James Guthrie (1853 - 1857)

A prominent businessman and financier in the South, James Guthrie (1792 - 1869) was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Franklin Pierce in 1853. As Secretary he was a vigorous and effective administrator, and he soon realized that the recent significant growth of government business demanded a revision of Treasury Department methods. He overhauled Treasury regulations, curbed extravagance, and weeded out incompetence, declaring as his aim "to infuse vigilance, fidelity and economy into the public service." Guthrie warned Customs collectors that they could not "too soon enter upon the task of reforming what has been amiss, and introducing a more energetic, vigilant and economical system," and he required of them monthly, rather than quarterly, reports.

Portrait of James Guthrie.

Sec. James Guthrie
Eliphalet Frazer Andrews
Oil on canvas
64 1/8 x 54 1/8 x 3 3/4"

By 1853 the government surplus was large and commercial banks were suffering from the lack of currency in circulation. Guthrie used the surplus to buy silver bullion for coinage and to pay off the federal debt, returning money to circulation and increasing the reserves of commercial banks. He also hired Army Engineer Major Alexander Bowman in 1853 to begin construction on the south wing of the Treasury Building extension. Guthrie resigned at the end of Pierce's term in 1857.

About the Artist

Eliphalet Frazer Andrews (1835 - 1915) was born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1835 and studied art at the Dusseldorf Academy with Ludwig Knaus and in Paris with Leon Bonnat. He returned to the United States and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1877, just as his friend Rutherford B. Hayes took up residence in the White House. Under the patronage of financier W.W. Corcoran, Andrews founded the Corcoran School of Art, and as a volunteer teacher from 1877 to 1887 he played a crucial supporting role during its early years. The Centennial celebration in 1876 created a demand for images of the heroes of the early Republic, and Andrews was commissioned by the Government to copy many early portraits. His copies of early likenesses of Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, and Thomas Jefferson are now in the White House. His portrait of James Guthrie is also copied from an earlier portrait.