Remarks by Thomas F. Campbell Upon the Occasion of Newton D. Baker’s Induction into the City Club’s Hall of Fame May 18, 1987

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baker-1924 Newton D. Baker at 1924 Democratic Convention

Remarks by Thomas F. Campbell

Upon the Occasion of

NEWTON D. BAKER’s

Induction into the City Club’s Hall of Fame

May 18, 1987

 

In 1912 Mayor Newton D. Baker was the principal speaker at

the organizational meeting of the City Club. While he welcomed

the formation of a club devoted to the discussion of municipal

affairs he stressed that the members needed to maintain a nonpartisan

spirit in their discussions of public matters. It was

good advice because many other city clubs across the country

withered and died in the arid soil of narrow partisanship.

 

Yet such advice surprised some Clevelanders because of

Baker’s well-earned reputation as a very partisan Democrat. But

they didn’t understand that Baker wanted the City Club to become

an educational, not a political, forum. His model was Mayor Tom

L. Johnson’s famous tent meetings where, in Baker’s opinion,

Clevelanders became the best informed citizens in the country.

 

Baker, who had studied political economy under Woodrow

Wilson and who was deeply influenced by Thomas Jefferson, shared

their views that democracies could not survive if their citizens

were not well informed on the issues of the day.

 

When Baker came to this city in 1899, he was quickly drawn

into its social and political reform circles. For several years

he lived and worked as a volunteer in Goodrich Settlement House.

Our present Juvenile Court system, Legal Aid Society and

Consumers League are part of the heritage that Baker and other

social reformers bequeathed to us. But politics was his forte,

and during the first decade of the 20th century Cleveland was in

the foreground of progressive reforms. Baker met Tom L. Johnson

in 1901 and these two transplanted southerners became the leading

spokesmen and architects of a crusade that was to earn Cleveland

a national reputation as the most progressive, best governed city

in the nation.

 

When Baker became Mayor in 1911, he not only developed the

Municipal Light Plant and a three-cent car fare but he played a

major role in securing a Home Rule Charter that was a model of

its kind. The debates on these first steps toward municipal

independence took place right here at the City Club. Baker

believed that a city should be as noted for its cultural assets

as well as for its municipal waterworks and he got the city to

support a local symphony and fought unsuccessfully for a

municipal university.

 

In 1916 President Wilson called upon this scholarly

“pacifist” to be his Secretary of War. Within a year Baker was

responsible for organizing an American fighting force of over 4

million and mobilizing our industrial resources to supply them

with munitions and transportation. It was a major tribute to

Baker’s administrative and political skills that this massive

mobilization was successfully achieved and without a taint of

scandal.

 

When the Great War ended in 1918 there were over two million

men in France. Some generals who were of the Grand Old Duke of

York School — he marched them up to the top of the hill, and he

marched them down again — wanted to drill the men until they

fell down with fatigue. Baker had a different and more creative

idea. Influenced by the educational impact of the Johnson tent

meetings, he wanted to give the idle soldiers an opportunity to

study, so he organized the university of the American

Expeditionary Forces. As a result over 141,000 men took

advantage of the fully fledged colleges and correspondence

schools that were set up in France and elsewhere. The sight of

these citizen-soldiers eagerly learning a variety of academic

subjects so impressed Baker that he became in the 1920’s a

leading national advocate of adult education programs. He was

the prime force that persuaded Western Reserve University to

establish its famous downtown, but now sadly defunct, Cleveland

College.

 

In 1921 Baker, financially and physically exhausted after

two decades of strenuous public service, returned to the firm he

had established in 1916. Within a few years the firm, popularly

known then and now as “BakerHostetler” had earned a national

reputation and there is little doubt that Baker would have

immense pride in that firm’s continual growth in size and

reputation.

 

In the remaining 16 years of his life, he continued to

promote the Wilsonian dream of a League of Nations. Indeed, it

was this unrepentant internationalism that destroyed his chances

of securing the nomination of the Democratic Party for President

in 1932. William Randolph Hearst, deadly afraid that Baker might

get the nomination, threw his support to F.D.R.

 

In the last few years of his life, Baker grew increasingly

uncomfortable with the direction of Roosevelt’s policies and

impatient with the arrogance of some New Deal Administrators, yet

he could never desert the Democratic Party even as it appeared to

him to be moving away from the ideals of his own presidential

heroes, Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson.

 

As a man of common sense and as an idealist Newton D.

Baker served this city and this nation in an extraordinary

fashion in times of peace and war. Ralph Hayes said of Baker

when he died on Christmas Day 1937 that for forty years Baker had

been to this municipality, counselor, guide, and friend. That’s

why we honor him tonight.”

To read more about Newton D.Baker, click here