Historical Markers
Whiskey Point (Albert Gallatin) Historical Marker
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Whiskey Point (Albert Gallatin)

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
PA 481 at Park Ave., Monongahela

Dedication Date:
May 26, 1949

Behind the Marker

Although nearly everyone in western Pennsylvania opposed the whiskey tax - even markerJohn Neville, the man who thought himself duty-bound to collect it from his neighbors - many opposed the use of armed force to resist it. The most important of these was Pennsylvania state representative Albert Gallatin, whom Republican opponents of the Federalist Party in the Pennsylvania legislature had elected to the United States Senate in 1793.
Oil on canvas of Albert Gallatin, head and shoulders.
Albert Gallatin, by Rembrandt Peale, from life, 1805.

Gallatin had a legitimate grievance of his own. In 1793 the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature had elected him to the United States Senate. (American voters did not elect senators until ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913.) The United States Senate, dominated by the Federalists, had then denied him his seat on the grounds that he had not been a naturalized citizen for the required nine years.

Gallatin's life exemplifies several features of the legendary American success story. Born in Geneva, Switzerland of aristocratic parents, Gallatin received a superb education. A natural scholar, he was influenced considerably by his contact with the celebrated social and political theorist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His parents, however, lacked the money to accompany their social rank, so Gallatin immigrated to the United States in 1780 to seek his fortune. He first tried being a merchant in Boston and then at a trading post in Maine, neither of which succeeded.

In company with fellow immigrant Jean Savory - who gave him an enthusiasm for the nation's republican ideas that he had previously lacked - Gallatin then invested in some 120,000 acres in western Pennsylvania. He moved there and set up a tavern on the false hopes, fueled by a conversation with markerGeorge Washington, who was speculating in this area's lands himself, that a canal would be built connecting the Potomac and Monongahela, and hence the Ohio River. When that fell through, he set up a glass factory at New Geneva, Fayette County. By this time Gallatin had established himself as a firm anti-Federalist. His fellow frontiersmen elected him to the state constitutional convention in 1790 and then to the state legislature.
"Friendship Hill"
Front of Albert Gallatin Mansion

In public office, Gallatin quickly established a reputation for his courage, industriousness, and honesty. When Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton decided, in 1792, to test the whiskey tax in western Pennsylvania, Gallatin opposed the measure and served as clerk of a meeting convened in Pittsburgh to repeal the tax. While Gallatin treated the meeting as a forum for angry farmers to vent their rage, President Washington interpreted it as a threat to federal authority. "I shall exert all the legal powers with which the executive is invested, to check so daring and unwarrantable spirit," he fumed.

In the 1790s American political parties were still in their infancy and many, including some prominent "Federalists" who controlled the federal government, did not yet recognize the legitimacy of an organized political opposition. Washington believed that the voice of the people was only legitimately expressed at elections, and that political organization other than to select candidates was "factious behavior" by unsavory men who threatened the Republic's stability.
Albert Gallatin, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, with walking stick.
Albert Gallatin, daguerreotype, circa 1845.

Although opposed to the federal tax, Gallatin joined many of his fellow Republicans - including members of the Democratic Societies outside Western Pennsylvania and party leaders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison - in attempting to persuade the protesters to confine their objections to peaceful means. During the height of violence in August and September of 1794, Gallatin at a mass meeting at Parkinson's Ferry successfully blocked the proposals of rebel leader markerDavid Bradford for continued violence.

On August 14 at Whiskey Point, he convinced the so-called "rebels" to submit to federal authority. The Federalists, however, were quick to accuse him, as well as Jefferson, Madison, and the Democratic Societies, of provoking the rebellion. In January 1795, Gallatin attempted to explain his position in an address to Pennsylvania's House of Representatives. "The sentiments thus expressed [by the rebels] were not illegal or criminal," he said of his attempt to mediate the conflict, "yet they were violent, intemperate, and reprehensible. For by attempting to render the office of excise collector contemptible, they tended to diminish that respect for the execution of the laws which is essential to the maintenance of a free government.

In the end, Gallatin weathered the storm. By the mid-1790s, he had established himself as the Jeffersonian Republicans leading financial authority. He wrote persuasive pamphlets arguing that Congress needed to investigate the excessive expenditures of a federal government that had created a vast national debt of over $70 million dollars. He came up with the idea that a House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee should supervise the executive branch's use of funds.

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, Gallatin was his logical choice for Secretary of the Treasury. By then the federal government had accumulated a $20 million surplus, which Gallatin urged be spent on a markernational road, and canals to strengthen the nation's economy. After serving as one of the peace commissioners to negotiate the end of the War of 1812, he advocated re-chartering Hamilton's Bank of the United States (it had expired in 1811) to promote American prosperity.

Gallatin neglected his private affairs during his sixteen years as Secretary of the Treasury. In his last years, his friend John Jacob Astor, a fur trade mogul and New York City real estate promoter, hired him as President of the National Bank of New York. Living in New York, Gallatin supported the Bank of the United States against President Jackson's successful attempt to prevent its re-chartering, and his final political writings opposed the Mexican War in 1846 as United States' aggression against a neighboring country. His last years thus found him aligned with the sons of the Federalists whom he had opposed a half-century before. Gallatin died in 1849 at his daughter's home in Astoria (Queens County), New York.
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