Thursday, December 23, 2010

The End of Innocence

Roosevelt listening to Daniels.

After Woodrow Wilson won the US Presidency in 1912 he appointed Josephus Daniels, the editor and publisher of the Raleigh News-Observer, Secretary of the Navy. A dedicated Democrat, Daniels had previously served in the Interior Department under Grover Cleveland. After assuming his Naval duties, he chose a tall, lanky New York patrician as his first assistant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "The End of Innocence" is meant to be an account of the relationship of these two men as interpreted by Daniels' son, Jonathon, an eyewitness to many of the events of the era and later an editor of the News-Observer himself. In addition to his own personal recollections, the younger Daniels gleaned material from the diaries and journals of prominent figures from that era and even the local scandal sheet, Town Topics.

Fortunately, "The End of Innocence" is much more than the story of the two public figures and their connection. It is a vivid portrait of Washington society, a national but still provincial capital with a permanent population of wealthy, influential residents surrounded by transient officeseekers and lobbyists, all concerned with the maintenance and acquisition of wealth and prestige through proximity to government. His chatty gossip gives us an inside look at not only important figures like William Jennings Bryan, Henry Adams, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson himself, but also lesser known and remembered personalities like Wilson's closest advisor, Colonel House, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the amazing Col. Charles L. McCawley and his wife and many others.

Josephus Daniels had a blustery cruise as Secretary of the Navy. A committed prohibitionist, alchohol was banned on ships during his tenure. In charge of the expansion and moderization of the fleet, his ideas of nationalizing shipyards and insulating sailors from immoral influences met with fierce opposition. Eventually his ambitious second became the vice-presidential candidate to James M. Cox on the Democratic ticket in the 1920. Their loss meant that Daniels temporarily returned to his editor's chair in North Carolina. When FDR won the Presidency Daniels was made the ambassador to Mexico.

"The End of Innocence" doesn't tell us much about how government is supposed to function or if it even does. But it tells us a lot about people, the people that make up the political class and how they function. It's not altogether a flattering tale but it's very entertaining.

"The End of Innocence", Jonathon Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1954.

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