Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father


You won’t find his portrait on our currency anymore and his signature isn’t penned on the Constitution, but former statesman Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) contributed immeasurably to the formation of America. Gallatin was the first president of the council of New York University and his name lives on at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, so it is with pride that New York University Press and the Swiss Confederation publish this new biography of Gallatin.

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Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father

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You won’t find his portrait on our currency anymore and his signature isn’t penned on the Constitution, but former statesman Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) contributed immeasurably to the formation of America. Gallatin was the first president of the council of New York University and his name lives on at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, so it is with pride that New York University Press and the Swiss Confederation publish this new biography of Gallatin.

Gallatin’s story is the opposite of the classic American immigrant tale. Born in Geneva, the product of an old and noble family and highly educated in the European tradition, Gallatin made contributions to America throughout his career that far outweighed any benefit he procured for himself. He got his first taste of politics as a Pennsylvania state representative and went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Gallatin became the Secretary of Treasury in Jefferson’s administration and, despite being of the opposite political party to Alexander Hamilton, Gallatin fully respected his predecessor’s fiscal politics. Gallatin undertook a special diplomatic mission for President Madison, which ended the War of 1812 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent and gave the United States its genuine independence. Gallatin continued in diplomacy as minister to France and to Great Britain, where he skillfully combined his American experience and European background. In the early 1830s, at the age of seventy, he retired from politics and commenced a new career in New York City as a banker, public figure, and intellectual. He helped establish New York University and the American Ethnological Society, became an expert in Native American ethnology and linguistics, and served as president of the New-York Historical Society. Gallatin died at age 88 and is buried in Trinity churchyard at Broadway and Wall Street.

In our own day, as we look at reforming our financial system and seek to enhance America’s global image, it is well worth resurrecting Albert Gallatin’s timeless contributions to the United States, at home and abroad. Nicholas Dungan’s compelling biography reinserts this forgotten Founding Father into the historical canon and reveals the transatlantic dimensions of early American history.

Co-published with the Swiss Confederation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
International affairs expert Dungan re-introduces America to a mostly forgotten figure in early American politics in this portrait of aristocratic Swiss émigré Albert Gallatin. From Gallatin's arrival in 1790 and his days as a woodcutter in Maine to his quick rise in politics, election to the House of Representatives in 1794, and negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, Dungan diligently enumerates the Genevan's contributions to American society. It will be eye-opening for students of American history to discover that in the early days of the United States, a Swiss nobleman acting as Thomas Jefferson's secretary of the treasury managed the budget to create sizable surplus. Also, this longtime believer in education's importance became New York University's first council president in 1830. Yet occasionally Dungan falters with reductive statements, as when he writes that "in every way, was a product of his family, his city, and his time," and rather subjectively correlates federalism with elitism. Regardless, the book succeeds admirably in remembering a key figure in early American diplomacy, education, and financial regulation. The book is being co-published with Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Dungan (former president, French-American Fdn.) provides a valuable service by writing a short, balanced overview of the life and career of one of the most important and most neglected leaders of the early American Republic. Few political or intellectual figures in our history have had a résumé as impressive as his: U.S. senator and congressman; secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison; negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812; minister to France and then to Britain; one of the founders of New York University; and president of John Jacob Astor's National Bank of New York, amid numerous other positions and accomplishments. Gallatin's prudent financial management while secretary of the Treasury made the Louisiana Purchase possible and set a model for his successors. Dungan's book makes excellent use of the Gallatin papers housed at the New-York Historical Society. VERDICT Recommended for all interested readers, from general to advanced.—Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814721117
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,140,415
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Dungan is a transatlantic expert, former president of the French-American Foundation in New York, and former Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London. He is a frequent media commentator on international relations, politics, business and finance. An investment banker in his prior career, Dungan is a graduate of St. Paul's School, Stanford University, and Sciences Po Paris.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Gallatin in Diplomacy, by Micheline Calmy-Rey
Foreword: Gallatin in Finance, by Philipp M. Hildebrand
Introduction: Getting to Know Gallatin
1 A Son of Geneva, 1761–1780
2 American Beginnings, 1780–1793
3 The Senate and the House, 1793–1801
4 Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1801–1809
5 Madison’s Secretary of the Treasury, 1809–1813
6 The Debut of a Diplomatist, 1813–1815
7 American Minister to France, 1816–1823
8 Searching for Stability, 1823–1829
9 The Capstones of a Career, 1830–1849
Conclusion: Gauging Gallatin’s Greatness
A Note on Sources
About the Author
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