Who's Who - Newton Baker

Newton Baker Newton Diehl Baker (1871-1937) Served as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of War from March 1916.

Born in West Virginia in 1871, Baker studied law at John Hopkins University before entering legal practice in Cleveland in 1892.

Baker, a reformist Democratic, was elected mayor of Cleveland from 1912, a position he held until 1916 when, in early March, he accepted Wilson's invitation to become his Secretary of War.  His appointment came as something of a surprise to many given Baker's earlier professed pacifist beliefs.  Such views were not forgotten however by his right-wing opponents.

Wilson however had deliberately determined to replace Baker's aggressive predecessor, Lindley Garrison, with someone of markedly less bellicose, even pacifist, inclinations.  Baker had earlier turned down, in 1913, Wilson's invitation to become interior secretary.

Baker's first task as Secretary of War was to authorise and oversee the construction of a punitive expedition to Mexico.  In agreement with Wilson he also supervised America's 'limited preparedness' for war as head of the new Council for National Defense in August 1916.

It was Baker who, in 1917, appointed 'Black Jack' Pershing as Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), a decision that sparked the ire of Wilson's Republican nemesis Henry Cabot Lodge, who had championed the cause of Leonard Wood (removed from field command under the direction of Wilson).  Cabot Lodge remained deeply suspicious of Baker's pacifist background.

While Secretary of War Baker drew up plans for compulsory military conscription of up to four million men, although performing (along with his president) a volte face as their plans drew sustained critical fire.

He gave Pershing consistent backing in the former's desire to maintain U.S. independence of frontline command, as well as in supporting Pershing's estimate of the men and materials he would need to bring with him to France.

Following the armistice Baker travelled to Paris as a member of the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.  Along with Wilson he helped engineer the League of Nations; ironically U.S. participation was eventually vetoed by Congress (once again led by Cabot Lodge).

With war over and a Republican returned to the White House, Baker returned to his legal practice in 1920.  Eight years later he joined the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.  A year later, in 1929, Herbert Hoover appointed Baker to the Law Enforcement Commission.

In retirement Baker wrote Why We Went To War (1936).  He died the following year on Christmas Day 1937 at the age of 66.

Click here to hear Newton Baker speak in favour of the League of Nations.  Click here to hear Newton Baker speak in the aftermath of U.S. entry into the war.  Click here to read Baker's calling up of the National Guard in June 1916 to assist with operations in Mexico.

A "Brass Hat" was a high ranking officer.

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