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Hiram Johnson

In office
March 16, 1917 – August 6, 1945
Preceded by John D. Works
Succeeded by William F. Knowland

In office
January 3, 1911 – March 15, 1917
Lieutenant A. J. Wallace
John Morton Eshleman
William Dennison Stephens (1916-1917)
Preceded by James Gillett
Succeeded by William Stephens

Born September 2, 1866(1866-09-02)
Sacramento, California
Died August 6, 1945 (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 later isolationist politician from California; he served as the 23rd Governor from 1911 to 1917, and as a United States Senator from 1917 to 1945.


Early life

Johnson was born in Sacramento, California; his father was Grove Lawrence Johnson, a Republican Representative and a member of the California State Legislature famous for his support of personal interests. His mother was Annie DeMontfredy, descendant 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, 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.


Hiram Johnson at 1913 California State Fair

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 women's suffrage and 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 supported the California Alien Land Law of 1913.

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 in 1914 and in 1916 ran successfully for the U.S. Senate, taking office on March 16, 1917. It was this year that he spoke the words that he is best remembered for today: "the first casualty when war comes, is truth", referring to the United States's entry into World War I.

Presidential bid

Following 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 Warren Harding. He received ten votes for the 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.

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 (he was the only senator to vote against both the League of Nations and the United Nations), Johnson was much less supportive of Roosevelt on foreign policy than domestic policy. He 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 Bethesda, Maryland, on August 6, 1945. News of his death, however, was overshadowed by the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan, which occurred that same day. 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.

Posthumous Recognition

On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and 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 is on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
James Gillett
Governor of California
January 3, 1911 – March 15, 1917
Succeeded by
William Stephens
United States Senate
Preceded by
John D. Works
United States 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
Party political offices
Preceded by
New party
Progressive Party Vice Presidential nominee
1912 (lost, 2nd)
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Leo H. Baekeland
Cover of Time Magazine
29 September 1924
Succeeded by
William Allen White


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Hiram Johnson

Hiram Warren Johnson (September 2, 1866August 6, 1945) was a leading American progressive and later isolationist politician from California; he was Governor of California from 1911 to 1917, and a Senator from 1917 to 1945.


  • The first casualty when war comes is truth.
    • Widely attributed to Johnson, but without any confirmed citations of original source; a more famous variant on this theme is one by Arthur Ponsonby in Falsehood in Wartime : Propaganda Lies of the First World War (1928): "When war is declared, truth is the first casualty." Samuel Johnson also expressed a similar idea in a much earlier statement from The Idler (1758) : "Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages."

External links

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