Military Wiki
Josephus Daniels
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, U.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 newspaper editor and publisher from North Carolina who was appointed by United States President Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I. He was also a close friend and supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt and served as his Ambassador to Mexico, 1933-41.

He was a newspaper editor and publisher from the 1880s to his death; most famously at the Raleigh News and Observer. As Secretary of the Navy, he handled formalities in world War I while his top aide Franklin Delano Roosevelt, handled the major wartime decisions. As ambassador to Mexico, he dealt with the anti-American government and its expropriation of American oil investments. At the state level he was a leading progressive, supporting public schools and public works, and calling for more regulation of trusts and railroads. He supported prohibition and woman suffrage, and used his newspapers to support the regular Democratic Party ticket. He opposed the Ku Klux Klan, but was a longtime champion of white supremacy, arguing that as long as Blacks had political power they would block progressive reforms.[1]

Early life and career

The father of Josephus Daniels, a shipbuilder, was killed before the boy was 3. A native of Washington, North Carolina, Daniels moved with his mother and two siblings to Wilson, North Carolina after the father, whose Union sympathies were notorious, was shot and killed by a local sharpshooter when he attempted to leave with Federal forces evacuating Washington during the Civil War. He was educated at Wilson Collegiate Institute and at Trinity College (now Duke University). He 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.[2] 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, he was North Carolina's state printer in 1887-93 and chief clerk of the Federal Department of the Interior under Grover Cleveland in 1893-95.

In 1888, Daniels married Addie Worth Bagley, the granddaughter of former Governor Jonathan Worth.

News and Observer

In 1894, Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer, which led him to leave his federal office. The paper was unabashed in its advocacy for the Democratic Party, which at the time was struggling against a fusion of the Republicans and Populists.[3]

Daniels and other Democrats launched a "White Supremacy" campaign to appeal to racist sentiment. That led to Democratic victories in 1898 and 1900 and to the disfranchisement of African Americans. 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, NC, 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, like public education, anti child-labor laws, and banning the consumption of alcohol aboard naval vessels.

The News and Observer remained under Daniels' family control until its sale to The McClatchy Company in 1995.

Secretary of the Navy

Daniels supported Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election, and after Wilson's victory was appointed as Secretary of the Navy.

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. Future U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt served as his Assistant Secretary of the Navy.[4]

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

Secretary Daniels believed in government ownership of armorplate 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.[5][6]

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, rather than truth.[7]

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 caused the shutting down of Storyville and long-lasting consequences for servicemen and others during subsequent decades.[8]

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. Daniels was worried that the US was unprepared for the new conditions of warfare and needed new technology.[9]

Daniels wrote The Navy and the Nation(1919), a collection of war addresses he made as Secretary of the Navy.

USS Josephus Daniels

The Navy named USS Josephus Daniels (DLG/CG-27) for the Secretary. It was in commission from 1965 to 1994. One of the recruit barracks at the Navy's Recruit Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois is also named for him.

Later life

After leaving government service in 1921, Daniels resumed the editorship of the Raleigh News and Observer.

Daniels strongly supported Franklin Roosevelt for president in 1932.

Ambassador to Mexico

President Roosevelt appointed his former boss at the Department of the Navy as United States Ambassador to Mexico. The appointment of a friend as Ambassador was an important element of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy;" however, Daniels' arrival in Mexico City was marred by a violent demonstration when a group of Mexicans stoned the American Embassy.[10] Although the American naval bombardment in April 1914 of the Mexican Naval Academy at Veracruz was blamed on then Secretary of the Navy Daniels, he had disagreed with the act and only proceeded when ordered to by Wilson. After accepting the appointment as Ambassador to try to heal the rift the invasion had created between the two nations, his speeches and policies while serving as Ambassador to Mexico did greatly improve 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. Daniels also favored the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War, realizing that a collapse of the Spanish government would have dire affects on Mexico.


American Catholics bitterly attacked Daniels for failing to combat the virulent attacks on the Catholic Church by the Mexican government. Daniels was a staunch Methodist and worked well with Catholics in the U.S. He had little sympathy for Church in Mexico, feeling it represented the landed aristocracy that stood opposed to his version of liberalism. For the same reason he and supported the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War, which was even more intensely anti-Catholic. The main issue was the government's efforts to shut down Catholic schools; Daniels publicly approved the attacks, and had praised virulently anti-Catholic Mexican politicians. In a July 1934 speech at the American Embassy, Daniels praised the anti-Catholic efforts led by former president Calles:

"General Calles sees, as Jefferson saw, that no people can be both free and ignorant. Therefore, he and President Rodriguez, President-elect Cairdenas 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.'"[11]

However he did warn the Mexicans they should not be so harsh.[12]

Return to North Carolina

In 1941, when his son Jonathan was named a special assistant to FDR, Josephus resigned his post in Mexico to return to North Carolina and resume the editor's post at the News & Observer and continued his outspoken editorial style.

Daniels had married Addie Worth Bagley on May 2, 1888, and the Daniels family grew to include four sons: Josephus, Worth Bagley, Jonathan Worth, and Frank A. II. After Addie Daniels died in 1943, the S.S. Addie Daniels was commissioned in her honor in 1944.

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 onwards from Raleigh, North Carolina until the burial at Roosevelt's Hyde Park, New York burial at his home, Springwood, and then back to Washington in the company of new President Harry S. Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt [13]

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. After completing a five-volume autobiography in which he expressed regret over the vicious attacks (but not the overall righteousness) of the White Supremacy campaign, he died in Raleigh on January 15, 1948 at the age of eighty-five. He is buried in Historic Oakwood Cemetery.[14] Daniels divided his shares of the News and Observer among all his children, one of whom, Jonathan Worth Daniels, became editor.[15]

Eight years after he died, the new Daniels Middle School was named after him. Daniels Hall on North Carolina State University's main campus is also named after him.[16]


Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow on our Pacific possessions…radio makes surprises impossible.

-Josephus Daniels, during a speech given at the inauguration of the North Carolina State University radio station (16 October 1922)[17]

In fiction

Josephus Daniels was U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Theodore Roosevelt in Harry Turtledove's Great War series, an alternate history of World War I in a world where the Confederacy won its independence. The U.S. Navy named a destroyer escort after him Settling Accounts, a sequel series set in World War II. The various series in Turtledove's cycle are sometimes referred to collectively as TL-191 or Timeline 191, a reference to General Lee's lost Special Order 191 during the Antietam Campaign.

Selected works


  1. Craig, 1913
  2. Zogry, p. 302.
  3. Zogry, p. 303.
  4. Haugen, Brenda. (2006). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, p. 42.
  5. The History of Ham Radio
  6. Attempts to Establish a United States Government Radio Monopoly
  8. Stanonis, Anthony. (1997). "An Old House in the Quarter: Vice in the Vieux Carré of the 1930s." Loyola University New Orleans History Writing Award.
  9. Scott, Lloyd N. (2002). Naval Consulting Board of the United States, pp. 286-288.
  10. Dent, David W. (1995). U.S.-Latin American Policymaking: A Reference Handbook, p. 313.
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. FDR's Funeral Train by Robert Klara
  14. [1]
  15. Zogry, p. 304.
  16. North Carolina State University: Daniels Hall
  17. [2]

Further reading

Primary sources

External links

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

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