The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913-1921

The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913-1921

The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913-1921

The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913-1921

Excerpt

When Woodrow Wilson announced his cabinet appointments on March 4, 1913, his choice of Josephus Daniels as Secretary of the Navy occasioned some surprised comment. For like most of the cabinet, Daniels was comparatively unknown outside his native South. Insiders were aware, however, that Wilson had determined from the first to offer him a cabinet post. "I know of no one I trust more entirely or affectionately," the President-elect had written Daniels on February 23. "I cannot spare you from my council table."

Josephus Daniels was not a complete stranger to Washington, though he had never held elective office. In 1893-1894 he had served briefly as chief clerk of the Interior Department under his friend Secretary Hoke Smith in the second Cleveland administration. Daniels had then returned to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he purchased the moribund News and Observer, quickly making it an influential force in state affairs and Democratic politics. From 1896 on he was a member of the Democratic National Committee and took an increasingly active role in party politics at the state and national level. A close friend and loyal partisan of William Jennings Bryan during his three bids for the Presidency, Daniels had nevertheless come out for Wilson in 1911 and thereafter had used his newspaper and political influence to advance the cause of the scholarly New Jersey governor. During the campaign of 1912 he had done yeoman service as director of publicity at Democratic national headquarters.

Daniels' background was anything but nautical, however, a point some naval officers were quick to note with mingled feelings of hope and apprehension. True, his father had been a shipwright for the Confederacy and his brotherin-law, Ensign Worth Bagley, had been the only American naval officer killed in the Spanish-American War. But Daniels himself knew little of the Navy or the sea, and his previous experience had been almost entirely in small-town journalism and part-time politics. His appointment to the Navy portfolio struck many observers, as the New York Times aptly phrased it on March 6, as "the look of a noble reward for service rendered."

Daniels quickly disappointed those admirals and Navy Leaguers who had hoped that his inexperience would force him to rely largely upon the professionals in running the Navy Department. From the first he took seriously the . . .

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