The Napoleonic Influence on American Law Enforcement

As Napoleon Bonaparte caused war to spread throughout Europe and his growing empire threatened to destroy long-established national borders, some in the United States feared that even the Atlantic Ocean would not be able to stop him. With significant French holdings to the west of the fledgling USA, it didn’t take much of an imagination to wonder what would happen if Napoleon’s imperial aspirations sought to increase the size of his North American possessions, as well.

Charles Joseph Bonaparte

Those who were afraid of a new era of lawlessness because of Napoleonic influence found their fears to be unfounded. That’s not to say that the country would not experience any effect. In fact, the Bonaparte family would end up playing a big role in the United States, but in a way that couldn’t be further from anarchy and lawlessness.

When Napoleon’s brother married a woman from Baltimore, many feared that their child would use his U.S. citizenship and French aristocratic claims to extend Napoleon’s empire into the United States. These fears gave rise to a proposed Titles of Nobility Amendment (discussed here).

That child, Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte, was born in London in 1805. As the nephew to Napoleon, he carried the title “prince.” His right to succession to the French crown experienced a bit of a hiccup when Uncle Napoleon annulled the marriage of his father, Jerome Bonaparte, and his mother, Betsy Patterson. That ruling was later reversed by Napoleon III.

“A Scholar who is also, and first of all, a gentleman may be… specially interested is some particular field of knowledge, but he is indifferent to none. He knows how to value every successful effort to master truth; how to look beyond the little things of science… to the great things – God’s handiwork as seen in nature, God’s mind as shadowed in the workings of the minds of men.”

Charles Joseph Bonaparte

It turns out, that was all moot because Jérôme’s interests were on the other side of the ocean. He moved to the United States, where he met and married Susan May Williams. They settled down and raised two sons, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II, and Charles Joseph Bonaparte.

It was Charles, the great-nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, who would have the biggest influence on the destiny of the United States.

Like his father, Charles attended Harvard and received his law degree. Like his great-uncle, he turned his attention to government — although in a decidedly less-militant manner.

In 1905, Charles was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Theodore Roosevelt. One year later, Roosevelt moved Charles to the Cabinet position of Attorney General of the United States. It was in this capacity that he earned the nickname “Charlie the Crook Chaser” because of his relentless pursuit of justice.

One of his more ambitious initiatives was the creation of a federal department of law enforcement devoted to investigating crime. In 1908, he created the Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice. That department, in 1935, changed its name to the one by which it continues to be known: the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

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