Benjamin Tracy



Occupation 1

Sec'y of the Navy


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








Jurist and secretary of the navy�

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison� tapped Tracy for his secretary of the navy�

On taking office, Tracy recognized that the nation needed a stronger navy to support trade protection as well as America's position in the imperialist world of the late nineteenth century. Naval rebuilding had begun under previous administrations but with imprecise focus and purpose. Tracy seized the moment to wed new policy, programs, and technical dimensions of naval power for the good of the country�

During Tracy's tenure, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan unveiled his sea power theories, which formed the underpinnings of Tracy's program for naval renaissance. Using such theories, Tracy surmounted business pacifism to induce industry's partnership with government as the prototype for a later military-industrial complex� Tracy also professionalized the navy through organizational reform, stimulated officer education, and modernized operational planning and preparation for war. His quest for overseas naval bases and coaling stations involved Tracy and the navy in increasingly aggressive ventures, portending America's future intrusion into the sphere of the great powers.

Tracy employed the advice of naval officers like Mahan and his mentor, Rear Admiral Stephen Bleeker Luce, to translate sea power theory into a gospel of battleships and battle fleets for the nation's first line of defense. His first annual report in November 1889 projected a revolutionary plan for twenty armored battleships to be stationed on both the East and West coasts of the United States� Buoyed by Harrison's avid support, Republican control of Congress, a treasury surplus, and various international disputes (from seal-fishing clashes with Great Britain in the Arctic to a crisis over perceived insults to the American flag in Chile) that underscored the need for a war fleet, Tracy never wavered from his game plan. Vagaries of politics, however, sometimes forced him to compromise�

Tracy eventually secured the nation's first true battleships of the steel navy and an increase in other fighting vessels. He found funding with which to erect an infrastructure to build the fleet, producing successful negotiations with captains of industry� and shipbuilders� Tracy's other accomplishments included the taming of independent bureau chiefs by formation of a single board for ship design. He subsequently rearranged the duties of navigation, equipment, and recruiting bureau heads, ended political patronage in navy yards through application of merit hiring, and secured congressional approval to bring the Naval War College under his direct tutelage from Washington. He established an assistant secretary position to improve department management and on several occasions convened an ad hoc war council for dealing with international crises�

Tracy left office in March 1893. Nineteen steel warships had entered the active list during his secretaryship. His work and beliefs found vindication five years later, when the American steel navy achieved striking victories in the war with Spain. At the turn of the century, the United States stood among the ranking naval powers of the world in terms of quality and proficiency, thanks largely to the earlier work of Secretary Tracy� [he] died in 1915 in Brooklyn as a result of complications from an automobile accident.

Related Images

external image head0_benjamin_tracy_0000.jpg