Charles Joseph Bonaparte, Esq.
d.28 Jun 1921 Baltimore (independent city), Maryland, United States
m. 3 Nov 1829
Facts and Events
Bonaparte was born in Baltimore, Md., graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Baltimore and became prominent in movements for the betterment of municipal and national affairs. He was a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1902 to 1904, chairman of the National Civil Service Reform League in 1904, and president of the National Municipal League in 1905. For ten years, beginning in 1891, he was overseer of Harvard, and was made a trustee of the Catholic University of America in 1904. He was appointed secretary of the navy in 1905 in the cabinet of President Theodore Roosevelt, and served as attorney general from 1906 to 1909.
A later account favorably described him: "Charles Joseph was brilliant. (In days to come Theodore Roosevelt would term him "the most forceful mind of the country.") His memory was positively astounding. He went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School and then into practice, able to skim through the files on a case for a few moments and offer precedents down to volume and page. Money being no problem, he took on many poverty-stricken clients. With remarkable intelligence married to the highest social position--he was, after all, a millionairess's grandson and a grandnephew and cousin of emperors--he went about perpetually smiling. That was what everyone noted about him: the grin. He was always calm and frequently chuckled to himself. His primary interest was in civil service reform. The spoils system, he said, made for a "kakistrophy," the governance of a people by its worst elements. (The concept seemed odd coming from a descendant of Napoleon, who gave whole countries to relatives solely because they were of his blood.)
"A patrician muckraker, Charles Joseph Bonaparte fought political corruption in Baltimore and in Maryland, his opponents graft, the boss, and the ring. Imperial Peacock, Academic Pharisee, his bitter enemies dubbed him. Also Souphouse Charlie for his remark that a public school differed little in principle from a charity soup kitchen; he did not much believe in public education, thinking it gave the poor "crude notions about history or physics" while teaching them "to mispronounce a few words of one or two foreign languages. "Far better they be simple blacksmiths or carpenters, their intellectual uplift left in the hands of private philanthropists such as himself.
"To understand him, his friends said, possession of a sense of humor was indispensable. Once, at a National Civil Service Reform League meeting, Roosevelt spoke of how he had conducted a shooting competition for applicants wishing to be lawmen. "Mr. Roosevelt has been very remiss," Bonaparte then told the assemblage. "He should have had the men shoot at each other, and given the job to the survivors." (The creation of laughter was apparently his main object in public life, noted the Baltimore Sun.) As President, Roosevelt appointed him a special counsel to prosecute cases of fraud and bribery in federal departments; he did it with such skill that he was nicknamed Charlie the Crook-Chaser. Roosevelt also made him Secretary of the Navy, in which capacity he proposed the destruction of the derelict USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides." Mass meetings and schoolchildren protested, "Ay, tear her tattered ensign down." Secretary Bonaparte then suggested that she be towed out to sea and used for battleship target practice and so die a warrior's death. That only made things worse. Next, he became Roosevelt's Attorney General, a successful trustbuster who said he wished to keep the great hogs away from the trough, so the little ones could get some feed.
"He purchased no relics of his family, disliked being told that he physically resembled the Little Corporal, and was so thorough a patriot that he never went to France or even Europe; he preferred his own country, he said. (His grandmother Betsy, who lived to be ninety-four, never gave up her dream that he or his officer brother would yet be crowned in Paris.) With Roosevelt's departure from the White House, Bonaparte returned to private life, traveling to his office in Baltimore from his outlying estate in a carriage drawn by blooded horses weaving their way among the automobiles. His coachman and footman wore modified Bonapartist liveries of black piped in red and high silk hats with gold bands. He took his lunch in a silver box, two sandwiches. Bonaparte was much in demand as a speaker on public events, "making talkee-talkee," he termed it. His general theme was the danger of sentimentalist views. He and his childless wife were often seen holding hands, he with his eternal smile. He died in 1921, and most of his fortune went to Catholic charities. Bonapartes are almost extinct in the male line, so it is likely that he was the last of the family to play any part in public affairs anywhere."
Secretary of the Navy under Pres. T. Roosevelt d.s.p.; resided at 601 Park Ave, Baltimore, MD in 1906
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Charles Joseph Bonaparte.