History has always been a fascination of mine. It’s probably no surprise then that the history of money, and all things pertaining to it, would also interest me. I’ve read about the Federal Reserve, and the rise of fractional banking, and the legal differences between banking regulations; heck I’ve read about just the general history of money starting with seashells in China to the import of a uniform alphabet – thank you Phoenicians – to ease the burden of foreign trade. However, the one thing that has always been of utmost interest is the history of people in money. Everybody knows the Barons of Bank: Alexander Hamilton, David Ricardo, the Medici family and Henry Thornton. They’re all well-known names. Despite escaping public familiarity (at least for finance that is) Albert Gallatin is still one of my favorite biographies.
Gallatin was a Swiss immigrant born in Geneva, Switzerland who emigrated at 19 years old. Even though he had secured a recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, Gallatin floundered as a businessman in Maine. After just two years he sent word back home to tell them of his troubles. His family, anticipating his letter, had already secured another recommendation from Dr. Samuel Cooper – Cooper was the minister of a parish attended by a who’s who list of American Revolutionaries and also an alumnus of Harvard College. Cooper secured Gallatin a professorship to teach French at Harvard University in 1782. I’ve always chuckled at Gallatin’s turmoil at the beginning of his American life.
He struggled along for quite a few years; yet, he turned out to be one of America’s top negotiators and diplomats as well as an astute banker (albeit terrible businessman). Given his struggles, there is simply no way for him to have predicted the importance he would have in American history. Continue reading