Albert Gallatin

Before returning to more serious posts, I thought I’d mention this interesting factoid that I came across recently. Albert Gallatin was a Swiss-born politician who was the longest-serving Treasury Secretary in our history (from 1801 to 1814).  Before that, though, Gallatin was elected to the Senate in 1793.  When he arrived at the Capitol, though, his credentials were challenged because he allegedly had not been a United States citizen for nine years, as required by the Constitution.  The Senate, after a debate which was the first one that they ever opened to the public, refused to seat Gallatin on a party-line vote.  (He was a Jeffersonian, but the Senate was controlled by the Federalists.)

I think this is the only time that Congress has excluded an elected member for failure to meet the Qualifications Clause (age, residence, and citizenship). If anyone knows of another case, I’d be curious to hear about that.

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7 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    James Shields (Irish-born) was naturalized on Oct. 21, 1840. He won election to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 1848. Calhoun introduced a resolution that Shields’ election was void, since he hadn’t been a U.S. citizen for nine years. Shields tried to resign during this process, but the Senate refused to accept his resignation. It instead approved Calhoun’s resolution and declared the seat vacant.

    Shields won the ensuing special election and began serving in Oct. 1849, just over nine years after his naturalization. Fun little story!

  2. Dan Cole says:

    Aside from his government service, Gallatin (like his hero Jefferson) founded a university, which eventually was renamed New York University.

  3. I wrote an article that analyzed the challenge to Gallatin’s qualifications to consider when citizenship of the United States began.

    By virtue of the 9-year requirement, U.S. Citizenship would have had to begin well before the Constitution was ratified.

  4. Joe says:

    “By virtue of the 9-year requirement, U.S. Citizenship would have had to begin well before the Constitution was ratified.”

    I was under the impression U.S. citizenship was determined to begin in 1776.

    Cf. Art. III which adds “at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution” for presidential qualifications.

  5. Marty Lederman says:

    Did the Senators in favor of seating him argue that he had been a citizen for nine years, or that he should be seated regardless? And if the latter, on what theory? Thanks

  6. Gerard Magliocca says:


    They said that he was a citizen for nine years. I think the question was how you defined naturalization for an immigrant in the 1780s.

  7. Edward Still says:

    I believe the “naturalization” process at the time consisted of declaring allegiance to a state which was part of the Confederation. Gallatin had declared allegiance to Virginia in 1785.