Josephus Daniels made a mark in Haywood, nation and world

By Jonathan Key | May 10, 2013

Until last January, and for over 100 years, the Democratic Party controlled politics in the state of North Carolina. Last week, I found out how instrumental my great grand father was in their rise to power.

I learned this at a dinner where author Lee A. Craig, an economy historian and Alumni Distinguished Professor at NC State University, was discussing his new book entitled “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.”

We here in Haywood County know Daniels as a founding supporter of Lake Junaluska Assembly and a behind the scenes manipulator who was influential in getting the Blue Ridge Parkway moved from Tennessee into North Carolina.

We benefited locally from his far-reaching influence and how he achieved it is a fascinating tale of desire, drive and determination. Following are a few of the unexpected the things revealed in the book.

Daniels, whose life spanned from the Civil War through World War II grew up poor, in Eastern North Carolina. He lived in Ocracoke during the Civil War but after his father was killed by a Confederate sniper, Daniels moved with his mother, Mary Cleves and brothers, Frank and Charles to Wilson where he helped his mother run the local post office. He would read the newspapers before putting them into the PO boxes and this gave him the notion to run one of his own. He started his first one at 16.

His newspaper career evolved into owning the News and Observer, transforming it into one of the most respected papers in North Carolina, and using his clout to become one of the most important people in world politics. His influence brought the Democratic Party to power in North Carolina in the late1890s and he helped started North Carolina’s public education system. His circle of influence grew broader and eventually took him to Washington, D.C.

As the Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson, he expanded the U.S. Navy from 14th to largest in the world and oversaw some unpopular strategies that helped win WWI. As the Secretary of the Navy he recruited Franklin D. Roosevelt to be his assistant. He, in turn, was appointed Ambassador to Mexico under FDR when he became President of the United States.

He also influenced world politics through acquaintances like British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Lloyd George and King George V and Queen Mary of Windsor.

Some lasting legacies of Daniel’s efforts came as a result of his looking out for the spiritual needs of the sailors.

He wanted to increase the influence of religion on the crew while decreasing that of alcohol and prostitution. After requiring religious services to be performed on every ship, every Sunday, he then caused jazz music to spread across the country when he closed down the brothels in New Orleans.

And for a true reminder of his long lasting legacy, tomorrow morning, when you reach for a “Cup of Joe” to get your day started, you can remember him.

After outlawing liquor on all Navy vessels, the only drink left was coffee. The crews began calling it a “Cup of Joe Daniels” as a disparaging  remark over their dislike of his decision. They eventually dropped the word Daniels but the term has continued on to this day.

Josephus Daniels invented the style of newspaper that everyone is familiar with today, including sections of different news, sports and opinions.

He believed they should have enough news in them to bring people back, issue after issue, even after throwing them away when they disagreed with an opinion.

At The Mountaineer, we are proud to continue his traditions of pursuing quality journalism, publishing unwavering opinions, promoting a spiritually strong community and using our influence to improve the quality lives of our readers.