The New South Sets Sail: Josephus Daniels Brings Southern Progressivism to the U.S. Navy, 1913–20

Saturday, January 3, 2009: 9:30 AM
Concourse E (Hilton New York)
Samuel L. Schaffer , Yale University, New Haven, CT
When Woodrow Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels as his Secretary of Navy in 1913, critics noted the political nature of the appointment, and the nation’s admirals resented his landlubberly background.  However, regardless of his qualifications, Daniels immediately embarked on a personal crusade to shape the ranks of the U.S. Navy.  On the nation’s ships he introduced education for enlisted men; at the Naval Academy he cut down on hazing; in the caste-conscious officer corps he determined to promote officers on merit.  At the same time that he educated and “democratized” the Navy, he set out to mold his men in a specific image.  Ensuring that sailors were white by strengthening the Navy’s traditional practice of segregation, he sought to make them moral by banning alcohol from ships and bases and by eradicating the red-light districts that catered to the country’s naval bases.  Daniels meshed well with the progressive reformers who had reached the federal government in the early twentieth century.  However, his reform vision did not emerge from the streets of New York or the settlement houses of Chicago.  Rather, his particular sort of progressivism had been honed in a lifetime of service to the vision of a progressive New South.  As editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, he had promoted a southern brand of progressivism—which combined a push for industrial education and populist democracy with racial and social repression—that he then implemented in the U.S. Navy.   In 1913, Daniels was one of many Southerners who converged on Washington during the years of the Wilson administration.  With their well-practiced combination of political progressivism and racial conservatism, these men brought a distinct southern flavor to federal reform, manifested not only in the halls of Congress and the Executive Building, but also on the shipdecks of the nation’s navy.
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