Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times

By Schaffer, Samuel L. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times


Schaffer, Samuel L., The Journal of Southern History


Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times. By Lee A. Craig. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. [xx], 474. $35.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-0695-8.)

Josephus Daniels was a remarkable man--and a powerful one. As editor of the Raleigh News and Observer and the state's leading politico between 1898 and 1933, Daniels was, as Lee A. Craig argues in this new biography, "the most powerful man in North Carolina" (p. ix). As secretary of the navy and a member of Woodrow Wilson's inner circle between 1912 and 1920, Daniels was one of the most influential men in the country. As creator of the world's most powerful war machine during World War I, he was "one of the most important men in the world" (p. ix).

Tracing Daniels's life from his near-poverty childhood in Civil War and Reconstruction-era North Carolina to his term as ambassador to Mexico under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Craig frames the biography around three aspects of Daniels's life: his career as newspaperman and businessman, his role as a leading Progressive-era politico, and "his three stints in public service" (p. xiv).

Although Daniels disavowed the phrase, he was the definition of a self-made man. Raised by his mother in war-torn North Carolina, Daniels had achieved by the 1890s--through hard work and deft political maneuvering--his boyhood dream of editing a successful newspaper in the state's capital city. As Craig rightly points out, Daniels's stewardship of the News and Observer placed him at the forefront of a generation of editors who replaced newspapers' dependence on government printing contracts with advertising and subscription revenues. In so doing, Daniels transformed his newspaper into the state's most powerful institution--one that influenced politics, not the other way around.

This interest in politics was Daniels's other lifelong passion. He was, as Craig notes, "a politician even if he never ran for office" (p. 22). As one of the leading voices of the New South, Daniels took on the tobacco and railroad monopolies in North Carolina and for many years represented the state at the Democratic National Convention. …

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