About Benjamin Franklin Tracy
Benjamin Franklin Tracy (April 26, 1830 – August 6, 1915) was a United States political figure who served as Secretary of the Navy from 1889 through 1893, during the administration of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.
He was born in the Apalachin hamlet near Owego, New York on April 26, 1830. Tracy was a lawyer active in Republican Party politics during the 1850s.
During the Civil War, he commanded the 109th New York Infantry Regiment, and served as a Union brigadier general. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. According to the official citation, Tracy "seized the colors and led the regiment when other regiments had retired and then reformed his line and held it." Later that year, he became commandant of the Elmira prisoner of war camp.
He resumed the practice of law after the war, and became active in New York state politics. He was United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York from 1866 to 1877. In December 1881, he was appointed by Governor Alonzo B. Cornell to the New York Court of Appeals to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Judge Charles Andrews as Chief Judge after the resignation of Charles J. Folger. Tracy remained on the bench until the end of 1882 when Andrews resumed his seat after being defeated by William C. Ruger in the election for Chief Judge.
Tracy was noted for his role in the creation of the "New Navy", a major reform of the service, which had fallen into obsolescence after the Civil War. Like President Harrison, he supported a naval strategy focused more on offense, rather than on coastal defense and commerce raiding. A major ally in this effort was naval theorist Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, who had served as a professor at the new Naval War College (founded 1884). In 1890, Mahan published his major work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783—a book that achieved an international readership. Drawing on historical examples, Mahan supported the construction of a "blue-water Navy" that could do battle on the high seas.
Tracy also supported the construction of modern warships. On June 30, 1890, Congress passed the Navy Bill, a measure which authorized the construction of three battleships. The first three were later named USS Indiana (BB-1), USS Massachusetts (BB-2), and USS Oregon (BB-3). The battleship USS Iowa (BB-4) was authorized two years later.
Tracy's wife and child had perished in a fire at their residence in Washington, DC in 1890.
After leaving the Navy Department, Tracy again took up his legal practice. In 1896, he defended New York City Police Commissioner Andrew Parker against Commission President Theodore Roosevelt's accusations of negligence and incompetence, in a performance that significantly embarrassed Roosevelt. (ref. Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, p. 555) He also helped negotiate a settlement to the boundary dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain which had culminated in the Venezuela Crisis of 1895.
Tracy was the Republican candidate to be the first Mayor of Greater New York City when the five boroughs consolidated in 1898. He came in third behind Democrat Robert A. Van Wyck and Seth Low of the Citizens' Union, winning 101,863 of the 523,560 votes cast in the election of 1897.
Tracy died at his farm in Tioga County, New York on August 6, 1915 at 3:30 am at the home of his daughter.
USS Tracy (DD-214) was named for him, as was the town of Tracyton, Washington.