Josephus Daniels

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Josephus Daniels
Josephus Daniels 1.jpg
41st United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
March 5, 1913 – March 4, 1921
President Woodrow Wilson
Deputy Franklin D. Roosevelt (1913-1920)
Gordon Woodbury (1920-1921)
Preceded by George von L. Meyer
Succeeded by Edwin Denby
10th United States Ambassador to Mexico
In office
March 17, 1933 – November 9, 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
Succeeded by George S. Messersmith
Personal details
Born (1862-05-18)May 18, 1862
Washington, North Carolina, C.S.
Died January 15, 1948(1948-01-15) (aged 85)
Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Addie Worth Bagley Daniels
Alma mater Duke University
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Profession Politician, Publisher

Josephus Daniels (May 18, 1862 – January 15, 1948) was a progressive Democrat,[1] and newspaper editor and publisher from North Carolina who became active in politics. He was appointed by United States President Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I. He became a close friend and supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as his Assistant Secretary of the Navy and later was elected as United States president. Roosevelt appointed Daniels as his Ambassador to Mexico, 1933-41.

Daniels was a newspaper editor and publisher from the 1880s to his death; he controlled the Raleigh News and Observer for decades. As a champion of white supremacy in the 1898 and 1900 elections, as the Democratic Party fought to regain control in the state, Daniels argued that as long as African Americans had any political power, they (as Republicans) would block progressive reforms.[2] He was highly influential in the state legislature's passage in 1900 of a suffrage amendment that effectively disenfranchised most blacks in the state, excluding them from the political system for decades until the late 20th century. They were also excluded from juries and subject to legal racial segregation.

As Secretary of the Navy, Daniels handled policy and formalities in World War I while his top aide Franklin Delano Roosevelt, handled the major wartime decisions. As ambassador to Mexico after its revolution, Daniels dealt with the anti-American government and its expropriation of American oil investments. In North Carolina in the early 20th century, he had been a leading progressive, supporting public schools and public works, and calling for more regulation of trusts and railroads. He supported prohibition and women's suffrage, and used his newspapers to support the regular Democratic Party ticket. He was a powerful supporter of the Ku Klux Klan although never a member.

Early life and career[edit]

Josephus Daniels was born in 1862 to a shipbuilder and his wife in Washington, North Carolina, located on the Pamlico River in Beaufort County. The state had seceded from the Union in 1861. Before the boy was 3, his father was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter, because of his well-known Union sympathies. The father was attempting to leave with Federal forces evacuating Washington, N.C. during the Civil War. Young Daniels moved with his widowed mother and two siblings to Wilson, North Carolina. He was educated at Wilson Collegiate Institute and at Trinity College (now Duke University).

Daniels edited and eventually purchased a local newspaper, the Wilson Advance. Within a few years, he became part owner of the Kinston Free Press and the Rocky Mount Reporter.[3] He studied law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was admitted to the bar in 1885, but did not practice law.

After becoming increasingly involved in the North Carolina Democratic Party and taking over the weekly paper Daily State Chronicle, Daniels served as North Carolina's state printer in 1887-93. He was appointed as chief clerk of the Federal Department of the Interior under Grover Cleveland in 1893-95.[4]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1888, Daniels married Addie Worth Bagley. She was the granddaughter of former Governor Jonathan Worth. They had four sons: Josephus, Worth Bagley, Jonathan Worth, and Frank A. Daniels II. Jonathan W. Daniels followed his father into public service, serving as a special assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s.

News and Observer[edit]

In 1894, Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer, and left his federal position. Under his leadership, the paper was a strong advocate for the Democratic Party, which at the time was struggling to maintain its power in the state against a fusion of the Republicans and Populists.[5]

Daniels and other Democrats launched a "White Supremacy" campaign to appeal to racist sentiment among voters. That led to Democratic victories in 1898 and 1900. Having regained control of the state legislature, the Democrats passed a suffrage amendment raising barriers to voter registration, which effected most African Americans in the state. The political exclusion was maintained into the late 1960s. On December 15, 2005, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission noted in its draft report that Daniels' involvement in the overthrow of the elected city government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by actively promoting white supremacy in The News and Observer was so significant that he has been referred to as the "precipitator of the riot."

Daniels later said he regretted his tactics and supported a number of progressive causes, such as public education, anti child-labor laws, and banning the consumption of alcohol aboard naval vessels.[6][7]

The News and Observer remained under Daniels' family control until 1995, when it was sold to The McClatchy Company.

Secretary of the Navy[edit]

Daniels supported southerner Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. After Wilson's victory, he was appointed as Secretary of the Navy.[1]

Letter from Daniels confirming that the Navy Cross was conferred on Ernesto Burzagli in the name of the President of the United States in 1919. Captain Burzagli was an officer in the Royal Italian Navy.

Secretary Daniels held the post from 1913 to 1921, throughout the Wilson administration, overseeing the Navy during World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a future US president, served as his Assistant Secretary of the Navy.[8]

Daniels (right) shaking hands with his successor as Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby.

Daniels believed in government ownership of armor-plate factories, and of telephones and telegraphs. At the end of the First World War, he made a serious attempt to have the Navy permanently control all radio transmitters in the United States. If he had succeeded amateur radio would have ended, and it is likely that radio broadcasting would have been substantially delayed.[9][10]

Daniels banned alcohol from United States Navy ships in General Order 99 of 1 June 1914. This led to the folk etymology that "cup of joe" (referring to a cup of coffee) derives from Daniels' name. However, this appeared to be a myth.[11]

In 1917, Secretary Daniels determined that no prostitution would be permitted within a five-mile radius of naval installations. In New Orleans, this World War I directive resulted in the shutting down of brothels in Storyville. It had long-lasting consequences for servicemen and others during subsequent decades.[12]

On March 15, 1919, Daniels issued General Order No. 456, prohibiting all forms of work on the Christian Sabbath (Sunday). He ordered,

"In order to insure a proper observance of the Lord’s Day in the Navy of the United States, and to provide the officers and men with rest and recreation so essential to efficiency, the following order will be carry out: Hereafter all commanding officers and others officially concerned will see to it that aboard ships and on shore stations to which they are attached, no work of any character whatsoever is performed except works of necessity. This order will be construed and embracing target practice, and drills of every character, inspection of ship and crew, clothing inspection, issuing of small stores, and all other ship activities that violate the letter and spirit of this order. No vessel of the Navy shall begin cruise on Sunday except in case of emergency..."[13]

During World War I, Daniels created the Naval Consulting Board to encourage inventions that would be helpful to the Navy. Daniels asked Thomas Edison to chair the Board, as the Secretary was worried that the US was unprepared for the new conditions of warfare and needed new technology.[14]

The Newport Sex Scandal erupted due to a Navy sting operation which was overseen by Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt that was conducted in 1919. Begun as an attempt to clean up what was seen as "immoral conditions" at Naval Station Newport, it expanded to investigations of the civilian population in Newport. It resulted in the arrests for homosexual activity of some 17 sailors and a prominent Episcopal Navy chaplain, with imprisonment imposed for some. When the tactics used in the witch hunt became known, it attracted national news coverage. Congress undertook an investigation, resulting in both Secretary Daniels and Roosevelt being rebuked by a Congressional committee. The report called FDR's behavior "reprehensible," and said that the actions "violated the code of the American citizen and ignored the rights of every American boy who enlisted in the Navy to fight for his country."[15][16]

Daniels published The Navy and the Nation (1919), which was primarily a collection of war addresses he had made as Secretary of the Navy.

Later life[edit]

After leaving government service in 1921, Daniels resumed the editorship of the Raleigh News and Observer. Daniels strongly supported Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932.

Ambassador to Mexico[edit]

President Roosevelt appointed Daniels as United States Ambassador to Mexico. He expected Daniels to help carry out his "Good Neighbor Policy" in Latin America. But Daniels' arrival in Mexico City was marred by a violent demonstration when a group of Mexicans stoned the American Embassy.[17]

Roosevelt appointed Daniels in order to heal the rift caused by the US invasion of Mexico during its civil war. Daniel's speeches and policies while serving as Ambassador to Mexico are believed to have improved US-Mexican relations. He praised a proposed Mexican plan for universal popular education and, in a speech to US consular officials, advised them to refrain from interfering too much in the affairs of other nations. At a time when many young Americans traveled to Spain to fight for the Republicans, Daniels favored the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, believing that a collapse of the Spanish government would have dire effects on Mexico.[citation needed]


American Catholics bitterly attacked Daniels for failing to oppose the virulent attacks on the Catholic Church by the Mexican government during and after its revolution. Daniels was a staunch Methodist and worked with Catholics in the U.S. but had little sympathy for the Church in Mexico. He believed that it represented the landed aristocracy, which stood opposed to his version of liberalism. In Mexico, the main issue was the government's efforts to shut down Catholic schools; Daniels publicly approved these attacks and praised anti-Catholic Mexican politicians. In a July 1934 speech at the American Embassy, Daniels praised the anti-Catholic efforts which had been led by the former president, Plutarco Elías Calles:

"General Calles sees, as Jefferson saw, that no people can be both free and ignorant. Therefore, he and President Rodriguez, President-elect Cardenas and all forward-looking leaders are placing public education as the paramount duty of the country. They all recognize that General Calles issued a challenge that goes to the very root of the settlement of all problems of tomorrow when he said: 'We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth.'"[18]

Daniels warned the Mexicans they should not be so harsh against the Church.[19]

Return to North Carolina[edit]

In 1941, his son, Jonathan, was named a special assistant to Roosevelt. At that time, Daniels resigned his ambassadorial post in Mexico to return to North Carolina. There he resumed the editor's post at the News & Observer and continued his outspoken editorial style.

Daniels published several recollections of his years in public office. In addition to The Navy and the Nation, he wrote Our Navy at War (1922), The Life of Woodrow Wilson (1924), and The Wilson Era (1944).

Daniels, along with his son Jonathan, were passengers on Franklin Roosevelt's 1945 funeral train from Raleigh, North Carolina until the burial at Roosevelt's Hyde Park, New York burial at the president's home of Springwood. The two Daniels men rode the train back to the national capital in the company of widow Eleanor Roosevelt and the new President Harry S. Truman.[20]

During the course of his life, Daniels operated several newspapers, culminating with the News & Observer, which is still in operation. He served in public office with a strong belief in improving conditions for labor and the working class. The story of Daniels' life closely mirrors that of North Carolina during the same time period. From the catastrophe of Civil War to national prominence, Daniels was a prime example of the strengths and weaknesses that marked the progress of his state. From the continuing presence of the News & Observer to the public middle school in Raleigh which bears his name (Josephus Daniels Middle School), the influence of Josephus Daniels continues to be felt. In 1941, he retired to Raleigh due to his wife's poor health; she died in 1943.

After completing a five-volume autobiography, in which he expressed regret over his vicious attacks (but not the overall righteousness) of the White Supremacy campaign of the late 19th century, Daniels died in Raleigh on January 15, 1948 at the age of eighty-five. He is buried in Historic Oakwood Cemetery of that city.[21] Daniels divided his shares of the News and Observer among all his children, one of whom, Jonathan Worth Daniels, became editor. The family retained control until it sold the paper in 1995.[22]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • After his wife's death in 1943, in 1944 the S.S. Addie Daniels was commissioned in her honor.
  • In 1956, the new Daniels Middle School in Raleigh was named after him. Daniels Hall on North Carolina State University's main campus is also named after him.[23]

In fiction[edit]

In Harry Turtledove's "Southern Victory" series of alternate history, Daniels was US Secretary of the Navy during the timeline's analog of World War I, and the US Navy named a destroyer escort after him during the series's version of World War II.

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b Alan Dawley (28 November 2013). Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution: American Progressives in War and Revolution. Princeton University Press. pp. 121–. ISBN 978-1-4008-5059-4. 
  2. ^ Craig, 1913
  3. ^ Zogry, p. 302.
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Daniels, Josephus". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 
  5. ^ Zogry, p. 303.
  6. ^ [
  7. ^]
  8. ^ Haugen, Brenda. (2006). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, p. 42.
  9. ^ "The History of Ham Radio". 
  10. ^ "Howeth: Chapter XXVII (1963)". 
  11. ^ snopes (6 November 2015). "Cup of Joe". Snopes. 
  12. ^ Stanonis, Anthony. (1997). "An Old House in the Quarter: Vice in the Vieux Carré of the 1930s." Archived 2007-02-20 at the Wayback Machine. Loyola University New Orleans History Writing Award.
  13. ^ "Observance of the Sabbath Day". 
  14. ^ Scott, Lloyd N. (2002). Naval Consulting Board of the United States, pp. 286-288.
  15. ^ "Lay Navy Scandal to FD Roosevelt", The New York Times, July 20, 1921 .
  16. ^ "Gay history", The Providence Journal, Projo, Front page, July 20, 1921, retrieved 2016  Check date values in: |access-date= (help).
  17. ^ Dent, David W. (1995). U.S.-Latin American Policymaking: A Reference Handbook, p. 313.
  18. ^ E. David Cronon, "American Catholics and Mexican Anticlericalism, 1933-1936," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1958) 45#2 pp. 201-230 in JSTOR; quote p. 207
  19. ^ Robert H. Vinca, "The American Catholic Reaction to the Persecution of the Church in Mexico, from 1926-1936," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia (1968) Issue 1, pp 3-38.
  20. ^ FDR's Funeral Train by Robert Klara
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2009-09-30. 
  22. ^ Zogry, p. 304.
  23. ^ North Carolina State University: Daniels Hall

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
George von L. Meyer
United States Secretary of the Navy
March 5, 1913 – March 4, 1921
Succeeded by
Edwin Denby
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
March 17, 1933 – November 9, 1941
Succeeded by
George S. Messersmith