America of Yesterday, as Reflected in the Journal of John Davis Long, Governor of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Navy
Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1923. 8vo. xiv+250 pp. $3.00.
No other public man in New England in our time has filled the place that was John D. Long’s. He was the favorite of the ‘sturdy yeomanry.’ the people who lived in the rural districts. They accepted and believed in him, in spite of the fact that his education and other training might have led them to look on him as a member of a social class quite different from their own. They felt that he somehow understood them, and they were glad to ride, or walk, to the polling-places when his name was on the ballot. It was commonly said for many years that Mr. Long could have any office ‘within the gift of the people’ if only he would express a desire for it; but, although he afterwards filled important public posts, the bitter campaign in which he defeated Benjamin F. Butler for the governorship of Massachusetts was all that Mr. Long wanted of that kind of thing. Thereafter the political honors which came to him were unsought; he would not lift a hand for the United States senatorship or for the vice-presidency.
The selections which Mr. Mayo has made from Governor Long’s journals—his friends called him by that title until the day of his death — make it plain that the men who lived in the open spaces of New England had formed a correct estimate of the writer of the journal. He belonged to them. Whether he was for the moment a practising lawyer in Boston, Governor of Massachusetts, Representative in Congress, or Secretary of the Navy, he always yearned for the homely scenes of country life. Nothing else satisfied him as they did.
Most readers of Mr. Mayo’s book will doubtless pay special attention to the pages of it which were written immediately before and during the Spanish-American war. Those days do not seem now so overwhelmingly momentous, but they were serious indeed for the government in Washington of which Mr. Long, as Secretary of the Navy, was an important part. The test of the new Navy handed down by the preceding administration was about to be made. Would the ships and the men stand up under the trial? Mr. Long’s reflections, ‘reactions,’ and comment in those trying days are most interesting; for instance, there is his good-natured criticism of the characteristic weaknesses of his assistant — soon to be his superior —the alert, strenuous Theodore Roosevelt. Mr. Long might have become President of the United States if it had not been for this same Theodore Roosevelt. For it was no secret that Mr. McKinley wanted the Republicans to nominate his Massachusetts friend for second place on the national ticket in 1900; but the President was overruled by the politicians who insisted that Colonel Roosevelt must be taken out of the Governor’s office at Albany.
America of Yesterday — a very recent yesterday — is worth reading. Mr. Mayo has made a wise choice of material and filled the gaps with informing, well-written material.
JOHN D. MERRILL.