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Alexander J. Dallas

From Academic Kids

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Alexander_J._Dallas.jpg
Dallas, as portrayed in an 1881 copy of a Gilbert Stuart painting

Alexander James Dallas (June 21, 1759January 16, 1817) was an American statesman who served as the U.S. Treasury Secretary under President James Madison.

Dallas was born in Kingston, Jamaica to Dr. Robert Charles Dallas (1710 – 1769) and Sarah Elizabeth (Cormack) Hewitt. When he was five his family moved to Edinburgh (his father was a Scotsman) and then to London. There he studied under James Elphinston. He planned to study law, but was unable to afford it. He married Arabella Maria Smith of Pennsylvania, the daughter of Maj. George Smith of the British Army and Arabella Barlow (in turn the daughter of the Rev. William Barlow and Arabella Trevanion, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Trevanion), in 1780 and the next year they moved to Jamaica. There he was admitted to the bar through his father's connections. Maria's health suffered in Jamaica and they moved to Philadelphia in 1783. Dallas was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1785. His law practice was slow and on the side he edited the Pennsylvania Herald from 1787 to 1788 and the Colubmian Magazine from 1787 to 1789.

When the United States Supreme Court came to Philadelphia in 1791, he would become their first reporter of decisions. Because the post of reporter was an unofficial one, Dallas did his work from his own funds. The volumes, of which he produced only four, were faulted for being incomplete, inaccurate, and extremely tardy. For example, the landmark ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) which prompted the Eleventh Amendment, was not reported by Dallas until five years later, well after the Amendment had been ratified. When he abandoned reporting of decisions when the Court moved to the new capital, Washington, D.C., he declared "I have found such miserable encouragement for my reports that I have determined to call them all in, and devote them to the rats in the State-House."

Governor Thomas Mifflin named Dallas secretary of the commonwealth, a post he held from 1791 to 1801. Because Mifflin was a drunkard, Dallas functioned as de facto governor for much of the late 1790s. Dallas helped found the Democratic Republican party in Pennsylvania and advocated a strict construction of the new Constitution.

In 1801, he was named United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and served until 1814. When his friend Albert Gallatin was treasury secretary when the War of 1812 began, he helped Gallatin obtain funds to fight Britain. The war nearly bankrupted the country by the time Dallas replaced Gallatin as treasury secretary. Dallas reorganized the Treasury Department, brought the government budget back into surplus, championed the creation of the Second Bank of the United States, and put the nation back on the specie system. From March 14, 1815 to December 1815 he was acting Secretary of War and for a time that year was acting Secretary of State as well. He returned to Philadelphia, but lived only a year.

He was a member of the American Philosophical Society from 1791 and a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania.

The ship, USS Dallas (DD-199), was named for him.

His son George Mifflin Dallas was Vice President under James K. Polk and the namesake of the Texas city.


Preceded by:
None
Supreme Court of the United States Reporter of Decisions
17901800
Succeeded by:
William Cranch
Preceded by:
George W. Campbell
United States Secretary of the Treasury
18141816
Succeeded by:
William H. Crawford

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