Italian Historical Society of America

Biographies presented in this page: 
Charles J. Bonaparte
William Paca
Peter Caesar Alberti
Charles Atlas - Angelo Siciliano (1913 -1972)

  Special Interest

   Charles J. Bonaparte (Founder of the FBI)

Charles J. Bonaparte was born in Baltimore, Maryland on June 9, 1851. Subsequent to receiving his law degree from Harvard University, Bonaparte began to pursue a distinguished career in jurisprudence. Charles J. Bonaparte

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him the 46th Attorney General of the United States. Bonaparte soon discovered that he was hampered in carrying out President Roosevelt's "trust-busting" policies because of the absence of a permanent investigative staff. Until that time, the Justice Department had been limited to hiring only temporary investigators, usually borrowing them from the Treasury Department's Secret Service.

On July 28, 1908, acting on Presidential instructions, Bonaparte issued the order which made his special investigative force a permanent subdivision of the Department of Justice. In 1935, what had begun as a 23 man unit under Bonaparte's direction was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In addition to his service in the Roosevelt Administration, Bonaparte is remembered for his important work as founder of the National Civil Service Reform League, and as an organizer and president of the National Municipal League.

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For the last 40 years, the Italian Historical Society of America has held an annual ceremony at the Department of Justice commemorating the accomplishments of Charles Bonaparte. Below are the comments of Arthur Gajarsa, Judge, United States Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit.

Remarks of Arthur Gajarsa Judge, United States Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit

Delivered at the Grand Hall of the Department of Justice June 26, 1998 - Washington, D.C. on the occasion of the annual commemoration of the Italian Historical Society of America of Charles J. Bonaparte Founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Bonaparte the Reformer

It is my pleasure to be with you today. It is truly an honor to provide remarks at this ceremony which has graced so many individuals over the years, including Attorney General Robert Kennedy and our own Judge Re. I want to thank Associate Attorney General Raymond Fisher, my good friend, for taking time out of his busy schedule to greet you.

Much can be said about the accomplishments of Charles Joseph Bonaparte. He was a member of the Indian tribal commission, the secretary of the Navy, and the 46th Attorney General of the United States. He also argued over 50 Supreme Court cases and led the Department of Justice in pursuing landmark antitrust investigations involving the Standard Oil Company, the American Tobacco Company and the Union Pacific Railroad, and, perhaps most prominently, 90 years ago, he founded a small unit of Justice Department investigators that, over the years, has become the preeminent criminal investigative agency in all the world - The Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As one who immigrated to this country from Italy, I find it truly remarkable that Bonaparte accomplished all these things during a darker time in our nation's history, when there were decided and overwhelming prejudices - particularly in the power structures of the Nation - against persons with olive-colored complexions and names ending with a vowel. Do not think that I am overstating, remember that in 1906, the same year Bonaparte was appointed Attorney General by President Teddy Roosevelt, the United States paid indemnity to Italy because of the failure of New Orleans officials to prevent the mass lynching of Italian citizens.

But, perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Bonaparte obtained his many appointments neither by culling favors, nor by hanging onto the coattails of some political impresario. Rather, he was an honest-to-goodness, dyed-in-the-wool, brash reformer -- one who sought to shake the very foundations of the political structures and government of his time. Susan B. Anthony, obviously a major reformer in those times. She once wrote that "[C]autious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation." In other words you must be willing to give it all you have to make a difference.

I believe that Attorney General Bonaparte certainly had those qualities required to make a difference. In fact, without diminishing all of his many accomplishments, I believe that it is as a political reformer that Bonaparte most distinguished himself.

In 1874, when Bonaparte began practicing law, public corruption in Maryland was said to be the worst in the country. In an article in Forum magazine, Bonaparte described this sad state of affairs, noting that the politicians of his era "[w]heter technically criminals or not, . . . are the allies and patrons of habitual lawbreakers."

Seeking to change this, in 1881, Bonaparte assisted in founding the Civil Service Reform League. As head of those organizations, Bonaparte concentrated not only on cleaning up his native Baltimore, but also on reforming the political stage of the country at large. Notably, he focused his reform efforts not just on the institutions and process of government, but also on raising the responsibility and consciousness of the citizenry and the electorate.

Bonaparte firmly believed that a nation of free citizens elects the kind of government it deserves. In 1897, he gave a speech on this subject in which he said:

To have a popular government we must, first of all, and before all else, have good citizens.... When we find any self-governing community afflicted with misgovernment, we can safely and fairly believe that it does not deserve a better fate. It may indeed wish to be governed, just as many a drunkard, in his seasons of repentance and headaches, wishes he were temperate.... But, as such, men do not wish hard enough to keep away . . . from the bar . . . so such a nation, state or city does not wish hard enough for good government to make bad government impossible.

Now Bonaparte certainly did not ignore the need for good government institutions. To the contrary. But, here again, he focused not on inanimate processes or functions, but rather on the quality and character of the individuals that made up the government.

Speaking as the president of the National Municipal League in Montreal in April, 1910, he said "[I]nstitutions are in politics what fortifications are in war; each, if well planned, may aid good and brave men to do their duty; neither can take the place of such men; . . . and in government, no less than warfare, it is, after all, the human element that counts."

Those who have spoken at this ceremony in past years have eloquently linked Bonaparte's philosophy to current events, demonstrating his relevance to modern times, particularly in the area of government reform. Certainly, government reformists today would do well to be guided by Bonaparte's views regarding the functions of Government Institutions and the responsibilities of the citizenry.

Bonaparte subscribed neither to the politics of fear, where monstrous dangers immobilize the citizenry, nor to the politics of blind faith, where citizens are expected to abdicate entirely their fate to those in power. Rather, he subscribed to the politics of individual responsibility, in which each citizen takes an active role in the affairs of government. Bonaparte believed that the important decisions of the day can still, and ultimately must be, shaped to the will of a well-informed and politically active public. As president Dwight Eisenhower once said: "Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen."

Skeptics would say that society has changed dramatically since Bonaparte walked the streets of this city. They would argue that it is hard enough getting individuals excited enough to bother voting, let alone persuade them to pursue important issues of our time with the passion and fervor that marked Bonaparte's career. These skeptics would say that today politics has either been so trivialized as to make the ideas of an active citizenry needless, or so polarized as to make those ideas irrelevant.

This cynicism of today, however, is not unlike the cynicism that I am sure Bonaparte faced each day - - After all, Bonaparte lived during the worst days of Tammany rule in New York City and Mayor Curley in Boston. And certainly just like today, Bonaparte faced political and societal debates that boiled down to a competition between the special interests and the individual citizens. But yet, Bonaparte refused to be numbed into indifference by the cynicism of his time, the constant harangue of naysayers and the seemingly insurmountable problems that plagued the political systems in which he thrived and conquered. Indeed, I suspect when confronted by the naysayers of his time, Bonaparte reminded them of what another Italian, Dante, had said a few centuries earlier, namely, that the hottest places in hell were reserved for those in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

So, today, let Bonaparte inspire you to hold and passionately pursue your views of the issues of our times. It is necessary that ordinary citizens raise their voices to participate actively in our government. It is our duty as good citizens not to remain silent. If we each can do this then, I believe, we will truly be living not in the shadow, but in the brightness of the tradition of greatness of one Charles Joseph Bonaparte.

Thank you for coming today.

Additional Readings:
From the Congressional Record of 1961 of the House of Representatives Commemorating Charles J Bonaparte

  William Paca

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

William Paca was a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland. He was born on October 31, 1740 at "Wye Hall" near Abingdon, Queen Anne (now Hartford) county, Maryland.

He attended Philadelphia College and later studied law in Annapolis, Maryland and in London. He returned to Maryland to practice law in Annapolis. He became a member of the provincial assembly and later of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1779 during which time he was a signer of the declaration of independence. He later served in the State Senate. From 1778-80 he was a Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals later becoming Governor of Maryland from 1782 to 1785.

In 1788 he served as a delegate to the State Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution and appointed by President Washington as Judge of the United States Court for Maryland.
See William Paca, A Biography by Greogory A. Stiverson.

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   Peter Caesar Alberti

First Italian Immigrant

Today, in Lower Manhattan, where Bowing Green Park now stands, the seminal moment in Italian American history took place when on June 2, 1635, a young Italian adventurer from Venice, Pietro Alberti, in his early 20s. stepped off the ship that had taken him from Venice on an odyssey of personal discovery around the globe in search of his future. Alberti found what he was looking for that fateful day when he first stepped on land in Lower Manhattan, and decided to stay in what was then New Amsterdam, and make his life and his fortune here.

And although a few other Italians had preceded him to America settling in Jamestown, Virginia, earlier, and many other Italians would follow Alberti, and settle throughout America, it is New York City that would become and still is the capital of Italian America, and it began with Pietro Alberti. . He went on to marry the daughter if prominent New Amsterdam family, raise a family and moved to the wilderness in what is Brooklyn, and became a very successful farmer, before Alberti and his wife later died in an altercation with members of the indigenous tribes that also shared these island

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(Pietro Cesare Alberti) landed New Amsterdam June 2, 1635
Among the great Italian navigators and explorers (Marco Polo, Christoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus), Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), Sebastiano Caboto, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni Verrazano (1524), figures another name, that of Pietro Cesare Alberti, who arrived in New Netherlands on June 2 1635, and became the First Italian Settler in America.

Pietro Cesare Alberti, it is told, was the son of Andrea Alberti, Secretary of the Treasury of Venice and Lady Veronica; and was baptized on 20 Jun 1608 in the Parish Church of San Luca in Venice.

As aide to Captain David Pietersen of the dutch ship "King David", sailing from Texel, Holland (now a small island off Northern Holland and then a booming port of the Dutch West India Company), Peter Caesar Alberti was the only Italian crewmember aboard. It is thought that the young Italian nobleman had formed associates with Dutch troops then stationed on Malamocco, an island off Venice. Between 1609 and 1632, there was a commercial understanding between the two maritime nations of Venice and the United Netherlands, whereby Dutch troops were employed by the Signory. Having negotiated an officer's rank for himself aboard a foreign flagship, Alberti sailed for the New World on 10 Jul 1634.

When the "King David" landed in New Amsterdam on 2 Jun 1635, Peter Caesar Alberti was ready to leave the ship, as there had been a dispute between himself and the Captain regarding wages. Before reaching New Netherlands, the ship had voyaged down the West Coast of Africa past the mouth of the Congo, across the Atlantic to Brazil, to Cayenne, Guiana, to the West Indies and then to Virginia. The Captain had threatened to land Alberti in Cayenne, Guiana,but Alberti hung on until the final port of New Amsterdam, where he promptly left the ship. Alberti is said to have sued the Captain and finally reclaimed part of his unpaid wages.

Needless to say, Pietro Cesare Alberti was the only Italian in the city of New Amsterdam His name became quite mangled by the Dutch Scribes. On the public records he acquired several orthographic mutilations, which account for the varied spellings of ALBERTI today. He was styled as: Cicero Piere, Cicero Alberto, Peter the Italian, Caesar Albertus, Pieter Mallenmook, etc. In the course of several generations, his descendants were generally called by the surname Albertus, finally Burtus and Burtis, which was finally anglicized to Albertis, thus retaining the original Italian name Alberti.

By 1639, four years after his arrival, Peter Caesar had contacted a Pieter Montfoort, a large tobacco landowner, with whom he negotiated for a portion of the former's land. This was at Wallabout, on Long Island, within the present city limits of Brooklyn. Four years later Alberti secured a deed of ownership for the land from the Director General and Council of New Amsterdam then the legal government. In 1647 more land was granted by the Dutch West India Company. With this land and a patent for an adjacent piece of land, in 1647 Alberti owned the equivalent of a 100 acre farm, today an area from the Fort-Green section of Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On 24 Aug 1642, Peter Caesar Alberti married Judith Manje, also spelled Magnee, (also recorded as Jans) daughter of Jean Magnee and Martha Chambert, both originally Walloons from Flanders and influential Dutch settlers. The bridegroom Alberti then inherited a large home alongside a canal which ran through the present Broad Street in Manhattan.

In 1646, the Alberti-Manje family abandoned their home on Broad Street and moved to Alberti's plantation property on Long Island. Seven children were born to them between the years of 1643 and 1654. One died as an infant, but the other six were still alive when both Peter Caesar and his wife Judith were killed in an Indian raid in 1655.

The Dutch authorities took charge of the six living children, appointed a guardian, and made a favorable lease of the plantation on Long Island. The records show that all of the children married. In 1695, two of the sons, Jan and Willem, sold the Alberti Plantation, and the land started the slow passing of hands down through the centuries.

It is well established that Peter Caesar Alberti was the first Italian settler in New York state and the first Italian family to throw in his lot with the infant colonies that were to become the United States of America, together with many Italians who have come to this country since that time.

Here are some other relevant websites:
Alberti Genealogy
Long Island's First Italian, 1639

  Charles Atlas - Angelo Siciliano (1913 -1972)

Angelo Siciliano was born in Calabria Italy in 1903. His family moved to the United States in 1913. As a teenager he had a relatively small build he wanted become stronger. In 1929 he established Charles Atlas, Ltd. which marketed his own fitness system which he called "Dynamic Tension". In this system he stresses opposing muscles against each other. In his advertising campaign he seen in magazines across the country he portrayed a young weak young man who can't get the girl with his puny physique. Then he uses the Charles Atlas 12 step program and gets the girl. His body building program is still available at Siciliano influenced men throughout the country including Arnold Schwartzenegger. He passed away in 1972 at the age of 80.

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