The Magazine

Visionary/Reactionary

The paradox of a Tar Heel editor-politician.

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By MARK TOOLEY
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Although slow to embrace America’s entrance into World War I, Daniels conveyed over two million soldiers to Europe within months of American entry. And the fact that there were no losses at sea from enemy fire is rightly considered one of the age’s military logistical triumphs. Originally opposing a large Navy as a budget-buster and invitation to adventurism, Daniels eventually urged U.S. naval supremacy, persuading Wilson to prioritize the Pacific fleet. Less successfully, he urged upon Wilson a soft peace towards defeated Germany and, ever the realist, saw Wilson’s defiance of the Senate over the League of Nations as folly. 

Although most of his years were spent in the 20th century, Josephus Daniels remained very much a creature of the 19th century. He always wore the loose three-piece suit and floppy bowtie of a post-Civil War small-town Southern merchant. His appearance and unaffected drawl invited under-estimation by business and political foes throughout the decades. Although a visionary political and business pragmatist who pivoted away from principles in pursuit of larger victories, Daniels seems never to have envisioned the postracial, mostly suburban, middle-class New South that would escape the shadows of the Civil War, slavery, and racial strife.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, is the author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.