Question of the Week
True or False? Alexander James Dallas and George Mifflin Dallas formed a powerful law firm in the 1800s?
Answer: False. Though a joint venture between the two was planned, Alexander James Dallas died before it materialized.
Alexander James Dallas was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in June 1759, but spent his formative years in the United Kingdom. There he studied law, but his education was cut short due to a lack of funds. In his early twenties, then married to Arabella Maria Smith, Dallas immigrated to Philadelphia, where he eventually became a successful lawyer. In 1791, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin appointed Dallas as the secretary of Pennsylvania. Dallas later served a term as secretary of the treasury (1814-1816) under President James Madison. Dallas resigned from federal work in the mid 1810s and resumed his legal practice in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, George Mifflin Dallas, one of Alexander's sons, had also made a name for himself in Philadelphia. He was born in July 1792 and married into the affluent Chew family via Sophia Chew Nicklin. He studied at Princeton University, was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar, and worked in his father's law practice during the early 1810s. In 1813, he accompanied Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin on a peace mission to Russia, England, and Belgium. In 1815, he began a stint as a solicitor for the Second Bank of the United States.
When Alexander returned to his law firm later in life, he and his son George intended to practice together, but the union never formed. Only three months after resuming legal work, Alexander died in January, 1817. George Mifflin Dallas went on to have a successful political career that included tenures as mayor of Philadelphia (1828-1829), attorney general of Pennsylvania (1833-1835), and United States vice-president under James K. Polk (1845-1849). George died in Philadelphia in December, 1864.
The papers of George Mifflin Dallas (#1460A) and (#1460B) at HSP cover both his career and that of his father Alexander. They include correspondence, diplomatic papers, speeches, memos, land papers, printed matter, and other miscellaneous items.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.