Adolph E. Borie
|25th United States Secretary of the Navy|
March 9, 1869 – June 25, 1869
|President||Ulysses S. Grant|
|Preceded by||Gideon Welles|
|Succeeded by||George M. Robeson|
Adolph Edward Borie
November 25, 1809
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||February 5, 1880 (aged 70)|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Political party||Whig (Before 1854)|
|Education||University of Pennsylvania (BA)|
Adolph Edward Borie (November 25, 1809 – February 5, 1880) was a United States merchant and politician who briefly served (1869) as Secretary of the Navy in the Ulysses S. Grant administration. A native of Philadelphia Borie was born into a successful merchantile trade business of his father. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Borie traveled abroad in 1825, returning to the United States in 1828 to enter his father's merchantile firm, his career lasting the next thirty years. As a Whig Party supporter Borie favored tariffs to protect his worldwide business interests. Joining the Republican Party, Borie supported Abraham Lincoln for President. When the Civil War broke out Borie supported the Union war effort and became a close associate to General Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant was elected President in 1868, he appointed Borie to Secretary of Navy on March 5, 1869 one day after his Inauguration. Borie served only a few months in office before quietly retiring, claiming that the job was too demanding and that he was in frail health. During his brief tenor Borie controversially renamed many naval ships and he allowed Vice Admiral David Porter to de facto run the Navy Department. Borie was known for supporting workers by enforcing full pay for an eight-hour work day and for desegregating the Washington Navy Yard, allowing African Americans to freely work alongside whites. After his retirement Borie returned to his business interests. He remained close friends with Grant and accompanied Grant on his famous world tour starting in 1877 and returning to the United States in 1879. In poor health after his travels Borie died on February 5, 1880.
- 1 Early life, education, and career
- 2 Marriage
- 3 Whig politics
- 4 Civil War
- 5 Secretary of Navy 1869
- 6 Later career and travels
- 7 Death
- 8 Historical reputation
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
- 11 External links
Early life, education, and career
Borie was born in Philadelphia on November 25, 1809 the eldest of 12 children. He was the son of a French emigrant John Joseph Borie, a merchant and manufacturer, who settled in Philadelphia. His mother was Sophia Beauveau a Haitian refugee. Borie came from one of the oldest and most aristocratic families in Pennsylvania.  Borie's father's ancestry came from Bordeaux, and were the leading merchants in Philadelphia. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy Haitian planter, who had fled Haiti during the violent Haitian Revolution.
Borie attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1825 at the age of 16.  At the age of 24 Borie toured Europe and completed his studies in Paris. In 1828, after returning from Europe, Borie entered his father's prestigious merchantile firm McKean Borie & Co. Silk and tea were the emphasized trade commodities during his 30-year tenure in the firm during the epoch of the clipperships.  Borie's firm did trade business with Mexico, the West Indies, and the Far East when Philadelphia foreign trade was at it zenith. Borie was a pioneer in lobbying the federal government for diplomatic and naval support in protecting his business abroad.  The magnitude of his business was enormous, identified by $100,000 in property damages incurred during the 1857-58 disturbances of the Second Opium War in China.  From 1848 to 1860 Borie was President of The Bank of Commerce, and he became the director of several leading business ventures in Philadelphia. 
Prior to the Civil War, Borie had a slight connection to politics. He championed Whig Party policies and favored protectionist international trade. In 1843, Borie was consul to Belgium.  When the Whig Party demised in the mid 1850s Borie became a Republican.
In 1860, Borie supported Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln during the presidential election of 1860. At the outbreak of the Civil War Borie ardently supported the Union cause and Lincoln's presidency. He was a founding member and one-time vice-president of Philadelphia's Union League, and guided the recruiting and equipping of several regiments, inspiring Unionist sentiment. The Philadelphia Union League assumed national importance and inspired other cities to create similar organizations supporting the Union War effort against the Confederacy.  During the war Borie became an intimate associate with Union General Ulysses S. Grant. 
On March 5, 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Borie Secretary of the Navy. Grant, in his choices for various posts, desired to choose non elected people for office, or simply because they were personal friends. For his first cabinet, Grant did not seek advice from Senators in his selections, partly out of national unity, and partly out of his military training to choose cabinet members as subordinates. A few of his nominees were exceptional in their service, most notably his effective Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin Bristow, and Attorney General Alphonso Taft. But, in his initial stages of choosing his 1869 cabinet, it was a hit-or-miss matter. Borie had been very friendly to Grant on a visit to Philadelphia that he chaired. Grant, considering that he owed something to Borie and to the Republicans in the Keystone State announced that there would be a man from Pennsylvania in his cabinet. When pressed for details ("was it a member of the Republican machine under Simon Cameron?") Grant's sense of humor took over and he became mysterious, talking about a "man from Philadelphia".
The question of who was this "man from Philadelphia" bothered the public, but the revelation it was Borie was met with amazement. Nobody had ever heard of him outside of Philadelphia. Borie had little interest in public office, and freely admitted that Admiral David Dixon Porter was the actual manager.
Renaming ships controversy
Borie disliked the Native American Indian names borne by so many United States Navy ships of the post-American Civil War era, and during his very short term as Secretary of the Navy, had a great many vessels renamed after states of the Union, creatures and personages from classical Greek or Roman mythology, or names that conveyed power or strength. A sample of names that Borie selected were Florida, "Centaur", and "Tornado". The general public was shocked on hearing the changes, because it was traditional for American ships to be given American names. His successor, George M. Robeson, had most of these ships reverted to their original names a few months later. Ironically, Borie was a Philadelphian associated with the town of Manayunk (now a Philadelphia neighborhood), and one of the vessels that was never given back its original name was USS Manayunk, which permanently kept its new name of USS Ajax, renamed by Borie on June 15, 1869, ten days before his resignation. Ajax was a mythological Greek hero, the son of King Telamon and Periboea.
Enforced full pay and eight hour work day
On May 29, 1869 Borie enforced full pay and the eight hour work day at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for mechanics and laborers for work per diem. Workers would receive unpaid backpay dating from May 19. Borie gave specific instructions:
- 1. Workers were to arrive at precisely 7:45 AM
- 2. Workers were to start work at 8:00 AM and work until 12:00 PM
- 3. Workers were to take a one-hour lunch break from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
- 4. Workers were to resume work starting at 1:00 PM and ending at 5:00 PM
The preciseness of the working times upset the workers. 
During Borie's brief tenure in office, the United States was going through Reconstruction, after the Civil War. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments respectively abolished slavery and gave African Americans, former slaves, U.S. citizenship. Controversy ensued as conservative European Americans throughout the nation desired to keep blacks in a condition similar to slavery by violence or coercion and to keep them separate from white society. Women, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were also fighting to gain higher pay in the federal work force, civil rights in marriage and education, and the right to vote in elections, called suffrage. 
In June 1869, during his last month in office, Borie desegregated the Washington Navy Yard, allowing African American males to enter and work in the facilities. Borie was personally thanked by the Working Women's Association on June 17. 
On June 25, 1869 Borie quietly resigned office, kept secret from the general public, serving only 3 months and 17 days in office. There was no formal explanation given other than that he was in frail health, running the Navy Department was overall too demanding for him, and he desired to return to his business. When it was announced that George M. Robeson had been nominated and replaced Borie, the public was shocked, not knowing that Borie had even resigned. Also Robeson was not known outside of New Jersey, his home state. Again, Grant did not seek Senate advise when finding an experienced candidate to run the Navy Department. Borie returned to his home in Philadelphia.
Later career and travels
Borie returned to private life and resumed his business interests. In his later business career, he interested himself in railroads and financial concerns. He was a noted patron of the arts. He remained close friends with Grant, who he joined for much of his world tour in 1879-1879.
The demands of traveling abroad took a toll on Borie's health. Having returned to Philadelphia he died on February 5, 1880.
For his brief service, two ships were christened USS Borie in Borie's honor.
- Bowden, Witt (1929). Allen Johnson, ed. Dictionary of American Biography Borie, Adolph Edward. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 464.
- Bowers, Claude The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln (New York: Halcyon Press, 1929), p. 238-239.
- Chernow, Ron (2017). Grant. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-5942-0487-6.
- Martin, Edward Winslow (1869). "Adolph E. Borie, Secretary of the Navy". The New Administration. New York: George S. Wilcox. pp. 132–137.
New York Times
- "Labor Movements Workingwoman's Association" (PDF). New York Times. New York. June 18, 1869.
- "The Eight-Hour Law in the Brooklyn Navy-Yard" (PDF). New York Times. New York. May 30, 1869.
- The Borie Family Papers, including personal and professional correspondence, business records, and various other materials, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
| United States Secretary of the Navy
George M. Robeson