Hiram Johnson

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The Honorable
Hiram Johnson
Hiram Johnson 2.jpg
United States Senator
from California
In office
March 16, 1917 – August 6, 1945
Preceded by John D. Works
Succeeded by William F. Knowland
23rd Governor of California
In office
January 3, 1911 – March 15, 1917
Lieutenant A. J. Wallace
John Morton Eshleman
William Dennison Stephens
Preceded by James Gillett
Succeeded by William Stephens
Personal details
Born Hiram Warren Johnson
(1866-09-02)September 2, 1866
Sacramento, California
Died August 6, 1945(1945-08-06) (aged 78)
Bethesda, Maryland
Political party Progressive, Republican
Spouse(s) Minne L. McNeal
Alma mater University of California-Berkeley
Profession Politician
Religion Episcopalianism

Hiram Warren Johnson (September 2, 1866 – August 6, 1945) was a leading American progressive and isolationist politician from California; he served as the 23rd governor from 1911 to 1917, and as a United States Senator from 1917 to 1945. He was Theodore Roosevelt's running mate in the 1912 presidential election on the Progressive, aka Bull Moose, ticket.

Early years

Johnson was born in Sacramento, California on September 2, 1866; his father was Grove Lawrence Johnson, a Republican Representative and a member of the California State Legislature who was accused of election irregularities and using his political offices to look after his personal financial interests. His mother was Annie DeMontfredy, partially descended of a family of Huguenots who had left France to escape religious persecution there. Annie was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, claiming descent from a general of the Continental Army. Johnson had a brother and three sisters.[1]

After attending public schools and Heald College, Johnson first worked as a shorthand reporter and stenographer in law offices. He eventually decided on a legal career, studying at the University of California Berkeley, where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He was admitted to the bar in 1888 and commenced practice in his hometown. In 1902, he moved to San Francisco. He served as assistant district attorney and became active in reform politics, taking up an anti-corruption mantle. He attracted statewide attention in 1908 when he assisted Francis J. Heney in the graft prosecution of Abe Ruef and Mayor Eugene Schmitz, his success due in large measure to the fact that after Heney had been gunned down in the courtroom, he took the lead for the prosecution and won the case. He married Minne L. McNeal; the couple had two sons.


Johnson during his tenure as governor
Johnson and newly elected Lieutenant Governor A.J. Wallace, right, in the Los Angeles Herald, November 9, 1910

In 1910, Johnson won the gubernatorial election as a member of the Lincoln–Roosevelt League, a liberal Republican movement running on an anti-Southern Pacific Railroad platform. He toured the state in an open automobile. In office, Johnson was a populist who implemented many important reforms. Among them was the popular election of U.S. senators, which stripped away the sole franchise of the California State Legislature to vote for federal senators. Johnson's administration also pushed for the ability of candidates to register in more than one political party, a reform that he believed would cripple the influence of what he viewed as a monolithic political establishment. In 1911, Johnson and the Progressives added initiative, referendum, and recall to the state government, giving California a degree of direct democracy unmatched by any other U.S. state.

Johnson was instrumental in the establishment of a railroad commission to regulate the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad. On taking office, Johnson soon paroled the convicted Southern Pacific train bandit Chris Evans but required that he leave California.

Although initially opposed to the bill, Johnson eventually gave in to political pressure and supported the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented Asian immigrants (excluded from naturalized citizenship because of their race) from owning land in the state.[2]

Nationally, Johnson was a founder of the Progressive Party in 1912. That same year, he was the party's vice presidential candidate, sharing a ticket with former President Theodore Roosevelt; his selection helped Roosevelt to carry California by 0.2 percent of the votes. The Progressives finished second nationally ahead of the incumbent Republican, President William Howard Taft, but still lost the election to the Democrats and their candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

Johnson was re-elected governor of California in 1914, almost doubling his opponent's vote total.[3][4]


In 1916 Johnson ran successfully for the U.S. Senate, defeating Democrat George S. Patton, Sr., and assuming office on March 16, 1917. It is alleged that was the year that he spoke the words for which he is best remembered today: "The first casualty when war comes is truth" about United States entry into World War I. However, the source of the famous quote has yet to be determined.[5] From 1917 to 1929 he resided at Riversdale in Riverdale Park, Maryland.

Following Theodore Roosevelt's death in January 1919, Johnson was regarded as the natural leader of the Progressive Party. In 1920, however, he did not attempt to revive the Progressive Party, but ran for President as a Republican. He was defeated for the Republican presidential nomination by U.S. Senator Warren Harding of Ohio. Johnson also did not get the support of Roosevelt's family, who instead supported Roosevelt's long-time friend Leonard Wood.

Johnson helped push through the Immigration Act of 1924, working with Valentine S. McClatchy and other anti-Japanese lobbyists to prohibit Japanese and other East Asian immigrants from entering the United States.[2]

When the motion picture industry sought someone to establish a self-regulatory process and to help the industry fend off official censorship, three candidates were identified: Herbert Hoover, Johnson and Will H. Hays. Hays, who had campaigned actively for Harding among industry leaders, was ultimately named to head the new Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in early 1922.[6]

Johnson received ten votes for the Republican nomination against Calvin Coolidge in 1924. As a senator, Johnson proved extremely popular. In 1934, he was re-elected with 94.5 percent of the popular vote because he was nominated by both Republicans and Democrats and his only opponent was Socialist George R. Kirkpatrick.[7]

Hiram Johnson at 1913 California State Fair

During the early presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson supported the president's economic recovery package, the New Deal, frequently crossing the floor to aid the Democrats and even backing FDR in the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections, although he never switched party affiliation. He became disenchanted with Roosevelt and the New Deal following FDR's unsuccessful attempt to increase the size of the Supreme Court. As a staunch isolationist, Johnson voted against the League of Nations. He was not present when the Senate voted to ratify the treaty creating a similar organization, the United Nations, but he made it known that he would have voted against ratification; only senators Henrik Shipstead and William Langer actually cast votes against the United Nations Charter.[8]

In 1943, a confidential analysis of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made by British scholar Isaiah Berlin for his Foreign Office stated that Johnson:

is the Isolationists' elder statesman and the only surviving member of the [William E. ] Borah- [Henry Cabot] Lodge-Johnson combination which led the fight against the League in 1919 and 1920. He is an implacable and uncompromising Isolationist with immense prestige in California, of which he has twice been Governor. His election to the Senate has not been opposed for many years by either party. He is acutely Pacific-conscious and is a champion of a more adequate defence of the West Coast. He is a member of the Farm Bloc and is au fond, against foreign affairs as such; his view of Europe as a sink of iniquity has not changed in any particular since 1912, when he founded a short-lived progressive party. His prestige in Congress is still great and his parliamentary skill should not be underestimated.[9]

Johnson achieved Senate seniority as Chairman of the Committee on Cuban Relations in the Sixty-sixth Congress; he was also a member of the Patents, Immigration, Territories and Insular Possessions and Commerce committees.


Having served in the Senate for almost thirty years, Johnson died in the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, on August 6, 1945. He was interred in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.


Johnson gained some recognition in the media and general public during the 2003 California recall election because he was the most important person behind the introduction of the law that allowed state officials to be recalled. Also, then-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to Johnson's progressive legacy in his campaign speeches.

On August 25, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, announced that Johnson would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony was on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento.

The Hiram Johnson papers, 1895-1945, reside at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, California is named in his honor.


  1. Lewis Francis Byington, “History of San Francisco 3 Vols” (1931), Vol. 2, pages 347-350.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Niiya, Brian. "Hiram Johnson". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 29, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. California gubernatorial election, 1914
  4. "The only successful progressive leader". The Independent. Nov 16, 1914. Retrieved July 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Wikiquote, Hiram Johnson
  6. "Will Hays: America's Morality Czar", "Source: 'Will Hays.' Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 21. Gale Group, 2001." Retrieved 2011-09-12.
  7. http://elections.harpweek.com/1912/bio-1912-Full.asp?UniqueID=6
  8. Congressional Record
  9. Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History. 57 (2): 141–153. JSTOR 4634869.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Blackford, Mansel Griffiths. "Businessmen and the regulation of railroads and public utilities in California during the Progressive Era." Business History Review 44.03 (1970): 307-319.
  • Feinman, Ronald L. Twilight of progressivism: the western Republican senators and the New Deal (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981)
  • Le Pore, Herbert P. "Prelude to Prejudice: Hiram Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and the California Alien Land Law Controversy of 1913." Southern California Quarterly (1979): 99-110. in JSTOR
  • Lower, Richard Coke. A Bloc of One: The Political Career of Hiram W. Johnson (Stanford University Press, 1993)
  • McKee, Irving. "The Background and Early Career of Hiram Warren Johnson, 1866-1910." Pacific Historical Review (1950): 17-30. in JSTOR
  • Miller, Karen A.J. Populist nationalism: Republican insurgency and American foreign policy making, 1918-1925 (Greenwood, 1999)
  • Olin, Spencer C. California's prodigal sons: Hiram Johnson and the Progressives, 1911-1917 (U of California Press, 1968)
  • Olin, Spencer C. "Hiram Johnson, the California Progressives, and the Hughes Campaign of 1916." The Pacific Historical Review (1962): 403-412. in JSTOR
  • Olin, Spencer C. "Hiram Johnson, the Lincoln-Roosevelt League, and the Election of 1910." California Historical Society Quarterly (1966): 225-240. in JSTOR
  • Shover, John L. "The progressives and the working class vote in California." Labor History (1969) 10#4 pp: 584-601. online
  • Weatherson, Michael A., and Hal Bochin. Hiram Johnson: Political Revivalist (University Press of America, 1995)
  • Weatherson, Michael A., and Hal Bochin. Hiram Johnson: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Press, 1988)

Primary sources

  • Johnson, Hiram. The diary letters of Hiram Johnson, 1917-1945 (Vol. 1. Garland Publishing, 1983)

External links


  • [1] Robert E. Burke Collection at the Labor Archives of the University of Washington Libraries]
Political offices
Preceded by
James Gillett
Governor of California
Succeeded by
William Stephens
United States Senate
Preceded by
John D. Works
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
March 16, 1917 - August 6, 1945
Served alongside: James D. Phelan, Samuel M. Shortridge, William Gibbs McAdoo, Thomas M. Storke, Sheridan Downey
Succeeded by
William F. Knowland
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Leo H. Baekeland
Cover of Time magazine
29 September 1924
Succeeded by
William Allen White