U.S. secretary of war resigns

As a result of bitter disagreements with President Woodrow Wilson over America’s national defense strategies, Lindley M. Garrison resigns his position as the United States secretary of war on this day in 1916.

Garrison came to Wilson’s attention while serving as vice-chancellor of New Jersey (in addition to running a legal practice) and was appointed secretary of war in January 1913 upon Wilson’s ascent to the White House. After the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Garrison clashed repeatedly with many in the Wilson administration, including the president himself, who regarded the secretary as notably hawkish with respect to America’s national defense.

The main disagreement between Garrison and the president arose from the Wilson administration’s long-term national defense plans and short-term U.S. military preparedness in light of the ongoing war in Europe. At the time, Wilson favored a policy of strict neutrality—he would be reelected later that year on a platform promising to keep America out of the war—and he objected to Garrison’s belief that a full-time reserve army should be created as a foundation for national defense and, more immediately, for support in case the U.S. entered the European war.

In his letter of resignation to the president, Mr. Garrison wrote, It is evident that we hopelessly disagree upon what I conceive to be fundamental principles. This makes manifest the impropriety of my longer remaining your seeming representative with respect to those matters. I hereby tender my resignation as Secretary of War, to take effect at your convenience. Assistant Secretary of War Henry Breckinridge also resigned his position out of loyalty to Mr. Garrison.

Newton D. Baker, a former mayor of Cleveland, took over as secretary of war upon Garrison’s resignation. Chosen by Wilson for his pacifist leanings—and distrusted by such hawks as Wilson’s steadfast Republican opponent, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge—Baker would nonetheless help the president reach the decision to enter the war in April 1917, submit a plan for universal military conscription to Congress and preside over the mobilization of some 4 million American soldiers.


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