George Maxwell Robeson

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George Maxwell Robeson (16 March, 1829 – 27 September, 1897) served as the twenty-sixth Secretary of the Navy from 1869 through 1877.

Life & Career

Robeson was born at Oxford Furnace, near Belvidere, New Jersey on March 16, 1829. He pursued an academic course and graduated from Princeton College in 1847, where he studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1850, practiced in Newark and subsequently in Camden. He was appointed prosecuting attorney for Camden County in 1858 and was active in organizing the State troops for service in the Civil War. For this work he was commissioned as a brigadier general by Governor Parker. In 1867 he was elected attorney general of New Jersey, and served until his resignation on June 22, 1869.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Robeson Secretary of the Navy, and he served in that office for the remainder of Grant's presidency. At the time, so one writer claims, Robeson was unknown either "to the public or to the leading politicians."[1] Today his most remembered act as Secretary of the Navy was his attempt to secure funding for five new monitors by claiming they were "repairs" of incomplete Civil War vessels of the same names. The attempt ended in scandal and the ships would not be completed until the late 1890s. Robeson was also dogged by rumors of corruption and "seemed to be living beyond the means of his salary; when, under pressure, he released a statement of his bank account to the congressional investigators it revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars he couldn't explain. The natural presumption was that the money had come from navy contractors. But the paper trail was so confused that the investigators did nothing beyond chastising Robeson rhetorically."[2]

Following the end of Grant's presidency, Robeson resumed the practice of law in Camden briefly, before returning to politics as a member of House of Representatives in the Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Congresses from 1879 to 1883, during which he served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Navy from 1881 to 1883. His campaign for reelection in 1882 was unsuccessful and he retired from politics.

Robeson died September 27, 1897 in Trenton, New Jersey.

See Also


  • Brands, H. W. (2012). The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace. New York City: Doubleday.
  • Friedman, Norman (1985). U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-715-1. (on
  • Hagan, Kenneth J. (1992). This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power. Paperback ed. New York: The Free Press.
  • Niven, John (1973). Gideon Welles: Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy. New York City: Oxford University Press.
  • Rentfrow, James C. (2014). Home Squadron: The U.S. Navy on the North Atlantic Station. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.


Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Adolph E. Borie
Secretary of the Navy
26 Jun, 1869 – 4 Mar, 1877
Succeeded by
Richard W. Thompson


  1. Niven. Gideon Welles. p. 571.
  2. Brands. Man Who Saved the Union. p. 561.