Supposedly a distant relation of the famous Horatio Alger of the "rags-to-riches" tales, Russell Alexander Alger was a success story himself. Orphaned at an early age, he supported two younger siblings and himself and eventually became a lawyer in Ohio in 1857. Most of his career, however, took shape in Michigan, where after a successful stint in the Civil War resulting in the rank of major general, Alger became wealthy and influential. He became governor of the state and an ardent supporter of the candidacy of
In 1897 President McKinley named him Secretary of War, but he proved a timid and inexperienced leader. His two major errors lay in not using the Fifty Million Bill to support greater preparations for war and for imagining that large groups of men could be made battle-ready relatively quickly. Further, a feud erupted with General Nelson Miles and the press attacked the War Department severely with charges of mismanagement, particularly when viewed in contrast with the shining successes of the Navy. Consequently, "Algerism" became a synonym for venality and incompetence and McKinley chose to ignore both General Miles and Secretary Alger when making crucial strategic decisions.
Alger finally resigned on August 1, 1899, but perhaps had the last laugh with the publication of his The Spanish American War linked below.