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George Maxwell Robeson


In office
June 26, 1869 – March 4, 1877
Preceded by Adolph E. Borie
Succeeded by Richard W. Thompson

In office
1867 – 1869
Preceded by Frederick T. Frelinghuysen

In office
March 4, 1879 – March 3, 1883
Preceded by Clement Hall Sinnickson
Succeeded by Thomas M. Ferrell

Born March 16, 1829(1829-03-16)
Oxford Furnace, New Jersey, U.S.
Died September 27, 1897 (aged 68)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater Princeton University
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Brigadier General
Battles/wars American Civil War

George Maxwell Robeson (March 16, 1829 – September 27, 1897) was an American Republican Party politician and lawyer from New Jersey who served as a Union army general during the American Civil War, and then as Secretary of the Navy during the Grant administration. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1879 to 1883. Robeson was a nephew of George C. Maxwell and the first cousin of John Patterson Bryan Maxwell, both of whom also represented New Jersey in the House of Representatives.[1]

Contents

Biography

Robeson was born in Oxford Furnace, New Jersey. He studied law and became public prosecutor for Camden County.

During the Civil War, he was appointed a brigadier general by the Governor of New Jersey, and also served as the Attorney General of New Jersey from 1867-1869.

Robeson was appointed Secretary of Navy by President Ulysses S. Grant, replacing Adolph E. Borie who served only a few months. He held the position until the end of Grant's second term, serving from June 26, 1869 until March 4, 1877. Robeson, while Secretary of Navy, allegedly took $320,000 in bribes from a grain company to pay for a new vacation home.[2] Robeson was also alleged by a House committee to have squandered $15,000,000 of missing Naval construction funds to purchase real estate in Washington D.C. Robeson was so good at hiding his financial tracks that he was known as "the cuttle fish" of the Navy.[3]

After leaving the Navy Department Robeson returned to his law practice in Camden County. From March 4, 1879-March 3, 1883, he served as U.S. Congressman from New Jersey, representing New Jersey's 1st congressional district, then again returned to his practice and worked there until his death at age 68 in 1897. Robeson is buried at Belvidere Cemetery in Belvidere, New Jersey.

Reputation and controversy

Robeson's services as Secretary of the Navy under Grant have never been fully examined. When he became Secretary the U.S. Navy was considered one of the most modern and best in the world following the success of the Union's fleets in the American Civil War. But the general rumor of the Grant years was that our seeming lead in naval construction, particularly with modern ironclad warships, was lost due to corruption pushed by Robeson and his cronies. Instead of building newer and better ships, Robeson had the older ones repaired peacemeal, and (the story went) the contracts went to his friends. The result was that the fleet deteriorated. It was later suggested that only a series of energetic Secretaries of the Navy in the 1880s, culminating in Benjamin Tracy in the administration of Benjamin Harrison, saved the honor of the U.S. Navy.

On the other hand, after the bloodshed and horrors of the Civil War, there was a general desire to reduce military expenditure whenever possible. The army too was reduced in size, being just large enough for the purposes of assisting in the Reconstruction programs of the southern states and the patrolling and controlling of the Indians in the west. Robeson's policies may very well have been dictated by these movements of the public and Congress. If so he may have lacked real spirit and enterprise, but he was simply doing what was expected of him.

He did help push the "Polaris" Expedition of Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall in 1870, that went to Northern Greenland, and made the then record of furthest North. Although the expedition ended in disarray after the mysterious death of Hall in 1871, it did have some accomplishments. One was to honor the Secretary with the naming of Robeson Channel for him.

Also, during the events of 1873 resulting from the Virginius Affair, Robeson did his best to get the navy ready if needed to confront the Kingdom of Spain around Cuba.

See also

References

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Frederick T. Frelinghuysen
New Jersey Attorney General
1867–1869
Succeeded by
Robert Gilchrist, Jr.
Military offices
Preceded by
Adolph E. Borie
United States Secretary of the Navy
June 26, 1869–March 4, 1877
Succeeded by
Richard W. Thompson
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Clement Hall Sinnickson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1879–March 3, 1883
Succeeded by
Thomas M. Ferrell
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