Saturday, July 13, 2013

Appreciating Albert’s Award

Retiring employees with more than 20 years of service to the Treasury Department and whose record reflects fidelity to duty are granted the Gallatin Award. It is named after Albert Gallatin, the longest serving Treasury Secretary, whose bronze statue graces the front of the main Treasury building next to the White House. This year is the 200th anniversary of his departure from the Treasury Department.

As my own retirement looms, I thought it would be good to learn more about Albert Gallatin by visiting his home at the Friendship Hill National Historical Site. It is located at Point Marion, PA, a few miles above the Mason-Dixon Line, just north of nearby Morgantown, WV. Friendship Hill was the name Gallatin gave to his estate on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River, which is now maintained by the National Park Service (

The house is a museum to this fascinating man, who was heavily involved in many key moments of our nation’s early history. Gallatin emigrated from his native Switzerland in 1780, and after a stint teaching at Harvard (among other jobs), he eventually built his home on what was then the western frontier. He played a pivotal role as a mediating influence on the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Later during the 1790s, he served in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and when Thomas Jefferson became President, he selected Gallatin to be his Treasury Secretary.

Gallatin was known for his understanding of the government’s budget (he had helped to set up the House Ways and Means Committee), and he worked hard to pay off the national debt, while still finding ways to fund the Louisiana Purchase and other investments. In recognition of his influence, the Lewis and Clark expedition named one of the three rivers that form the Missouri River in his honor (a high tribute indeed, since the other two were named after Thomas Jefferson and James Madison).

He stayed through both of Jefferson’s four year terms (1801-1809), and through the first term of President James Madison (1809-1813). Madison then sent him to Europe to negotiate with British representatives the treaty that ended the war which had begun in 1812. From 1816 to 1823, he lived in Paris where he served as the U.S. Ambassador to France. He later served a two-year stint as Ambassador to Great Britain.

He eventually returned to New York, where he helped to found what today is known as New York University. He also served as the first president of the Bank of New York, a leading financial institution of its time. In his spare time (?), he was known for his work in translating Indian languages—he wrote two major books on the topic and founded the American Ethnological Society. He died in 1849 at the age of 88 (a long life in those days!), and was the last living member who had served in Congress during the 1700s.

Albert Gallatin was a real renaissance man, who demonstrated a true love for public service. His preserved home is a worthy shrine to his career, and the view looking down on the Monongahela River from his “backyard” is beautiful. If you ever have the chance, I’d recommend getting to know Secretary Gallatin better by visiting Friendship Hill. I now have a new appreciation for what the Gallatin Award means.

This is a view of the back side of Albert Gallatin's house. The original stone house is on the right side, with the additions that were later built extending closer to the camera.

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