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Benjamin Franklin Tracy

In office
March 6, 1889 – March 4, 1893
Preceded by William C. Whitney
Succeeded by Hilary A. Herbert

Born April 26, 1830(1830-04-26)
Apalachin, New York, U.S.
Died August 6, 1915 (aged 85)
Political party Republican
Profession Politician
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Rank Brigadier General
Commands 109th New York Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars American Civil War
*Battle of the Wilderness
Awards Medal of Honor

Benjamin Franklin Tracy (April 26, 1830 – August 6, 1915) was a United States political figure who served as Secretary of the Navy from 1889 through 1893, during the administration of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.



A native of the Apalachin hamlet near Owego, New York, Tracy was a lawyer active in Republican Party politics during the 1850s. During the Civil War, he commanded the 109th New York Infantry Regiment, and served as a Union brigadier general. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. According to the official citation, Tracy "seized the colors and led the regiment when other regiments had retired and then reformed his line and held it."[1] He resumed the practice of law after the war, and became active in New York state politics, also serving as U.S. Attorney. In December 1881, he was appointed by Governor Alonzo B. Cornell to the New York Court of Appeals to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Judge Charles Andrews as Chief Judge after the resignation of Charles J. Folger. Tracy remained on the bench until the end of 1882 when Andrews resumed his seat after being defeated by William C. Ruger in the election for Chief Judge.

Benjamin F. Tracy in his office (c. 1890)

Tracy was noted for his role in the creation of the "New Navy", a major reform of the service, which had fallen into obsolescence after the Civil War. Like President Harrison, he supported a naval strategy focused more on offense, rather than on coastal defense and commerce raiding. A major ally in this effort was naval theorist Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, who had served as a professor at the new Naval War College (founded 1884). In 1890, Mahan published his major work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783—a book that achieved an international readership. Drawing on historical examples, Mahan supported the construction of a "blue-water Navy" that could do battle on the high seas.

Tracy also supported the construction of modern warships. On June 30, 1890, Congress passed the Navy Bill, a measure which authorized the construction of three battleships. The first three were later named USS Indiana (BB-1), Massachusetts (BB-2), and Oregon (BB-3). The battleship Iowa (BB-4) was authorized two years later.

After leaving the Navy Department, Tracy again took up his legal practice. In 1896, he defended New York City Police Commissioner Andrew Parker against Commission President Theodore Roosevelt's accusations of negligence and incompetence, in a performance that significantly embarrassed Roosevelt. (ref. Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, p. 555) He also helped negotiate a settlement to the boundary dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain.

In 1897, Tracy was the regular Republican candidate to be the first Mayor of Greater New York City when her five boroughs consolidated in 1898. He came third behind Robert A. Van Wyck (Democratic) and Seth Low of the Citizens' Union (but well ahead of Henry George's posthumous independent candidacy), winning 101,863 of the 523,560 votes cast in the election of 1897.

Tracy died at his farm in Tioga County, New York in 1915.


USS Tracy (DD-214) was named for him.

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

External links

Gen. B.F. Tracy


  1. ^ Army citation "U.S. Army Center of Military History Medal of Honor Citations Archive". Army Medal of Honor website. August 3, 2009. Army citation. Retrieved January 6, 2010.  
Military offices
Preceded by
William C. Whitney
United States Secretary of the Navy
Succeeded by
Hilary A. Herbert


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