Greg May graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in history and the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the law review. He clerked for Justice Powell on the Supreme Court, and then practiced law for thirty years. His Gallatin biography builds on his long experience with tax and finance.
Join the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for a digital book talk with historian and internationally known tax expert Gregory May.
A fight over federal fiscal and monetary policy was at the center of politics in the early American republic. It sparked the Republican opposition that brought Jefferson to power, and it reshaped the federal government that Alexander Hamilton had originally imagined. Jefferson’s champion in that fight was Albert Gallatin, who served as Treasury secretary from the beginning of Jefferson’s administration until the middle of the War of 1812.
Gallatin first came to national attention as a rebel spokesman in the tax uprising later called the Whiskey Rebellion. Despite anti-immigrant bias, he became the Congressional leader of the Republican opposition during John Adams’s administration. After Jefferson became president, Gallatin took charge of the Treasury—the largest and most powerful department of government. By the time Gallatin left office twelve years later, he and the Jeffersonian Republicans had undone Hamilton’s system and set the country’s finances on a new republican course.
The Jefferson administration’s enduring achievement was to contain the federal government by restraining its fiscal power. That was Gallatin’s work. He abolished internal revenue taxes in peacetime, slashed federal spending, and repaid half of the national debt. Heavy spending during the War of 1812 severely tested Gallatin’s system, but his basic reforms created a culture of fiscal restraint that survived.
Greg May’s biography of Albert Gallatin looks at his rise to power, his tumultuous years at the Treasury, and his enduring influence on American fiscal policy. It shows why Gallatin and his policies are essential to an understanding of national politics and finance during the early nineteenth century.