Bonaparte in the President’s Cabinet

Two hundred years ago this week, Napoléon Bonaparte’s bid for continued military glory in Europe was crushed by allied British and Prussian troops at the Battle of Waterloo. Following his surrender, the former Emperor of France had hoped that the British might allow him to live the remainder of his life in exile in the United States. However, Napoléon had already escaped exile once before (from the Mediterranean island of Elba) and once again rallied the French around him in a last-ditch effort to conquer the European continent prior to Waterloo. Unwilling to risk another vanishing act, the British instead banished Napoléon to one of the most isolated places in the world — the island of Saint Helena, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, between Africa and South Africa — for the rest of his life.

Some of the Bonaparte family did eventually reach the United States, however. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1851–1921), the American-born grandson of Napoléon’s youngest brother, Jérôme, as the U.S. Secretary of the Navy. A year later, Roosevelt shifted Bonaparte from the Department of the Navy to the Justice Department. For the rest of Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency, the great-nephew of the man responsible for the Napoléonic code was the United States Attorney General — America’s top law enforcement official — where he helped establish the Bureau of Investigation, better known today as the FBI.

Originally published at