John Davis Long

John Davis Long bigraphy, stories - Massachusetts governor and Congressman; Secretary of the Navy

John Davis Long : biography

October 27, 1838 – August 28, 1915

John Davis Long (October 27, 1838 – August 28, 1915) was a American lawyer, politician, and writer. He served as the 32nd Governor of Massachusetts between 1880 and 1883. He later served as the Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1902, a period that notably included the Spanish-American War.

Born in Buckfield, Maine, Long was educated a lawyer at Harvard, and then settled in Hingham, Massachusetts. He became active in Republican Party politics in the 1870s, winning election to the state legislature in 1874. He rose rapidly in prominence, and was elected lieutenant governor in 1879 and governor in 1880. He advocated modest reforms during his three years as governor, which were relatively undistinguished.

After returning to private practice he was offered a cabinet post by his friend President William McKinley in 1896. He chose to become Secretary of the Navy despite lacking detailed knowledge of naval matters. He clashed with his Under-Secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, over expansion of the Navy, but did so when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. He resigned the post after Roosevelt became president, and resumed his law practice. He died at his home in 1915; his publications include a lifelong journal, a history of the Spanish-American War, and a verse translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Secretary of the Navy

While in Congress Long had become a close friend of William McKinley, who was elected President in 1896. McKinley offered Long his choice of several cabinet posts;Taylor, p. 89 Long chose to become Secretary of the Navy, and he was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 2, 1897. The appointment brought on a storm of criticism from Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge had been elected to the Senate, dominated the Republican Party in Massachusetts, and had expected to have a say in choosing a cabinet nominee in return for his support of McKinley. One of Lodge’s supporters complained that Long was in poor health, and that he would not give the administration "back-bone and vigor".Garrett, pp. 294–295 (Long had recently stepped back from his law practice after suffering a nervous breakdown.)Traxel, p. 91

[[Theodore Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1898]] Lodge compensated for the setback by helping secure the position of Assistant Secretary for Theodore Roosevelt, a brash and aggressive New Yorker.Garrett, p. 295 Long and Roosevelt did not get along: in addition to personality differences, Roosevelt pushed a view to aggressively modernize and expand the Navy, while Long took a more studied and conservative approach. He preferred to expand the Navy more gradually as the nation’s global interests grew, and committed himself to its peaceful growth in line with McKinley’s policies. As a result of his disagreements with Roosevelt Long took steps to minimize the amount of power his subordinate could exercise. Roosevelt, on the other hand, sought ways to spur Long into action, writing "I only wish that I could poison his mind so as to make him a shade more truculent in international matters."Garrett, p. 299 He also chafed against Long’s policy of deferring much of the department’s work to its permanent bureau chiefs, which resulted in constraints on the flow of information to the administration.Garrett, p. 301 (Long was somewhat proud of the fact that he knew little of the detail of naval affairs, commenting that he was "a civilian who does not know the stem from the stern of a ship.")Garrett, p. 296

Long believed that ongoing tensions with Spain were unlikely to lead to war, and even if they did, that the war would be easily won.Taylor, p. 90 He consequently did not take significant steps to prepare the Navy for that contingency. In January 1898 he ordered the USS Maine to Havana, Cuba, as a matter of "customary relations", although he and McKinley were concerned for the safety of Americans in Cuba due to the ongoing Cuban War of Independence.Trask, pp. 24–25 By early February 1898 the tensions had reached crisis proportions, and Long was compelled to begin drawing up plans for war. The explosion and sinking of the Maine at Havana on February 15 was the spark that ignited the Spanish-American War. The administration continued to be opposed to war, but the outcry over the sinking could not be ignored. Ten days after the sinking of the Maine Long took a day off, and Roosevelt used his authority in Long’s absence to issue a number of orders designed to increase the Navy’s readiness for war, including famously ordering Commodore George Dewey into an aggressive offensive posture in the Spanish Philippines. Long countermanded some of Roosevelt’s orders afterward, but began stepping up naval war preparations.Beedle, p. 260