Gallatin or Fluke: The Founding Fathers and self-rule

The life of Founding Father Albert Gallatin demonstrates just how different America has been compared to other nations and how far off the right path it has gone.


Gallatin, an immigrant from Geneva, moved to the United States in 1780 during the final stages of the American Revolution. He was an orphan who had received a solid education and a small inheritance from his parents, but was by no means wealthy.

After just a few years in America working and doing business to earn a fairly modest sum of money, Gallatin was able to buy a plot of land in western Pennsylvania larger than the country he was born in, which was not uncommon in America. Gallatin used his modest success to launch a political career and become one of the greatest treasury secretaries in American history.

Gallatin explained why he uprooted his life and came to America from what was, for the most part, a materially prosperous country:

This is what by degrees influenced my judgment. After my arrival in this country I was early convinced, upon a comparison of American governments with that of Geneva, that the latter is founded on false principles; that the judicial power, in civil as well as criminal cases, the executive power wholly, and two thirds of the legislative power… are almost self-made and the members of which are chosen for life.

More than anything, Gallatin feared too much power in the hands of government, whatever governing body that might be. Gallatin had what one of his biographers called, “an unfaltering belief in the human race for self-rule.” He valued his independence more than he valued even material prosperity, which would have been mostly assured in Geneva but was highly tenuous on the western American frontier. Gallatin made his way in America and served his country until he died.


It was men, and indeed, immigrants like Gallatin that made America great.

For more than a century Progressives have attempted to erode American independence, self-reliance and faith in self-government in an attempt to replace it with rule by majoritarian democracy and powerful regulatory bureaucracies.

This change started with liberals like Woodrow Wilson, who once said, “Government does now whatever experience permits and times demand.” Wilson also said in Constitutional Government, “I am free to say that I do not wish to see our government completely nationalized if it is too complex, but I do say that we must face the fact that every federal government has had that history so far. It seems irresistible.”

It was an assault on federalism and on the idea of self-rule. It was an attack on the ideas of the founding that placed the greatest importance on limiting the power of government.

James Madison once said in a House debate in 1792, “I, sir, have always conceived — I believe those who proposed the Constitution conceived — it is still more fully known, and more material to observe, that those who ratified the Constitution conceived — that this is not an indefinite government, deriving its powers from the general terms prefixed to the specified powers — but a limited government, tied down to the specified powers, which explain and define the general terms.”

Modern day Progressives don’t put much weight in the value of self-rule and limited government and in many cases find those ideas obnoxious and frustrating. They believe in majoritarian democracy but, ironically, would put more power in the hands of unelected federal bureaucracies, staffed by “experts,” to run the lives of individuals. To Progressives, fear of arbitrary rule is nothing but a cultural tic, a sad throwback to the days when most Americans still believed in “American exceptionalism.”


The traditional American values of self-reliance and independence are fast fading as a result of a swing in American culture, and the abandonment of the principles that made America the most prosperous, powerful and independent nation on earth. It is telling that for students in American schools and universities, high value is placed on community work to demonstrate “global consciousness,” but very little on how to be an independent adult, or how to be frugal and industrious.

Benjamin Franklin spoke about what it took to become successful in America:

The way to wealth if you desire it, is as plain as the Way to Market. It depends chiefly on two words, INDUSTRY and FRUGALITY; i.e. Waste neither time nor Money, but make the best Use of both. He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all he gets (necessary Expenses excepted) will certainly become RICH; If that being who governs the World, to whom all should look for a Blessing on their Honest Endeavors, doth not in his wise Providence otherwise determine.”

If they be poor, they begin first as Servants or Journeymen; and if they be sober, industrious & frugal, they soon become Masters, establish themselves in Business, marry, raise Families, and become respectable Citizens.

Nowadays it may be considered offensive to suggest that the key to growth, self-improvement and success lies in self-discipline and frugality; that this is both the wise and moral way to success and leads down the path toward self-government. These are values that most generations of Americans understood. These values have been replaced by a redistributive welfare state and a populace increasingly willing to sacrifice liberty for a false sense of security.


Today, having the government and the American people pay for your birth control is considered “independence.” Self-government and the self-made man are anachronisms or “myths” that don’t belong in the modern world, at least according to Progressive philosophy.

Americans are losing their self-reliance, and in turn have become more accepting of the overbearing and increasingly powerful federal government. Americans are substituting arbitrary rule by King George III for rule by bureaucrats. Men like Albert Gallatin came to America because they sought a country for themselves and their children that was set upon timeless principles, not false ones; a county conceived in liberty and self-government, not arbitrary meddling rule and despotism.

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