Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.

Author:Kotlowski, Dean J.
Position:Book review
 
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Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times. By Lee A. Craig. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. 474 pp.

In recent years, the Progressive Era has become fertile ground for biographers. Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of journalism (Simon and Schuster, 2013) considers the Republican presidents of that age while Douglas B. Craig's Progressives at War: William G. McAdoo and Newton D. Baker, 1863-1941 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) examines the lives of two key members of Woodrow Wilson's cabinet. The focus on the Wilson administration continues with Lee A. Craig's biography of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Born in 1862 and reared in Reconstruction-Era North Carolina, Daniels was an important figure who played a number of roles on the state, national, and international stage: editor of the Raleigh News and Observer (N&O), spokesperson for the New South, partisan Democrat and political kingmaker, white supremacist, secretary of the navy, and ambassador to Mexico (under Franklin D. Roosevelt {FDR}). Daniels influenced the direction of politics in North Carolina and the careers of William Jennings Bryan, Wilson, and FDR, making him a worthy of a full-length biography.

Craig depicts Daniels as an adept "backstage manipulator" (p. 367) who, through hard work, intelligence, and resourcefulness, rose from modest origins to become "the most powerful man in North Carolina" between 1898 and 1933 (p. ix). By age 21, Daniels owned three newspapers, and he acquired the marque N&O when he was 32. As a scholar of economic history, Craig details how Daniels took over the paper and made it a voice for New South progressivism, that is, a program based on industrial development, improved transportation, public education, and white supremacy. Political historians will be interested in the electoral impact of Daniels and his N&O, and Craig does not disappoint. Daniels was a diehard Democrat who became angry over how effectively his state's Fusion Party had aligned with the Populist movement, which originated among financially dispossessed whites, with Republican voters, most of them African American. For Daniels, economic progress in the South rested on solving the "Negro question" (p. 414). And the restoration of Democratic Party dominance in North Carolina required a reduction in Republican votes. The solution to both problems was the disenfranchisement of African...

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