Tracy, Benjamin F.

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Tracy, Benjamin F. (1830–1915), soldier, jurist, secretary of the navy.A small‐town lawyer and Republican politician from Tioga County, New York, Tracy served in the state legislature before raising and commanding troops in the Civil War. He received a Medal of Honor (1897) for gallantry at the Battle of the Wilderness despite subsequent controversial administration of the Elmira, New York, prison camp. Elmira, with its prisoner death rate of 25 percent, held the distinction of being the worst Union prison, although more as a result of War Department policy and bureaucracy than Tracy's management. Moving to Brooklyn in 1865, he served as federal district attorney from 1866 to 1873, and chief justice of the state court of appeals in 1881 and 1882. Tracy's major contribution to national security came as secretary of the navy (1889–93) during Benjamin Harrison's presidency.

Tracy publicly championed Alfred T. Mahan's doctrine of seapower. He launched the navy upon battle fleet construction in support of that doctrine, as well as introducing a prototype military‐industrial complex through close relationships between government and the steel industry. He encouraged technology transfer from Europe, and shrewdly negotiated with Congress for increased naval budgets. He modernized operational planning through establishment of a policy board, organized the first tactical squadron of evolution for fleet maneuver training, and abolished the spoils system in navy yards in order to reform the shore establishment. His ventures in overseas naval base acquisitions in Samoa, Haiti, and Santo Domingo, as well as his response to revolutions in Chile and Hawaii, proved more controversial than successful. Tracy's active retirement included service in the boundary dispute over British Guiana and chairman of the greater New York Charter Commission in 1897.
[See also Navy, U.S.: 1866–98; Prisoner‐of‐War Camps, Civil War.]


B. Franklin Cooling , Benjamin Franklin Tracy; Father of the Modern American Fighting Navy, 1979.
Paola E. Coletta , Benjamin F. Tracy, in Coletta, ed., American Secretaries of the Navy, 1980.

B. Franklin Cooling