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Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt

Presenter: 
Gregory May
Duration: 
(00:51:16)

On March 26, 2019, Gregory May delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt.”

The fight over how to pay for government has always been at the heart of American politics. Thomas Jefferson’s champion in that fight was Albert Gallatin. And in the great struggle against Alexander Hamilton’s financial policies, Gallatin won. Gregory May’s new biography of Gallatin explains why he, more than Hamilton, was America’s financial founder. Gallatin first came to national attention as a rebel spokesman in the Whiskey Rebellion. Despite Hamilton’s attempts to destroy him, Gallatin soon became the leader of the Republican opposition in Congress. And once the Republicans elected Jefferson as president, Gallatin took charge of the Treasury—the largest and most powerful department of government. By the time Gallatin left office, he had abolished internal revenue taxes, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the national debt. The Jefferson administration’s enduring achievement was to constrain the federal government by restraining its fiscal power. That was Gallatin’s work. His Treasury system lasted until the Civil War, and his culture of fiscal responsibility survived well into the twentieth century.

Gregory May is an internationally known tax expert who brings a fresh perspective to American financial history. He graduated from William & Mary with highest honors in history and from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After clerking for Justice Powell on the Supreme Court, he practiced law in Washington, D.C., and New York for more than thirty years. He is the author of Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt.

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