Newton D. Baker, U.S. Secretary of War

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Newton Diehl Baker, Jr.

Birthplace: New Martinsville, WV, USA
Death: Died in Shaker Heights, OH, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Newton D. Baker and Mary Ann Baker
Husband of Elizabeth Baker
Father of Elizabeth McGean; Newton D. Baker III and <private> Wright (Baker)

Managed by: Jo Anne Baker
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Newton D. Baker, U.S. Secretary of War

Baker was born on December 3, 1871, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the son of Newton Diehl Baker and Mary Ann (Dukehart) Baker. In 1892 he graduated from Johns Hopkins University. After receiving his law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 1894, he became the private secretary to Postmaster General William L. Wilson in Washington, D.C.. Baker was small and thin. He was rejected for military service in the Spanish-American War because of poor eyesight.

Baker moved to Cleveland, where he became active in local politics. After serving as city solicitor from 1901 to 1909, he became mayor of the city in 1911. As a city official, Baker's main interests were public power, transit reform, and city beautification. He was a strong backer of Cleveland College, now a part of Case Western Reserve University.

Baker was a considered a possible vice-presidential contender in 1912, when he worked on Wilson's behalf at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. Though offered the post twice, he declined to serve as Secretary of the Interior during President Wilson's first term. He and Wilson had been acquaintances since they were both at Johns Hopkins in the 1890s.

In 1916, following his tenure as mayor of Cleveland, Baker and two other partners founded the law firm of Baker Hostetler.

As the United States considered whether to enter World War I, President Woodrow Wilson named Baker Secretary of War, because Baker was acceptable to advocates both for and against American participation in the conflict. The post also required legal expertise because of the War Department's role in administering the Philippines, the Panama Canal, and Puerto Rico. The New York Times called him a "warm supporter of the President. At age 44 he was the youngest member of the Cabinet.

One historian described his relationship to the military:

A civilian's civilian, Baker saw the military as a necessity, but he had no awe of people in uniform, no romantic feelings toward them, and no dreams of glory....On the day President Woodrow Wilson announced Baker's appointment as secretary of war, he admitted his ignorance of military matters. "I am an innocent," he told reporters, "I do not know anything about this job." But he had a sharp, analytical mind and considerable skill at administration.

As Secretary of War, Baker presided over the American military participation in the war in 1917-18, including the creation of a nationwide military draft. Baker selected Gen. John J. Pershing to head the Allied Expeditionary Force. At Baker's insistence, Wilson made the American forces an independent fighting partner of the Allies against the Central Powers, rather than letting American troops be used to replenish British and French forces as those nations advised. He was occasionally attacked by military professionals who thought him incompetent or a pacifist at heart. He said: "I'm so much of a pacifist, I'm willing to fight for it."

In 1918, Wilson told Baker that he hoped he would follow him into the White House in 1920.

After stepping down as Secretary of War in 1921, Baker returned to practicing law at Baker & Hostetler.

For several years he was the leading proponent of American participation in the League of Nations.

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Newton D. Baker, U.S. Secretary of War's Timeline

December 3, 1871
New Martinsville, WV, USA
Age 34
Age 35
December 25, 1937
Age 66
Shaker Heights, OH, USA