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Donn Piatt

Gadfly of the Gilded Age

Biography, Diplomatic Studies, History

“In Peter Bridges, this hearty hater and doughty defender has been given a worthy biographer.”

The Journal of American History

DescriptionA celebrated diplomat and editor whose outspoken opinions shaped views on the national agenda

Born in 1819 in Cincinnati, Donn Piatt died in 1891 at the Piatt Castles that still stand in western Ohio. He was a diplomat, historian, journalist, judge, lawyer, legislator, lobbyist, novelist, playwright, poet, and politician—and a well-known humorist, once called on to replace Mark Twain when Twain’s humor failed him. A staunch opponent of slavery, Piatt campaigned in 1860 for Abraham Lincoln, who briefly took a liking to him but found him too outspoken and later cursed him when, as a Union officer, Piatt recruited slaves in Maryland.

Having served credibly as an American diplomat in France during the 1850s, Piatt had a strong and influential interest in foreign affairs as a Washington insider. After the Civil War, Piatt became famous nationwide as an editor in Washington. In his newspaper, The Capital, Piatt attacked President Grant and Congress fearlessly, and his witticisms and criticisms were carried in papers across the country.

Over the years Piatt mocked both Catholics and Protestants, attacked millionaires, and defended workers, yet ended his life as a Catholic and a rich man. He ridiculed both the Democratic and Republican parties. He wrote a play mocking lobbyists, but his own ethics came into question after he became a Washington lobbyist while remaining a journalist.

Author Peter Bridges presents the life of an American who in his day was both famous and influential, and, through Piatt, sheds light on much of the corruption and injustice of the Gilded Age. This biography is the latest volume in the ADST-DACOR series on Diplomats and Diplomacy.

AuthorPeter Bridges holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Columbia University. A retired Foreign Service officer, his Safirka: An American Envoy (The Kent State University Press, 2000) relates his experiences as American ambassador to Somalia. Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel, 1825–1865 (The Kent State University Press, 2002) is the biography of the most influential Confederate editor during the Civil War. Bridges has published more than seventy articles and essays that deal mainly with history and foreign affairs.

ReviewsReviewed by Mark W. Summers in The Journal of American History 100 (2) 2013

Follow this link to Oxford Journals for the complete review.