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Alexander Dallas
United States Secretary of War
In office
March 2, 1815 – August 1, 1815
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byJames Monroe
Succeeded byWilliam H. Crawford
6th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
October 6, 1814 – October 21, 1816
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byGeorge W. Campbell
Succeeded byWilliam H. Crawford
1st Reporter of Decisions of the United States Supreme Court
In office
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byWilliam Cranch
Personal details
Alexander James Dallas

(1759-06-21)June 21, 1759
Kingston, Colony of Jamaica
DiedJanuary 16, 1817(1817-01-16) (aged 57)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Arabella Smith
(m. 1780)
ChildrenGeorge M. Dallas
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Alexander James Dallas (June 21, 1759 – January 16, 1817) was an American statesman who served as the 6th United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1814 to 1816 under President James Madison.[1]

Early life

Dallas was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Robert Charles Dallas, Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth (Cormack) Hewitt. His brother was Robert Charles Dallas, who wrote a history of the Jamaican Maroons. Dr Dallas bought the Boar Castle estate on the Cane River, Jamaica in 1758, changing its name to Dallas Castle. This property included 900 acres and 91 slaves. Dallas left the island in 1764, having mortgaged the estate and put it in a trust.[2]

When Alexander was five, his family moved to Edinburgh and then to London. There he studied under James Elphinston, a Scottish educator and linguist. He planned to study law, but was unable to afford it. In 1780, Alexander married Arabella Maria Smith (1761–1837) of Pennsylvania. Arabella came from a family lineage with prominent connections to the British military as the daughter of Major George Smith of the British Army and Arabella Barlow, and a great-granddaughter of Sir Nicholas Trevanion, by way of Reverend William Barlow and Arabella Trevanion. In 1781, they moved to Jamaica. There, Alexander was admitted to the bar through his father's connections. However, Maria's health suffered in Jamaica, and they subsequently moved to Philadelphia in 1783, where he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1785. To supplement his budding law practice, he also took side jobs editing the Pennsylvania Herald from 1787 to 1788 and the Columbian Magazine from 1787 to 1789.

Arabella Maria Smith Dallas

U.S. Supreme Court Reporter

Dallas published the second set of state court reports (Ephraim Kirby was first with Connecticut Reports) entitled Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Courts of Pennsylvania Before and Since the Revolution in 1790 containing cases from 1754 to 1789. He then published three succeeding volumes under the title, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania, Held at the Seat of the Federal Government (1797, 1799, 1806). As the first reporter for Pennsylvania and United States Supreme Court reporter of decisions, these volumes began the series of both state and federal reports. These early reports are considered unofficial because Dallas carried out his work publishing the official United States Reports volumes from his own funds. The first Supreme Court case reported was West v. Barnes, 2 U.S. (Dall.) 401 (1791), and it was shortened so that it did not include the full seriatim opinions of the justices. The volumes of reports, of which he produced only four, were faulted for being incomplete, inaccurate, and extremely tardy. 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. Later, he wrote: "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."[3] But his publications still serve as an important legal milestone in American legal publishing. He was a founder of the Democratic-Republican Societies in 1793.

Secretary of the Commonwealth

Governor Thomas Mifflin named Dallas Secretary of the Commonwealth, a post he held from 1791 to 1801. Because Mifflin was an alcoholic,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

In 1798, Dallas represented Patrick Lyon, who was falsely accused in the 1798 Bank of Pennsylvania heist.[4]

U.S. Attorney and Secretary of the Treasury

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Dallas as Secretary of the Treasury.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Dallas as Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1801, he was named United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and served in that capacity until 1814. His friend Albert Gallatin was Treasury Secretary when the War of 1812 began and Dallas helped Gallatin obtain funds to fight Britain. The war nearly bankrupted the federal government 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 based on gold and silver.[5]

Acting Secretary of War and Acting Secretary of State

From March 2, 1815, to August 1, 1815, he was acting United States Secretary of War and for a time that year was also acting United States Secretary of State. 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.


Dallas County, Alabama, and Dallas Township, Pennsylvania, are named for him. Six U.S. Coast Guard Cutters have been named Dallas, the most recent was USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716). Fort Dallas in Florida and the U.S. Navy ship USS Dallas (DD-199) were named after his son, Alexander J. Dallas, who died during his Navy service.[citation needed]

His other son George Mifflin Dallas was Vice President under James K. Polk and one possible namesake for Dallas, Texas; his father and brother are other possible namesakes of the Texas city.[citation needed]

His daughter, Sophia Burrell Dallas, married on April 4, 1805 Richard Bache, Jr., the son of Richard Bache, Sr. and Sarah Franklin Bache. Her husband's father was a marine insurance underwriter and importer in Philadelphia who served as United States Postmaster General from 1776 to 1782. Her husband's mother, known as Sally, was the only daughter of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and his common-law wife, Deborah Read.[citation needed]

Dallas was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1791.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Walters, Jr., Raymond (1943). "Alexander James Dallas Lawyer, Politician, Financier, 1759–1817" – via JSTOR.
  2. ^ "Robert Dallas: Legacies of British Slave-Ownership". University College London.
  3. ^ Newman, Roger K. (2009). The Yale biographical dictionary of American law. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300113006.
  4. ^ Avery, Ron. "America's First Bank Robbery". Carpenters' Hall.
  5. ^ Walters Jr., Raymond (1945). "The origins of the Second Bank of the United States". Journal of Political Economy – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ "Alexander J. Dallas". American Philosophical Society. Archived from the original on 2022-07-14.
Legal offices Preceded by(none) Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States 1790–1800 Succeeded byWilliam Cranch Political offices Preceded byGeorge W. Campbell U.S. Secretary of the TreasuryServed under: James Madison 1814–1816 Succeeded byWilliam H. Crawford