In the book The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland [see here for yesterday’s post on the book], I learned some fascinating facts about Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s machinations to get one of his successors at the U.S. Treasury, Albert Gallatin.


            Hamilton did spend time prompting detainees to manufacture evidence against two prominent men: William Findley and Albert Gallatin They were Hamilton’s bitterest western enemies in Congress. They’d both opposed the tax, the finance plan as a whole, and Hamilton’s influence in the administration. Nobody had been more obviously committed than they to calming rebel hostility, though Gallatin was more vulnerable; he’s signed the second, inflammatory Pittsburgh petition Yet Hamilton saw a chance to identify each of them as the very sort of leader whom Washington believed this expedition had been intended to prosecute. To that end, John Powers, a local moderate, who was hosting General Lee’s headquarters near the confluence of the Youghiogheny and the Monongahela, was summoned to one of Hamilton’s temporary headquarters. Powers appeared promptly, wondering how he could be of service. When Hamilton quizzed him on the role Albert Gallatin had played in the rebellion, Powers had little information to give. Hamilton expressed disappointment and asked whether memory would be improved by Powers’s taking an hour or so in another room. Powers, confused, agreed; then, finding himself at bayonet point in a room full of imprisoned suspects, he understood. He sat there, heart pounding amid the silent, shabby prisoners. The door was guarded by a soldier with a gun. Nobody moved.


An hour later, he was ushered back into Hamilton’s office. Still polite, Hamilton asked whether Powers had remembered anything, and Powers, frightened, said he hadn’t. Hamilton changed. The questioning had been a test, he announced; he already had the evidence he needed on Gallatin. Powers’s refusal to help only showed rebel sympathy. Hamilton called for the guard, and this time it wasn’t a test. John Powers was taken to the lockup at Fort Fayette. His offers of posting bail were declined, as were his demands to know the charge against him. He wasn’t charged, but he stayed in jail until after Hamilton, having failed to find any grounds for arresting Gallatin, had left the area. [pp. 225-226]


I had had no idea how ruthless and dishonest Hamilton was.


Gallatin, by the way, unlike Hamilton, was someone who wanted to eliminate, and, as Treasury Secretary, succeeded in substantially reducing, the federal debt.

When I used to walk by the Treasury building on the way to the Old Executive Office Building, where I worked between June 1973 and August 1973, and between August 1982 and July 1984, I saw the statue of Gallatin in front of the building. I had had little appreciation of who he was.