middle.

When Gallatin arrived home in the back woods, the incensed local farmers instantly rallied around him as the perfect leader of a rebellion they wanted to start. A four-year war with the Indians in nearby Ohio had shut off all hope of marketing their grain to the West, and the Allegheny Mountains made it unprofitable to ship it to the East. Their response was to distill it into whiskey, which would not spoil with storage, and was more compact to transport. Assisted in part by Quakers' horror at selling whiskey to the Indians, Hamilton had pushed through a tax on whiskey which rendered it impractical to make it at all. Gallatin was already Hamilton's enemy, and Gallatin the European knew how to talk to those swells in the East. Gallatin did make rousing speeches about injustice, but always cautioned the wild men to behave peacefully. That wasn't exactly what the angry farmers wanted, so Gallatin soon became the enemy of both sides of the dispute when the western Pennsylvanians organized a rebellion. Both sides made threats to assassinate him.

Act 3. The Lion Roars

President George Washington didn't know much about banks or taxes, but he knew a lot about law and order, and he wasn't having any rebellions. Ordering up an army of fifteen thousand men, he and General Hamilton led it across the state of Pennsylvania to hang 'em. Meanwhile however, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne had defeated the Indians along the Miami River in Ohio, thus removing the main reason for whiskey manufacture, and finally proving to the anti-Constitution Jeffersonians that the federal government really was a useful thing to have. Washington dropped out at Bedford and went back to running the country, allowing the relentless Hamilton to charge forward to Pittsburgh. By that time, the farmers had pretty well dispersed, but to Hamilton they were traitors and that particularly included Gallatin.

Act 4. Local Hero

Two ringleaders were convicted of treason, everyone was threatened and interrogated. Hamilton was particularly anxious to include Gallatin in the net, but no one in that frontier culture would accuse Gallatin of participating in the call to violence, or testify to any treasonous speech by him. In the midst of the uproar, Washington rose to the occasion and pardoned them all. Every last one of them.

Act 5. Secretary Gallatin

In a surge of jubilation, western Pennsylvania elected Gallatin as their congressman, sending him back to Philadelphia where he could do them some good. And indeed he quickly assaulted all of Hamilton's policies, both good and bad, as well as just about every other Federalist program. He quickly rose to the effective leadership of Congress, and swung the crucial 1800 election from Aaron Burr to Thomas Jefferson. Since Jefferson was another Virginia Cavalier who knew nothing about finance, it was a foregone conclusion that President Jefferson would appoint Gallatin to be Secretary of the Treasury. Finally, in 1804 Burr removed Hamilton from public affairs on the flats of Weehauken. At the news of the death of his enemy, Gallatin shed not a tear. His memorial was the statement that "a majority of both parties seemed disposed.....to deify Hamilton and to treat Burr as a murderer. The duel, for a duel, was certainly fair."

(1339)

Very valid, pithy, sucincct, and on point. WD.
Posted by: Nollie   |   Jan 3, 2012 3:18 AM

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