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Book cover of William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

by Edward S. Cooper

Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9780838639900

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Overview of William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

"William Worth Belknap (1829-1890), the son of an active duty war hero, grew up in a household dominated by women. When he went to Princeton to study, his mother and sisters lived just off campus. When he married, his mother and sisters moved into his house. During the Civil War he demonstrated his ability to lead troops and displayed personal heroism. President Grant, who knew Belknap's father, appointed him Secretary of War. Belknap's wife died during the war and he married Carrie, a strong, domineering, and determined woman. When they moved to Washington, they lived in grand style. They had the finest mansion, the best china, liveried coachmen, and provided elaborate receptions for 1,200 guests. His wife vied with the other wives of Cabinet members and the aristocracy of Washington society for the title of "Queen of Society." Carrie easily won the contest. When Carrie died, Belknap married her sister Amanda, who spent even more lavishly than Carrie. She too was named "Queen" by the society pages. After six years the truth become known: Belknap's lifestyle was subsidized by accepting bribes. He ignominiously resigned his office but still was impeached by the House of Representatives." "It would be easy to blame Belknap's downfall on his hedonistic wives, as his apologists have suggested. He was easily manipulated by women, but he also possessed other more ominous flaws. Belknap turned obligation into suspicion, distrust, and finally hatred. William Tecumseh Sherman and Oliver Otis Howard had both helped advance Belknap's career. Now as Secretary of War, he would drive Sherman into exile and hound Howard through the courts. He was also capable of gloating over the death of an opponent. George Armstrong Custer testified against Belknap a few weeks before leading the Seventh Cavalry at Little Bighorn. Belknap received the news of the massacre, not as a tragedy, but as the settling of the score with at least one enemy. Belknap relished the pomp of the canon salut

Synopsis of William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

Not until he had retired from a career in electrical engineering did Cooper come out of the closet and confess that he was really a biographer, and not the kind who only writes about likable people. Belknap (1829-90), an army brat, came up through the ranks to brigadier general during the Civil War. Then he was appointed Secretary of War by President Grant, but his term was marked by graft so blatant that even Congress noticed. He resigned before he could be impeached. Cooper also points out some good accomplished on his watch—in the weather service, the military justice system, and the preservation of Mathew Brady's photographs. Distributed in the US by Associated University Presses. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

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