American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague--Civil War "Belle of the North" and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal
Had People magazine been around during the Civil War and after, Kate Chase would have made its “Most Beautiful” and “Most Intriguing” lists every year.
Kate Chase, the charismatic daughter of Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary, enjoyed unprecedented political power for a woman. As her widowed father’s hostess, she set up a rival “court” against Mary Lincoln in hopes of making her father president and herself his First Lady. To facilitate that goal, she married one of the richest men in the country, the handsome “boy governor” of Rhode Island, in the social event of the Civil War. But when William Sprague turned out to be less of a prince as a husband, she found comfort in the arms of a powerful married senator. The ensuing scandal ended her virtual royalty, leaving her a social outcast who died in poverty. Yet in her final years she would find both greater authenticity and the inner peace that had always eluded her.
Set against the seductive allure of the Civil War and Gilded Age, Kate Chase Sprague’s dramatic story is one of ambition and tragedy involving some of the most famous personalities in American history. In this beautifully written and meticulously researched biography, drawing on much unpublished material, John Oller captures the tumultuous and passionate life of a woman who was a century ahead of her time.
believed, Arthur as well. She told Arthur he now had the power, indeed the duty, “to make full restitution to vindicate the man who, when you were assailed, never stopped to weigh the chances of the popularity of your defense.” Pointedly she told Arthur there was only one way for him to repay his debt to Conkling, and that was to appoint him to the position “already named,” secretary of the treasury. Indeed, she avowed, there was no other gift Conkling “would or should accept.” Finally, in case
property”: New York Times, Aug. 16, 1879. 191: “talked to him . . . stronger way”: Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 19, 1879. 191: he could no longer recognize it: New York Times, Sept. 1, 1879. 192: “not . . . cat’s paw of”: New York Sun, Aug. 16, 1879. 192: “found ridiculous by Mrs. Sprague”: Ibid. 192: husband should be the one: Ibid. 192: “his wife’s persistency . . . her point”: Ibid. 192: “proud spirit” not gotten in the way: New York Sun, Aug. 17, 1879. 192: “for his senseless . . . that
249: “diversions . . . boozy recollection”: Providence Journal, Oct. 15, 1890. 249: took his own life: New York Times, Oct. 9, 1890; Providence Journal, Oct. 9, 1890. 249: “slight figure and poetic face”: Boston Herald, Oct. 17, 1909. 249: “erratic genius . . . affectionate”: Rice Belt Journal (Welsh, Calcasieu Parish, LA), Nov. 8, 1907. 249: “at your door lies this unnatural crime”: KC to WS, Oct. 8, 1890, BUL. 249: “embalm the body . . . father for expenses”: New York Times, Oct. 10, 1890.
long and with extreme carelessness as though the comb that nature provides in the fingers had been the only one he ever made use of.” Yet the writer insisted that Sprague showed no “trace of the malady called craziness” and praised him for cultivating the inside of his head rather than lavishing attention on the outside. Sprague was also serenaded by several hundred members of the Working Men’s Association of the District of Columbia, a self-styled labor union, who gathered by torchlight with a
House might be able to decide the outcome. The Tilden forces pinned their hopes on a showdown Senate vote on whether to accept the commission’s certification of the Louisiana vote in Hayes’s favor. Knowing where Conkling’s sympathies lay, Tilden’s friends secured a commitment from him to support the Democrats when the crucial Louisiana question came before the Senate. It was rumored that Conkling would give another great speech, this time opposing the action of the commission he was so