From Ohio History Central
Newton Diehl Baker was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1871. His father, a doctor, was also named Newton Diehl Baker, and his mother was Mary Ann Dukehart Baker. Baker attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1892, before earning a law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1894 He briefly practiced law in his home town before becoming the private secretary of Postmaster General William L. Wilson.
Baker moved to Cleveland, Ohio, sometime around the turn of the century. He set up a law practice in the town and, in 1903, was appointed the city's Director of Law. Baker believed strongly in the Progressive policies of Cleveland Mayor Tom L. Johnson. By 1905, Baker was a prominent member of the community and a leading figure within the local Democratic Party. He was elected to three consecutive terms as city solicitor beginning in 1905, and in 1911, he became mayor of Cleveland. Baker served as mayor from 1912 until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson nominated him to be his Secretary of War. Wilson had previously asked him to serve as Secretary of the Interior, but Baker had refused that position.
Baker made an interesting choice for Secretary of War, as he had previously been known as a pacifist. His time as Secretary of War proved to be a significant time in American history. Baker sent an American expedition to Mexico to capture the Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa in 1916, and he chaired the Council of Defense with its role of preparing the United States for potential involvement in World War I. As secretary, Baker appointed General John Pershing to command the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I.
When Wilson's term ended in 1921, Baker accompanied President Wilson to Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. Baker chose to return to private legal practice after the war. He became known as a successful and well-respected attorney throughout the United States, as well as serving on the board of several corporations. Baker also pursued an interest in adult education after the war, helping to organize the American Association of Adult Education (AAAE) as well as a number of other institutions. At the same time, Baker also remained an important figure within the Democratic Party.
In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Baker to be a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague. The National Institute of Social Sciences presented him with an award "for service to humanity" in 1933. Baker wrote an account of his views on World War I in Why We Went to War, which was published in 1936. He died the following year on December 25, 1937.
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Movement, 1900-1915. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
- Keegan, John. The First World War. New York, NY: A.A. Knopf, 2001.
- Keene, Jennifer. The United States and the First World War. New York, NY: Longman, 2000.
- McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. New York, NY: Free Press, 2003.