Commerce Cabinet Crisis II


By the time of William C. Redfield’s resignation in 1919, the wheels had really fallen off Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. The Versailles Treaty had failed ratification in the Senate, the 1918 midterms were a big win for the Republicans, Wilson had suffered strokes and alienated longtime political allies, Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer was undertaking the most serious violations of civil liberties in American history, the Spanish Flu pandemic had killed tons of people, etc.

Not known to have participated in this in any noteworthy way was Congressman Joshua W. Alexander of Gallatin, Missouri. Alexander was born in Ohio in 1852, but moved to Missouri as a child and attended public school and college there, becoming a lawyer and setting up his law practice in Gallatin in 1875. He became president of the Gallatin Board of Education, and then joined the Missouri House of Representatives, rising to serve as its Speaker in 1887. He then briefly served as mayor of Gallatin and then was a judge from 1901 to 1907 when he entered congress. As a member of the House of Representatives he was dispatched to be the American delegate to the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea which was formed in the wake of the sinking of the Titanic. When Redfield resigned, Wilson tapped Alexander as his replacement and he helmed the department—doing, as usual for Commerce Secretaries, nothing important—throughout the remainder of the Wilson Administration.