Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Alexander J. Dallas (1815–1815): Secretary of War

Alexander Dallas was born in Jamaica on June 21, 1759, and attended Edinburgh University, but he did not graduate. He gained his first political experience as secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1791-1801). A lawyer by trade, Dallas had operated his own practice in Philadelphia for nine years (1783-1791) prior to his appointment.

While secretary, Dallas used his legal background to take up the unofficial occupation of court reporter in Pennsylvania (1791-1807), ensuring the availability of crucial state and national judicial decisions for future generations. With the onset of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, Dallas also served as both aide-de-camp to Governor Thomas Mifflin and as a paymaster general for federal forces.

In 1801, Dallas left the governor's office to become U.S. district attorney for Pennsylvania's Eastern District, holding that office until 1814. During that time, he earned further political recognition for helping to establish the Constitutional Republican Party in Pennsylvania (1805).

In 1814, President James Madison named Dallas secretary of the treasury upon the recommendation of former secretary Albert Gallatin. Dallas served in that capacity until 1816, acting as interim secretary of state in 1815 as well. He resumed his practice of law in 1816 and died in Trenton, New Jersey, on January 16, 1817.