George M. Dallas

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This article is about the vice president of the United States Of America. For the judge, see George M. Dallas (judge).
George M. Dallas
George Mifflin Dallas 1848.jpg
Daguerreotype of Dallas taken in 1848
11th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
President James K. Polk
Preceded by John Tyler
Succeeded by Millard Fillmore
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
December 13, 1831 – March 4, 1833
Preceded by Isaac D. Barnard
Succeeded by Samuel McKean
17th Pennsylvania Attorney General
In office
October 14, 1833 – December 1, 1835
Governor George Wolf
Preceded by Ellis Lewis
Succeeded by James Todd
80th Mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In office
1828–1829
Preceded by Joseph Wilson
Succeeded by Benjamin Wood Richards
United States Minister to Russia
In office
March 7, 1837 – July 29, 1839
President Martin Van Buren
Preceded by John Randolph Clay
Succeeded by Churchill C. Cambreleng
United States Minister to the Court of St. James's
In office
April 4, 1856 – May 16, 1861
President Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by James Buchanan
Succeeded by Charles Francis Adams, Sr.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
In office
1829–1831
Nominated by Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Charles Jared Ingersoll
Succeeded by Henry D. Gilpin
Personal details
Born (1792-07-10)July 10, 1792
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died December 31, 1864(1864-12-31) (aged 72)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sophia Nicklin Dallas
Children 8
Alma mater College of New Jersey
Religion Episcopalian
Signature Cursive signature in ink

George Mifflin Dallas (July 10, 1792 – December 31, 1864) was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania (1831–1833) and the 11th Vice President of the United States (1845–1849), serving under President James K. Polk. Dallas also served as the Mayor of Philadelphia from 1828–1829.

Family and early life[edit]

Of Scottish ancestry, George Mifflin Dallas was born on July 10, 1792, to Alexander James Dallas and Arabella Smith Dallas in Philadelphia.[1] His father, born in Kingston, Jamaica and educated in Edinburgh, was the Secretary of the Treasury under United States President James Madison, and was also briefly the Secretary of War.[1] George Dallas was given his middle name after Thomas Mifflin, another politician who was good friends with his father.[2]

Dallas was the second of six children,[1] another of whom, Alexander, would become the commander of Pensacola Navy Yard. During Dallas's childhood, the family lived in a mansion on Fourth Street, with a second home in the countryside, situated on the Schuylkill River. He was educated privately at Quaker-run preparatory schools, before studying at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), from which he graduated with highest honors in 1810.[2] While at College, he participated in several activities, including the American Whig–Cliosophic Society.[3] Afterwards, he studied law, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1813.[1]

Early legal, diplomatic and financial service[edit]

Dallas did not have much enthusiasm at the time for legal practice, and wanted to fight in the War of 1812, a plan that he dropped due to his father's objection.[1] Just after this, Dallas accepted an offer to be the private secretary of Albert Gallatin, and he went to Russia with Gallatin who was sent there to try to secure its aid in peace negotiations between Great Britain and the United States.[1] Dallas enjoyed the opportunities offered to him by being in Russia, but after six months there he was ordered to go to London to determine whether the War of 1812 could be resolved diplomatically.[1] In August 1814, he arrived in Washington, D.C. and delivered a preliminary draft of Britain's peace terms.[1] There, he was appointed by James Madison to become the remitter of the treasury, which is considered a "convenient arrangement" because Dallas's father was serving at the time as that department's secretary.[1] Since the job did not entail a large workload, Dallas found time to develop his grasp of politics, his major vocational interest.[1] He later became the counsel to the Second Bank of the United States.[1] In 1817, Dallas's father died, ending Dallas's plan for a family law practice, and he stopped working for the Second Bank of the United States and became the deputy attorney general of Philadelphia, a position he held until 1820.[1]

Political career[edit]

After the War of 1812 ended, Pennsylvania's political climate was chaotic, with two factions in that state's Democratic party vying for control.[1] One, the Philadelphia-based "Family party", was led by Dallas, and it espoused the beliefs that the Constitution of the United States was supreme, that an energetic national government should exist that would implement protective tariffs, a powerful central banking system, and undertake internal improvements to the country in order to facilitate national commerce.[1] The other faction was called the "Amalgamators", headed by the future President James Buchanan.[1]

Voters elected Dallas Mayor of Philadelphia as the candidate of the Family party, after the party had gained control of the city councils.[1] However, he quickly grew bored of that post, and became the United States attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania in 1829, a position his father had held from 1801 to 1814, and continued in that role until 1831.[1] In December of that year, he won a five-man, eleven-ballot contest in the state legislature, that enabled him to become the Senator from Pennsylvania in order to complete the unexpired term[1] of the previous senator who had resigned.[4]

Dallas served less than fifteen months — from December 13, 1831, to March 4, 1833 — and declined to be a candidate for reelection. He was chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

Polk/Dallas campaign poster.

Dallas resumed the practice of law, was attorney general of Pennsylvania from 1833 to 1835, and served as the Grand Master of Freemasons in Pennsylvania in 1835.[5] He was appointed by President Martin Van Buren as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia from 1837 to 1839, when he was recalled at his own request. Dallas was elected Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket in 1844 with James K. Polk and served from March 4, 1845 to March 4, 1849.

President Franklin Pierce appointed Dallas in 1856 as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Britain, where he served until 1861.

In 1837 President Van Buren appointed him minister to Russia, which post he retained till October, 1839, when he was recalled, at his own request, and again resumed legal practice. George M. Dallas and James Buchanan were for many years rival leaders of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, and aspirants for the presidency of the United States. In May, 1844, the democratic convention at Baltimore nominated him for vice-president of the United States on the ticket with James K. Polk for president. The democratic candidates were elected by an electoral vote of 170 out of 275. In 1856 Mr. Dallas succeeded Mr. Buchanan as minister to Great Britain, and continued in that post from 4 February 1856, until the appointment by President Lincoln of Charles F. Adams, who relieved him on 16 May 1861. At the very beginning of his diplomatic service in England he was called to act upon the Central American question, and the request made by the United States to the British government that Sir John Crampton, the British minister to the United States, should be recalled. Mr. Dallas managed these delicate questions in a conciliatory spirit, but without any sacrifice of national dignity, and both were settled amicably. At the close of his diplomatic career Mr. Dallas returned to private life and took no further part in public affairs except to express condemnation of secession.[6]

Rivalry with James Buchanan[edit]

Dallas was a political rival with fellow Pennsylvanian James Buchanan, who would go on to be the fifteenth President of the United States. The rivalry was primarily centered around the power struggle in the Democratic party between the Dallas-led "Family party" and the rival "Amalgamators" led by James Buchanan. Intensity in the rivalry occurred during 1835, when "control of the state's party machinery shifted from the declining Family party to Buchanan's Amalgamators."[6] In 1845, Buchanan was appointed Secretary of State by President Polk, though not without Dallas's vehement objections.[7] Led by Dallas, the Philadelphia-based "Family party" shared his belief in the supremacy of the Constitution and in an active national government that would impose protective tariffs, operate a strong central banking system, and promote so-called internal improvements to facilitate national commerce. In factional opposition to Dallas stood the equally patrician James Buchanan of Harrisburg, head of the rival "Amalgamators," whose strength lay among the farmers of western Pennsylvania.

When the Family party gained control of the Philadelphia city councils, its members in 1828 elected Dallas as mayor. Boredom with that post quickly led Dallas—in his father's path—to the position of district attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, where he stayed from 1829 to 1831. In December 1831 he won a five-man, eleven-ballot contest in the state legislature for election to the U.S. Senate to complete an unexpired term. In the Senate for only fourteen months, he chaired the Naval Affairs Committee and supported President Andrew Jackson's views on protective tariffs and the use of force to implement federal tariff laws in South Carolina.[6] Although off the national stage, Dallas remained active in state Democratic politics. The tension with Buchanan intensified when the latter returned from his diplomatic post in Russia and secured Pennsylvania's other seat in the U.S. Senate. Dallas turned down opportunities to return to the Senate and to become the nation's attorney general. Instead, he accepted an appointment as state attorney general, holding that post until 1835, when control of the state's party machinery shifted from the declining Family party to Buchanan's Amalgamators. In 1837, it was Dallas' turn for political exile, as newly elected President Martin Van Buren named him U.S. minister to Russia. Although Dallas enjoyed the social responsibilities of that post, he soon grew frustrated at its lack of substantive duties and returned to the United States in 1839. He found that during his absence in St. Petersburg Buchanan had achieved a commanding position in the home state political contest that had long engaged the two men.[6]

In December 1839, Van Buren offered the U.S. attorney-generalship to Dallas after Buchanan had rejected the post. Dallas again declined the offer and spent the following years building his Philadelphia law practice. His relations with Buchanan remained troubled throughout this period.

Tariffs[edit]

Dallas determined that he would use his vice-presidential position to advance two of the administration's major objectives: tariff reduction and territorial expansion. As a Pennsylvanian, Dallas had traditionally supported the protectionist tariff policy that his state's coal and iron interests demanded. But as vice president, elected on a platform dedicated to tariff reduction, he agreed to do anything necessary to realize that goal. Dallas equated the vice president's constitutional power to break tied votes in the Senate with the president's constitutional power to veto acts of Congress. At the end of his vice-presidential term, Dallas claimed that he cast thirty tie-breaking votes during his four years in office (although only nineteen of these have been identified in Senate records). Taking obvious personal satisfaction in this record, Dallas singled out this achievement and the fairness with which he believed he accomplished it in his farewell address to the Senate. Not interested in political suicide, however, Dallas sought to avoid having to exercise his singular constitutional prerogative on the tariff issue, actively lobbying senators during the debate over Treasury Secretary Walker's tariff bill in the summer of 1846. He complained to his wife (whom he sometimes addressed as "Mrs. Vice") that the Senate speeches on the subject were "as vapid as inexhaustible. . . . All sorts of ridiculous efforts are making, by letters, newspaper-paragraphs, and personal visits, to affect the Vice's casting vote, by persuasion or threat."

Despite Dallas' efforts to avoid taking a stand, the Senate completed its voting on the Walker Tariff with a 27-to-27 tie. (A twenty-eighth vote in favor was held in reserve by a senator who opposed the measure but agreed to follow the instructions of his state legislature to support it.) When he cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the tariff on July 28, 1846, Dallas rationalized that he had studied the distribution of Senate support and concluded that backing for the measure came from all regions of the country. Additionally, the measure had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, a body closer to public sentiment. He apprehensively explained to the citizens of Pennsylvania that "an officer, elected by the suffrages of all twenty-eight states, and bound by his oath and every constitutional obligation, faithfully and fairly to represent, in the execution of his high trust, all the citizens of the Union" could not "narrow his great sphere and act with reference only to [Pennsylvania's] interests." While his action, based on a mixture of party loyalty and political opportunism, earned Dallas the respect of the president and certain party leaders—and possible votes in 1848 from the southern and western states that supported low tariffs—it effectively demolished his home state political base, ending any serious prospects for future elective office. (He even advised his wife in a message hand-delivered by the Senate Sergeant at Arms, "If there be the slightest indication of a disposition to riot in the city of Philadelphia, owing to the passage of the Tariff Bill, pack up and bring the whole brood to Washington.")

While Dallas' tariff vote destroyed him in Pennsylvania, his aggressive views on Oregon and the Mexican War crippled his campaign efforts elsewhere in the nation. In his last hope of building the necessary national support to gain the White House, the vice president shifted his attention to the aggressive, expansionist foreign policy program embodied in the concept of "Manifest Destiny." He actively supported efforts to gain control of Texas, the Southwest, Cuba, and disputed portions of the Oregon territory.[6]

Death[edit]

Dallas returned to Philadelphia, and lived in Philadelphia until his death from a heart attack on December 31, 1864, at the age of 72.[8] He is interred in St. Peter's Churchyard.

Legacy[edit]

Dallas County, Iowa,[9] Dallas County, Arkansas, Dallas County, Missouri,[10] Dallas Center, Iowa[11] and Dallas County, Texas[12] were named in his honor.

Other U.S. cities and towns named in Dallas' honor include Dallas, Georgia (the county seat of Paulding County, Georgia),[13] Dallas, North Carolina (the former county seat of Gaston County, North Carolina),[14] Dallas, Oregon (the county seat of Polk County, Oregon)[15] and Dallastown, Pennsylvania.[16] (It is debated whether the city of Dallas, Texas is named after the Vice President—see History of Dallas, Texas (1839-1855) for more information.)

Dallas is the great-great-granduncle of former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, and was the uncle of George M. Bache and Alexander Dallas Bache.

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "George Mifflin Dallas, 11th Vice President (1845–1849)". 
  2. ^ a b Belohlavek, "George Mifflin Dallas", p. 109.
  3. ^ "Daily Princetonian - Special Class of 1979 Issue 25 July 1975 — Princeton Periodicals". Theprince.princeton.edu. 1975-07-25. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  4. ^ "Barnard, Isaac Dutton, (1791–1834)". 
  5. ^ "George Mifflin Dallas - 1835". Pagrandlodge.org. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "George Mifflin Dallas, 11th Vice President (1845–1849)". U.S. Senate: Art & History Home. Library of Congress. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Seigenthaler (2004), pp. 107–108.
  8. ^ Belohlavek, "George Mifflin Dallas", p. 118.
  9. ^ "Profile for Dallas County, Iowa, IA". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Profile for Dallas County, Missouri, MO". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Dallas Center, Iowa". City-Data.com. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Profile for Dallas County, Texas, TX". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Profile for Dallas, Georgia, GA". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Profile for Dallas, North Carolina, NC". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Profile for Dallas, Oregon, OR". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Profile for Dallastown, Pennsylvania, PA". ePodunk. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
Bibliography
  • Belohlavek, John (2010). "George Mifflin Dallas". In L.Edward Purcell. Vice Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary. Infobase Publishing. pp. 108–118. ISBN 9781438130712. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Tyler
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
Succeeded by
Millard Fillmore
Preceded by
Joseph Watson
Mayor of Philadelphia
1828–1829
Succeeded by
Benjamin Wood Richards
United States Senate
Preceded by
Isaac D. Barnard
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
December 13, 1831 – March 4, 1833
Served alongside: William Wilkins
Succeeded by
Samuel McKean
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Mentor Johnson,
Littleton W. Tazewell,
James K. Polk
Democratic vice presidential nominee
1844(1)
Succeeded by
William Orlando Butler
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Buchanan
U.S. Minister to Britain
1856–1861
Succeeded by
Charles Francis Adams, Sr.
Preceded by
John R. Clay
U.S. Minister to Russia
1837–1839
Succeeded by
Churchill C. Cambreleng
Legal offices
Preceded by
Ellis Lewis
Attorney General of Pennsylvania
1833–1835
Succeeded by
James Todd
Preceded by
Charles Jared Ingersoll
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
1829–1831
Succeeded by
Henry D. Gilpin
Notes and references
1. The Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee was split this year among three candidates.