Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Charles J. Bonaparte (1905–1906): Secretary of the Navy

The grand nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Joseph Bonaparte made a name for himself while serving as both secretary of the Navy and attorney general in Theodore Roosevelt's cabinet. Bonaparte was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 9, 1851, attending a French school and being privately tutored before entering Harvard College. He graduated in 1872 and then earned his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1874.

Bonaparte's work as founder of the Baltimore Reform League and the The Civil Service Reformer brought him into close contact with Theodore Roosevelt, who had been the civil service commissioner for the city of New York. The two soon became close friends.

Bonaparte secured his first post in the presidential cabinet of Theodore Roosevelt as secretary of the Navy following the resignation of Paul Morton in 1905. He was an advocate for a larger Navy and concurred with the President's desire for a big ship Navy. Bonaparte would assume another cabinet slot, becoming attorney general following the resignation of William Henry Moody. In that capacity, Bonaparte would become a member of TR's "trust-busting" team.

His most important accomplishment came when he founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908, hiring special agents to serve as an investigative force in the Justice Department. With Roosevelt's term ending in 1909, Bonaparte returned to his law practice in Baltimore. Bonaparte passed away at his Maryland country estate on June 28, 1921.