William Worth Belknap: An American Disgrace
Edward S. Cooper

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Well paced and fact filled, this biography describes the public and private events that forever influenced the impeachment process.

William Worth Belknap was a Civil War hero who later became the Secretary of War. As Secretary, Belknap was accused of accepting bribes. When the scandal was publicized, he quickly resigned from office. Even though his resignation did not shield him from being formally impeached, it forced Congress to evaluate the two constitutional punishments pertaining to impeachment. The first punishment, being removed from office, was not at issue since Belknap had resigned. The second punishment, the inability to hold future office, warranted a trial. Fortunately for Belknap there was disagreement over jurisdictional issues and he was found not guilty. The precedent of this verdict has been consistently followed. Since Belknap’s case, nine civil officials facing impeachment have resigned from office and avoided a trial. These officials included judges, a Collector of Customs, and President Nixon.

Despite the historical emphasis of this book, Cooper presents a well rounded, readable, chronicle of Belknap’s life. The book begins with the scandal and then backtracks to Belknap’s childhood and the events that precipitated the incident. The author recounts Belknap’s family background, military career and his relationship with women. These relationships influence the decisions that led to his ultimate demise. The glimpses into Belknap’s private life coax the reader through the book and add context to the scandal. Anyone interested in constitutional issues or the impeachment process will find this a fascinating and enjoyable read.

-- Jane Woldow, Acquisitions and Legal Research Librarian, “Vermont Law Library Newsletter” Vol. 2, Iss. 3, Feb, 2004

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Photograph courtesy of Louise Dell-Bene Stahl © 2001



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