Josiah W. Bailey, U.S. senator, was born on September 14, 1873, in Warrenton, the third of Christopher and Annie Bailey’s five children. His father, the editor of the Biblical Recorder, insisted his children receive proper educations, and Josiah succeeded through the Raleigh public schools, Raleigh Male Academy, and Wake Forest College from which he graduated in 1893.
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After completing his college degree, Josiah Bailey joined his father at the Recorder, becoming the senior editor after Christopher Bailey’s death in 1895. He continued in that post until 1907, not only expressing religious views in his newspaper but also espousing political views primarily concerning the education of the state’s children.
He utilized his paper to help Charles B. Aycock and Furnifold M. Simmons win legislative approval in 1894 of a measure calling for a four-month school term and supporting appropriations to public schools ensuring state control of the state’s education system. Bailey also served as chairman of the Anti-Saloon League in North Carolina, calling for local communities to have the option to decide in favor or against prohibition, although he later resigned under the prospect of national prohibition, considering the act unfeasible.
Bailey left the Recorder in 1907, became an attorney, and in 1913 was appointed collector of internal revenue for eastern North Carolina by Woodrow Wilson. He held the post until 1921 and, during his tenure, reduced the cost of collections by nearly sixty-five percent. In 1916, he married Edith Pou, daughter of United States Representative Edward Pou.
In 1913, Bailey served on the North Carolina Constitution Commission created by Governor Locke Craig and, with Clarence Poe, co-chaired a Progressive program for the Democratic State Convention in 1914 that was eventually shunned by the state Democratic Party. Ten years later, Bailey ran unsuccessfully for North Carolina governor against Angus McLean on the same Progressive platform. In 1930, he triumphed over former political ally Furnifold M. Simmons for the Democratic senatorial nomination, and then defeated Republican George M. Pritchard for the seat.
Bailey remained in the Senate for the next fifteen years. A strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bailey nonetheless opposed many of the New Deal programs. He helped defeat Roosevelt’s “court-packing” plan in 1937 and as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee often attempted to constrain New Deal spending. However, when war broke out, Bailey became a strong supporter of America’s entry into the conflict. Beginning in the summer of 1945, Bailey began absenting himself from Congress due to illness. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Raleigh on December 15, 1946, leaving a widow and five children. He is buried in Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 84-85—sketch by John R. Moore
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
John R. Moore, Senator Josiah William Bailey of North Carolina (1968)
Joseph F. Steelman, “The Progressive Democratic Convention of 1914 in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (Spring 1969): 83-104
Howard Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century (2000)
Josiah W. Bailey, 1873-1946