Skip to main content

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Address to Ensigns in the Naval Reserve

<Address of Hon. Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy at the graduation of Ensigns in the Naval Reserve, at Annapolis, Friday, September 14. Released for afternoon papers.>

     The impulse that has made possible our rapidly expanding Navy came from a speech made by President Wilson1 in St. Louis, on the <third> day of <February, 1916>, when he declared “There is no other navy in the world that has to cover so great an area of defense as the American Navy, and it ought, in my judgment, to be incomparably the most adequate navy in the world.” “We must have incomparably the strongest navy in the world.” Up to that hour no national leader had urged upon the people or upon Congress so large a program, or given the vision of a navy worthy of the American Republic. Indeed the argument, brought forth by what were then known as “the big navy people” was for “the second largest navy in the world,” their position being that there was no necessity for creating a navy bigger than that possessed by Great Britain. They indeed said that we did not need a fleet of British size, because we did not possess colonies scattered through every part of the world.

     Following close upon the declaration by the President, Congress took a radical and a forward step on its naval program. It abandoned the plan of a yearly authorization of new ships, and adopted a three year building program. Shortly thereafter it increased the naval appropriation from an average of from a year of $1<45>35, 000,000 <to $312,888,060.25>, and since the first of August <1916,> has appropriated for the support and increase of the Navy $1,344,184,896, while the estimates pending bill <before Congress> approved by the House Appropriation Committee, carr<y>ies and addition of nearly six hundred million dollars. The aggregate appropriation in a little more than a year, to make effective and impregnable the nation’s first arm of defense is <, including pending estimates,> nearly two billion dollars.

     If any man doubts that the American people are ready to wage this righteous war to victory, no matter what the cost, he need only to read the messages and acts of the President and the legislation and appropriation, revenue and bond bills that have passed Congress. They answer effectively and eloquently the suggestions of alien critics that America is not enlisted with all its resources to free the world from the menace of Prussianism.

     No sooner was the spirit of the broad policy of the President for a Navy “incomparably the <most adequate> strongest” breathed into the nation and its Congress than the tremendous work of material creation began. It overtaxed building facilities, it taxed, but not overtaxed, the energies of those to whom it was given to make the vision real. The facilities grew. Men grew. The vision began to be a reality.

     This is not the time to speak of what has been accomplis<h>ed, or of much that has been begun, for military experts agree that many of the things under way should not be disclosed in the making.

     I am not publishing a military secret, however, when I say that while the increase in personnel in the past few months has far surpassed the increase in material, there are four <three> times more <as many> ships in commission today then <as> there were six months ago; and that ships and more ships, from enlarged and ever enlarging shipyards, are coming to afford a place upon naval craft to the thousands of patriotic young men who have crowded into the Navy since the call was made under the legislation reading for increase in enlistment.

     On September 1st, 1916, the total enlisted strength of the Navy and Marine Corps, including men and officers in the regular service and in the reserve ranks, was <74,542>. On September 1st 1917, the number is <232,930.> So popular has service in the Navy become that the Department has been compelled to limit enlistments because it could not build training stations and provide ships enough for the thousands of splendid youths who have flocked to the standard of what will be made before a great while “incomparably the strongest <most adequate> Navy in the world.” It is not alone in the number that there is cause for congratulations. It is even more in the character and the fitness of the young men who have donned the bluejackets. For years before the war, the Navy, by reason of opportunity for education and promotion, had secured a better trained and more ambitious company of youths than in the other days when there was little or no chance for a bluejacket to rise in the service. The blue jacket of the Navy of today may aspire to wear the stars of an Admiral. This war has made it possible to promote hundreds of the most capable sailors in the world to be commissioned officers. Every promotion has been given because of approved capacity demonstrated through years of faithful services.

     It is vital to a powerful navy to have powerful guns and powerful ships, but they are only so much well fashioned steel unless they are manned by officers and men with trained minds and trained hands, with steady nerves and heads. We have today in the Navy all the men we need until ships under construction and repair are furnished and put into commission. The greatest need, therefore, is for officers who know how to sail a ship, how to man its guns, how to organize it to fight.

     The Navy’s reliance upon the Naval Academy for educated and capable officers in peace times is well placed. Since the war began this fine institution, unsurpassed in the world, has been doubled, but today its facilities are inadequate to graduate officers as rapidly as they are needed. This too, after we had graduated two classes this year.

     Other sources, therefore, must then be relied upon for officers in the emergency.

     The first reliance is upon retired officers who have Naval Academy training, but who have been retired by the age limit or for some illness that did not enable them to perform all the duties of a naval officer afloat or ashore. No matter where they are, these men always respond instantly, and most of them have returned to the service they love. Not a few of them have been assigned to important posts. They are rendering valuable service. Until recently the retirement age was sixty-two, but recent experience with hardy retired officers has justified the wisdom of extending the age of retirement to sixty-four.

     The second source of supply for capable naval officers is from the ranks. Within the past two months <794> capable men have been commissioned as ensigns or junior lieutenants, and from this wonderful body of exceptional warrant officers the Navy will find men worth<y> of the commissions they have earned. Already as armed guards and in other places of responsibility some of these men from the ranks have justified the wisdom of their promotions. Others who are found qualified will be advanced, while still further promotions will be earned by the most capable of those already selected.

     The third source to which the Navy looks for officers is from <to> the well organized Navy Militia. It has not been dissappointed in expecting these men to give themselves and their training (all too brief) to the service. Some of them are filling responsible positions. All are going to school afloat, studying to be better masters of the profession in which they had enjoyed the experiences of days of peace.

     But all these sources combined have not served to give as many officers as the expanding Navy needs, and we are turning with confidence to the civilians with love of the sea and some knowledge of seamanship to qualify themselves for command. before war was declared there were some <R>reserve officers who had shown talent and are giving evidence of ability, but most of the men who are to be initiated into the glorious company of naval officers come direct from civil life, and upon their willingness to learn, their swiftness, and their aptitude we must depend for a large increase of officers.

     We will not be dissap<p>ointed in this expectation, either in number or quality. As to numbers<,> when the Navy issued its invitation to young men to enlist, the choicest in the land came by hundreds from colleges and from factories, from stores and from farms, from banking houses and from all the professions and trades. They brought with them alert minds, a noble spirit of patriotism, a determination to master every secret of seafaring, and to rise by practical work and intense application. They brought into the Navy at the time of its need the freshness and the glow of youth asking only a chance, eager to worth [i.e. work] with hands or head. The real personnel problem of the past few months in the Navy has been to find a way, a place, an opening for these ambitious and serious-minded men—some mere boys and others beyond the first stage of vigorous manhood. That is the problem that still presses upon the Navy Department, for there are hundreds if not thousands of recruits who with proper training will make excellent naval officers. Every day we are getting nearer to the place where we can give a chance to those who show themselves qualified for leadership. I hope that before the spring our schools and classes, ashore and afloat, will provide opportunity to learn the profession of seamanship to all who have a genius for command. I am holding out this hope to the many who look with eagerness as they covet the training here or elsewhere, for, as I rejoice in greeting this large class of ensigns who come from civil life, my thought is also with the larger number who will qualify as soon as the Navy can provide the facilities for their housing and instruction.

     In ordinary days, when young men are commissioned here as ensigns, the Secretary of the Navy welcomes them into a life profession for which they have qualified by years of preparation in these halls and upon the Summer cruises. Today, I come to bring greetings to a class <of 192 new Ensigns in the Naval Reserve> most of the members of which did not look to a naval career and who have come to us from other walks of life. Those of you who are older did not hesitate to leave your business or profession when war was declared. You elected to serve your country in the Navy and have now completed with honor the intensive course which has been given you here. The Navy has no place for men who lack eagerness to be and to do. It is a rigorous calling, even for those who enter it after years of study and careful instruction. And even more for those who, moved by a resolve to uphold the honor of their country and insure the freedom of the world, heed the call of the sea. You have been touched here with the stimulating traditions of this place – dear to all who love the Navy. From this institution for many years have gone forth youths who in every crisis have made the country proud of their Navy. I have no doubt these new officers, who have been privileged to spend only a few months here will carry into the service the same spirit that animates all who have felt the touch of Annapolis ideals and Annapolis training. Its imprimatur is upon you, but you realize that you have just begun to learn and <that> your big school is the fighting ship upon whose deck you may be called upon to stand in the stress of battle, cool and unafraid as you man the guns<.> with shot and shell raining about you. Your country has confidence in you. You will justify that confidence in proportion as you master the profession into which you enter this day. Its rewards come only to those of good courage whose minds are wholly given to learning the mysteries of modern fighting craft.

     I am empowered officially to welcome you as leaders among the youthful defenders of your country. The Superintendent and the officers and instructors have kept me posted as to the progress of this class, and they have expressed surprise at the avidity you have shown in studying the course and at the wonderful progress <you have> made in so short a time. This must be gratifying to you, but it has a large<r> meaning for your country. As the Navy grows, it must have more officers. Many, perhaps most of them, must come from civil life. We have questioned whether this source of supply could be relied upon. <You have answered that question in the affirmative.>

     You came as citizens called to the duties of citizenship in time of war. When civil liberty is at stake civilians become warriors. So today the Republic has gone to War<!> The professional<l>y taught war making branches of the government become then, the instructors in the art of war, not of an army or of a navy, but of a nation. The first to be instructed become in turn <the> instructors of others.

     In this instruction, moreover, talents brought by the civilians are no less important than the talents brought by the war making branches. He knows a business. The Navy has need of that business. He is the expert of a craft. The Navy has need of that craft. He can fill offices where his knowledge is exact, and by his service free a leader for whom the greatest need <use> is elsewhere. The Navy at its need has summoned you, and <acclaims> honors you for answering.

     You will go to the fleet, to the patrol, to the transports – to whatever duty you are assigned – with the feeling that you have shown that civilians can do whatever there is need for them to do. You will be welcomed by the experienced officers under whom you will serve. You will be helped by them and when the hour comes for a man to show the stuff he is made of I have no doubt the officer from civil life will fight and shoot and die, if God so wills it, side by side and with the same faith in the God of Battles, as his comrades under whom he serves. You come into the Navy in a time of war. You are engaged in a righteous war, and when faith in right shall triumph over faith in might, as it surely will, <you will> share with the veterans of the Navy the gratitude of a people who have never looked to their Navy in vain. I do not know what you will be called upon to do. I cannot lift the veil. One thing I do know, however, and that is that you will be worthy of the noble profession into which you this day enter. May the All-Wise Providence give you of His strength to bear the world to an early peace – a peace that shall insure justice and right alike to all peoples and all nations. 

Source Note: D, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Box 173.

Footnote 1: President Woodrow Wilson. For a full copy of Wilson’s speech from St. Louis, see, Addresses of President Wilson, January 27-February 3, 1916 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1916).