William Worth Belknap

WILLIAM WORTH BELKNAP was born in Newburgh, New York, on 22 September 1829; graduated from Princeton University in 1848; studied law at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; was admitted to the bar, 1851; moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and entered the practice of law; served in the state legislature, 1857–1858; was commissioned major in the 15th Iowa Infantry, 1861; participated in the Civil War battles of Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg; was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 4th Division, XVII Corps, 1864; participated in General Sherman’s operations in Georgia and the Carolinas; was mustered out of service as a major general, 1865; married and lost his first two wives, Cora LeRoy and Carrie Tomlinson, and married Mrs. John Bower, his second wife’s sister; was collector of internal revenue in Iowa, 1865–1869; served as Secretary of War, 25 October 1869–2 March 1876; launched the secretarial portrait gallery, circa 1872; recommended that Congress act to fix May 1 as the start of the fiscal year; inaugurated the preparation of historical reports by post commanders; proposed actions to preserve Yellowstone Park; was impeached by a unanimous vote of the House of Representatives for allegedly having received money in return for post tradership appointments; resigned the secretaryship before being brought to trial, March 1876; was tried by the United States Senate, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds required for conviction; moved to Philadelphia, then returned to Washington to resume the practice of law; died in Washington, D.C., on 13 October 1890.

The Artist

Daniel Huntington (1816–1906), who produced a larger number of secretarial portraits than any other artist, and Secretary Belknap, who created the portrait gallery, came together in a direct association in 1874 when Huntington painted the sitting secretary from life. With the line of descent brought up to date, a new era opened. Secretaries began to select their own portraitists, and the artists began to paint their subjects from life. The first century with its predominance of copy work gave way to a second century marked by an interplay of personal relationships that is reflected in the official portraiture.


Portrait, William Worth Belknap

Grant Administration
By Daniel Huntington
Oil on canvas, 29½" x 24½", 1874


page created 2 March 2001

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