Baker was brought to Cleveland by Martin A. Foran to practice law, but he quickly rose in the city administration to solicitor and in 1913 to mayor. The year before he had supported Wilson's Democratic candidacy for the presidency, but had declined the offered position of secretary of the interior.
The quiet, almost self-effacing Baker, though known as a pacifist, agreed reluctantly on March 16, 1916 to become secretary of war. Only a few days before, Pancho Villa had conducted his celebrated raid into New Mexico, and Baker ordered Brigadier General John J. Pershing to pursue the Mexican across the border.
The U.S. Army of 95,000 men was completely un¬prepared for war in Europe. In his first year in office Baker could do little to alter that situation owing to Wilson's strict definition of neutrality, the nation's divided soul, and the traditional military inadequacies of American peacetime forces.
After AprilBaker supervised the creation of an army of 4 million men under the wartime conscription act. He reorganized the administration of the War Department specifically introducing the new "G” sections, dividing the General Staff into separate departments such as supply, personnel, intelligence, and so on. Baker also made the time-saving decision to adapt the British Enfield rifle for use with American ammunition.
Nevertheless Baker was sharply attacked by Congress for delays in creating American armies. He had also proved rather inept in handling Theodore Roosevelt's request to raise a volunteer division, and maladroit in removing General Leonard Wood from command of a division bound for France. Above all, Baker failed to move against the "swivel-chair War Department Generals" until forced to do so by a Senate investigation in December 1917. The criticisms leveled against him concerning shortages and low-grade facilities were not always fair as the secretary straddled a delicate position between the military, who controlled operations, and a president with firm notions of his own about that military policy. Still, Baker developed a close friendship with Wilson and became one of the latter's most trusted advisers. The secretary skillfully supported his field commander in France and shared General Pershing's position that the American Expeditionary Forces not be "amalgamated" with the Allied armies. Not even the unfortunate feud between Pershing and General March over relocation of staff officers and promotions to the grade of general could deter Baker. General George C. Marshall said of him in the 1950s: "He rode a very difficult horse . . . between General Pershing and General March, and he did it extraordinarily well."
After the war, Baker returned to his law practice in Cleveland. In 1928 he became a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Although a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Baker broke with the president in the 1930s over the constitutionality of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Baker died on Christmas Day 1937 in Shaker Heights, near Cleveland.
Born December 3, 1871
Died December 25, 1937