John Davis Long, Governor, U.S. Secretary of the Navy

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John Davis Long

Birthdate: (77)
Death: 1915 (77)
Immediate Family:

Son of Zadoc R. Long and Julia Temple Davis

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Immediate Family

About John Davis Long, Governor, U.S. Secretary of the Navy

John Davis Long (October 27, 1838 – August 28, 1915) was a U.S. political figure. 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, during the Spanish-American War.

Early years

John Davis Long was born in Buckfield, Maine on October 27, 1838, to Zadoc Long and Julia Temple (Davis) Long. He was named for Massachusetts Governor John Davis, a cousin of his mother's father. He received his primary education at Hebron Academy, and then attended Harvard, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1857. At Harvard he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity's Alpha chapter. While at Harvard he wrote both prose and verse for a student magazine, and was chosen to write an ode for his class's graduation. He also began a private journal some time before his arrival at Harvard, which he maintained with some regularity for his entire life.

After a two-year stint as headmaster of the Westford Academy in Westford, Massachusetts, Long went to Harvard Law School, and became a member of the Massachusetts bar in 1861. He practiced law, first without success in Buckfield, and then in Boston, and was active in the state militia during the Civil War. He settled into a home in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1869, and the following year married Mary Woodford Glover of Hingham. The couple had two daughters (and one stillborn birth) before her death in 1882.

Massachusetts politics

Long began his involvement in politics at the local level in Hingham in 1870. Temperance was a major issue which dominated his political beliefs. His early politics was somewhat independent: he supported the reformist Republican Benjamin Butler for governor in 1871, but received an unsolicited Democratic nomination later that year for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He did not campaign, and lost the election to Republican William B. Washburn. Nominated by both Democrats and reformist Republicans in 1872, he lost again. He thereafter became more of a Republican stalwart, convinced that reform would be best accomplished from within the party organization.

In 1874 Long chaired the state Republican convention, and finally won election to the state legislature. He formed a close relationship with Speaker John E. Sanford, and in a politically calculated move, supported the successful gubernatorial candidate in 1875, Alexander H. Rice, even though Rice supported liberal legislation on alcohol sales that Long opposed. He was able to parlay this support into his own election to the speakership in 1876. He widened his reform views to the national stage by supporting Benjamin Bristow in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In 1878 Long unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent Rice for the gubernatorial nomination. When Rice announced his retirement the following year, Long again sought the nomination. It went to former Lieutenant Governor Thomas Talbot, but Long won the lieutenant governor nomination by acclamation, and the Republican ticket won the general election. Long capitalized on Talbot's avoidance of public ceremonies to maintain a high profile despite the post's relative unimportance. He was easily nominated for governor when Talbot announced he would not run for reelection, even though the party leadership did not support him. The election was highly divisive, pitting Long against Benjamin Butler, who was running with support from a coalition of small reform parties and some Democrats. Long was criticized for his lack of Civil War service and attacked for his diversions from the party line, but won a comfortable victory. He was reelected by comfortable margins the two following years.

Long's time as governor was relatively uneventful. He proposed a number of reforms, including a measured expansion of women's voting rights (then restricted to voting for school committees), and allowing women to sit on state boards. Most of these reforms were not implemented during his tenure, although some were later enacted into law by his successors. He kept a busy schedule, attending all manner of civic events across the state.

In one of his last acts as governor, he appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The lame duck appointment was occasioned by the sudden resignation of Otis Lord, a Republican who may have sought to deny the appointment opportunity to incoming Governor Benjamin Butler (who had switched to the Democratic Party). The appoint was made on December 8, 1882, the last day of Long's term when the Governor's Council (which had to approve the appointment) was scheduled to meet.

Long was elected to the United States Congress in the 1882 election, and served until 1889, declining to run for reelection in the 1888 election. In 1886 he was encouraged to stand for the Senate by Henry Cabot Lodge, although Lodge's support was apparently part of a ruse to test the strength of the state party leadership. Lodge withdrew his support at the last minute, throwing it instead to the incumbent Henry L. Dawes, and the legislature reelected Dawes to the seat. The incident cooled relations between Lodge and Long. In the wheeling and dealing that preceded the Senate election, Long was offered Democratic support by Butler, but refused, believing that such votes would be seen as tainted by an unsavory political deal.

Long's tenure in Congress was uneventful, since the Congress was under Democratic Party control for the six years he served. In addition to lobbying the administration for patronage appointments, he sat on a joint committee examining interests of shipbuilding and shipowners, as well as on conference committees dealing with pensions and Navy financing. In 1886 Long married again, to Agnes Pierce, a teacher and daughter of a Universalist minister; they had one son, born in 1887.

Long decided in 1888 not to run for another term in Congress, and spent the next eight years in private practice. His clients were typically corporate interests, and he appeared on their behalf in court as well as in legislative committee hearings. He was sought after as a public speaker, something he engaged in for many years. He remained somewhat active in Republican Party circles, supporting Roger Wolcott's Young Men's Republican Club, which sought to bring new blood into the party, but refused to run against longtime Senator George Frisbie Hoar.

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; 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, who had since 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".

Lodge compensated for the setback by helping secure the position of Assistant Secretary for Theodore Roosevelt, a brash and aggressive New Yorker. 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."

Long believed that ongoing tensions with Spain were unlikely to lead to war, and did not take significant steps to prepare the Navy for that contingency. By February 1898 the tensions had reached crisis proportions, and Long was required to begin drawing up plans for war. The explosion and sinking of the USS 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 authorizing Commodore George Dewey to engage in offensive actions in the Philippines. Long countermanded many of Roosevelt's orders afterward, but stepped up naval preparedness. When the war was declared in April 1898 Roosevelt resigned his post the next month, a move Long thought foolhardy but later acknowledged was significant in advance Roosevelt's career.

Long directed the Navy's activities throughout the war, which were in part hampered by inadequate preparedness; the deficiencies, however, ended up not materially affecting the outcome of the war. He opposed plans to attack Spain in Europe, but ordered Dewey to neutralize the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, ordered the seizure of Spanish Guam, and worked to support offensive operations against Cuba. In response to increasing pressure from Navy brass, Long moved to create a permanent advisory staff after the war. The board, created in March 1900, was designed to unify the work of the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Naval War College, and the fleet leadership for the production of war plans and the proper preparation, planning, and deployment of naval resources in pursuit of those objectives.

Long was promoted as a potential vice presidential candidate by the Massachusetts delegation to the 1900 Republican National Convention. Lodge (with whom Long continued to feud) disingenuously wore a Long banner while supporting Roosevelt, who easily won the nomination. The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won the election, and Long decided to stay on for McKinley's second term.

Later years

After McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, Long had a change of heart, and tendered his resignation to President Roosevelt on May 1, 1902. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but several factors probably contributed. First, Roosevelt had a close relationship with Long's political rival Lodge, was known to disagree with Long on naval matters, and was not welcoming of his presence at the White House. Second, an inquiry into the actions of Admiral Winfield Scott Schley around the July 1898 Battle of Santiago de Cuba had resulted in a significant amount of criticism of Long's role in the war. Third, one of his daughters died in October 1901, less than a month after McKinley's assassination. These matters drove Long into a depression, and the situation was further exacerbated when Roosevelt squabbled with him over the beginning of the war, and then made newsworthy overrides of some of his decisions. Historian Wendell Garrett notes that Roosevelt took a great personal interest in the Navy, and had difficulty working with subsequent secretaries.

Long returned to Massachusetts, where he resumed his law practice and remained interest in party politics. He sat on a few corporate boards, and served as president of the Puritan Trust Company. He continued to advocate for women's suffrage, and served on the boards of several private schools, include his alma mater, Hebron Academy. He regularly spent time in Maine (having in 1882 repurchased the family home in Buckfield), and fell ill there in August 1915. He returned home to Hingham, where he died on August 28.


In addition to Long's extensive journal, he wrote on a variety of other subjects. During his unsuccessful attempt to start a law practice in Buckfield he produced a paper on Congressional power and slavery. While in Boston in the eary 1860s he had a play produced locally. In 1878 he produced a verse translation of Virgil's Aeneid. In 1903 he published The New American Navy, a history of the Spanish-American War and the development of the Navy during that time.


USS Long (DD-209) was named for him. Among his charitable works was funding the establishment of a public library in Buckland in 1900, which is now known as the Zadoc Long Free Library.

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John Davis Long, Governor, U.S. Secretary of the Navy's Timeline

Age 77