Benjamin H. Bristow (1874 - 1876)

Benjamin H. Bristow (1832 - 1896) served as the first Solicitor General (1870 - 1872) and was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Grant in 1874. He promptly initiated a much needed internal reorganization of the

Portrait of Benjamin H. Bristow.

Sec. Benjamin H. Bristow
Richard Norris Brooke
Oil on canvas
65 1/4 x 56 1/4 x 5"

Department, dismissing the Second-Comptroller for inefficiency, shaking up the detective force, and consolidating collection districts in the Customs and Internal Revenue services.

Bristow argued vigorously but unsuccessfully for the resumption of specie payments: "The history of irredeemable paper currency repeats itself whenever and wherever it is used. It increases prices, deludes the laborer with the idea that he is getting higher wages, and brings fictitious prosperity ... until it is discovered that trade and commerce have become fatally diseased." Bristow's greatest accomplishment was the breaking up in 1874 of the Whiskey Ring, a powerful group of moonshiners who evaded the Internal Revenue tax on whiskey. Bristow's investigation implicated many local and Treasury officials, including some close to Grant. The Ring, fighting back, convinced Grant that Bristow was using his office to scheme for the Republican nomination. Fearing competition, Grant pressured Bristow to resign in 1876.

About the Artist

Virginia born Richard Norris Brooke (1847 - 1920) studied painting in Philadelphia and Paris before settling permanently in Washington, D.C. An active member of the Capitol's art community, Brooke served as Vice-President of the Washington Art Club and President of the Society of Washington Artists. He was a founder of the Art Students League of Washington. In addition, he taught classes at and was vice-principal of the Corcoran School of Art. Involved in the official art business of Washington, Brooke was commissioned to paint portraits for the Treasury Department and the U.S. Capitol. Although Benjamin Bristow was still alive when Brooke painted this portrait in the early 1890s, it does not appear to have been done from life but was probably based on available documentation such as engravings or earlier paintings.


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