William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace

Synopsis

"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 salutes as he arrived at West Point, his name in the newspapers, and the power to appoint his cronies to lucrative positions. And if, to maintain his position as Secretary of War, lavish expenditures were required, he would willingly accept bribes." "This is not just the story of one or more grafter from the Gilded Age of the Grant administration. The effects of the Belknap scandal are still felt today. The House of Representatives realized that there are two punishments in the Constitution pertaining to impeachment, one being the removal from office, the other being the inability to hold future office. The House, therefore, impeached Belknap even though he had resigned. The majority in the Senate decided to conduct the trial, but because more than one-third of the Senators felt they had no jurisdiction, Belknap was found not guilty. A precedent had been set. An officer of the United States can perform any misdeed in office and terminate impeachment proceedings and escape the punishment of forever being barred from holding future office by simply resigning. And the precedent has been studiously followed. Since Belknap's case there have been seven judges, one collector of customs, and President Nixon who have resigned under threat of impeachment. None were tried." "This first-ever biography of Belknap utilizes previously untapped manuscripts, correspondence, governmental records, and law journals collected from various locations around the country." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.