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Alexander J. Dallas

1759-1817

Secretary of the Treasury - 1814-1816

DALLAS, Alexander James, statesman, born in the Island of Jamaica, 21 June, 1759; died in Trenton, New Jersey, 14 January 1817. He was the son of a Scottish physician who immigrated to Jamaica about 1750. The son was educated in Edinburgh and at Westminster under James Elphinston, the friend of Dr. Johnson, whose acquaintance and that of Dr. Franklin he made while a student. He then studied law in London, returned to Jamaica in 1780, and, upon the remarriage of his mother and his exclusion from the inheritance of his father's estate, removed in April, 1783, to Philadelphia. He took the oath of allegiance to the common-wealth of Pennsylvania in June, 1783, was admitted to the bar in July, 1785, and a few years later was admitted to practice in the United States courts, and became eminently successful as a lawyer in Philadelphia. He wrote for periodicals, and was for a time editor of the "Columbian Magazine." In January, 1791, he was appointed secretary of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and in December, 1793, his commission was renewed. While in this office he prepared an edition of the laws of Pennsylvania, with notes. He also compiled four volumes of "Reports of Cases ruled and adjudged by the Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania, before and since the Revolution " (Philadelphia, 1790-1807).

He accompanied an armed force to Pittsburgh, in the capacity of paymaster-general, in 1794. It e was again appointed secretary of state in December, 1796, and held the office until Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801 and appointed him, as an ardent supporter of the republican party, U. S. district attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, which office he held till 1814, when he was called into the cabinet as secretary of the treasury by President Madison. When he entered upon this office, 6 October, 1814, the government was seriously embarrassed in its finances through the war with Great Britain, and the committee of ways and means in congress applied to Mr. Dallas for suggest, ions as to the best mode of raising money for the requirements of the government, and of sustaining the public credit. In a masterly report he showed that the money required could not be raised by taxation alone, but must be obtained in part by loans. He proposed for the purpose of raising a loan the establishment of a government bank. The house, in committee of the whole, reported in favor of the bank on 24 October, 1814, and a bill was passed on 20 January 1815, but was vetoed by President Madison. Having been interrogated as to the probable effect of a large issue of treasury-notes, Secretary Dallas made a reply that had much influence in restoring public confidence and arousing the spirit of patriotism. On 3 April, 1816, an act to incorporate a national bank was passed by congress and received the signature of the president. Mr. Dallas's administration of the treasury department was able and energetic. Treasury-notes, which were scarcely current when he assumed office, were sold at par, with interest added, a few months later. The bank had the effect of greatly improving the credit of the government.

After March, 1815, he discharged the duties of secretary of war in addition to the direction of the treasury department, and superintended the reduction of the army consequent upon the restoration of peace. Having contributed, to the extent of his ability, to extricate the government from its financial difficulties, and having seen the United States bank firmly established, he retired from office in November, 1816, and returned to the practice of law in Philadelphia, but died a few weeks afterward. Besides the works mentioned above and his treasury reports, he published "Features of Jay's Treaty" (Philadelphia, 1795); "Speeches on the Trial of Blount"; "Address to the Society of Constitutional Republicans" (1805); and " Exposition of the Causes and Character of the War of 1812-'15." He left unfinished a " History of Pennsylvania." The third edition of his "Reports of Cases," with notes by Thomas J. Wharton, appeared in Philadelphia in 1830. -- Edited Appleton's Cyclopedia American Biography Copyright© 2001 by VirtualologyTM

 

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