“Governor Of California, Hiram Johnson”

1292 words - 6 pages

Supreet S Bindra November 15, 2001 Bindra 1 California?s Progressive movement peaked in 1911 when Hiram Johnson took the oath of office as Governor. California was overwhelmed by corruption and public protest was rising rapidly. Hiram Johnson, supported by the Progressives, was expected to be the public advocate and clean up corruption in the state, just as he had done in San Francisco as the Mayor. By the end of Johnson?s two terms as Governor, California had become a leading example of progressivism. His administration passed a number of progressive measures, including state constitutional amendments, greater rights for women, and tighter control of the power trust. Hiram Johnson, a natural rebel, was an incredible public motivator, a power that would ultimately earn him notoriety and allow him to modify California?s corrupt government for the common man. (?Governor Hiram Johnson? and ?Hiram Johnson: California?) Hiram Johnson was born in Sacramento in 1866. He went to the University of California at Berkeley in 1884 but later dropped out to marry Minerva ?Minne? McNeal and had two sons. Hiram Johnson was a natural rebel. He rebelled against his father, a railroad lawyer, in 1888 and eventually broke from his father?s firm in 1902. Johnson?s declamations were designed to arouse public irritation by denouncing the influence of big business. He was a great public speaker and loved using his power for change. Johnson always wanted his chance to be somebody famous. He felt that an outburst of popular resentment in modern affairs was going to give him an opportunity to fight for the people and become a hero. He had little background, intellect, or sophistication, which is the main reason he was so easily able to form a friendship with the common man. Theodore Roosevelt, the most aggressive progressive leader, brought about change on the national Bindra 2 level just as Johnson had done on the local level in California. Although Johnson and Roosevelt can be seen as cohorts for change, Johnson was a stark contrast to Roosevelt because he was dull and annoying. Revolution seemed to follow Johnson even as early as his childhood, so it comes as no surprise he was one of the key leaders of the Progressive movement. (Mowry 369-374 and Cherny 265-268) When Mr. Johnson took the oath to office in 1911, the state of California was overwhelmed by corruption; misgovernment and public displeasure of the status quo was rising hastily. Hiram Johnson, a progressive republican, was elected by a landslide and immediately picked chose to bicker with a giant. The progressive?s were a group that sought to improve the conditions of life and labor and to create as much social stability as possible by passing numerous laws. Since 1880, the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad Company controlled politics at many levels. People demanded protection against the rates fixed by the company. As a result, the company protected its gluttonous earnings by bribing politicians and eventually took over the government of the state. This is a prime example that a commission can only be effective if the people in charge want it to be. Another example of public displeasure is that of the long ballot in which people cast their vote even for simple clerical jobs or ministerial ones. More often then not candidates were elected that were neither fit for the job or deserving of it. An additional reason for public discontent is that during this time the employer is not responsible for the injury of an employee. Therefore, inhumane conditions that led to disease or death could not be blamed on the employer. One can see that reforms were definitely necessary Bindra 3 and Governor Johnson, the people?s advocate, was ready to provide it to them. (Starr 254-259) The public expected Hiram Johnson to clean up corruption in the state, just as he had done in San Francisco when he was the Mayor. They also hoped that Johnson would help reform labor laws and the long ballot. Johnson wanted to deal with the railroad question by providing the current Railroad Commission more power and money so that they can fix the railroad rates. He also wanted to amend the line ?or shall charge rates in excess thereof? in the state Constitution to more clearly reflect that Railroads are not allowed to give rebates or charge anyone extra. Secondly Johnson wanted to get rid of the long ballot or direct voting for offices that are minor, such as clerical and ministerial posts. The Californian people and Hiram Johnson felt that such offices should either be taken of the ballot and appointed or must be increased in importance so that the general public is aware of the responsibilities. Finally, the people and Johnson also wanted labor reform. Johnson felt risks of employment should be placed not upon the employee alone. The people?s advocate expressed these beliefs among others in his first inaugural address which immediately excited the people of California and caught the eye of many other state governments. Hiram Johnson foresaw many reforms including the ones in the inaugural address and some others. (?Hiram Johnson and?) Johnson?s administration quickly set out to return state government to the people. Under Johnson?s leadership, the California legislature passed a flurry of progressive measures during its 1911 session. Legislators approved a workers? compensation bill, as well as a measure that gave the Railroad Commission more power over ticket pricing. In Bindra 4 addition, the Legislature added almost two dozen amendments to the state Constitution, including some that gave greater rights to women and placed tighter controls on utilities such as electricity-producing companies. Among the amendments that were approved were three that gave more power to California?s voters. The first was the initiative, which gave voters the ability to approve new laws and make amendments to the California constitution. Another was the referendum, which permitted citizens to vote on ballot measures that had already been approved by the California legislature. The Third was the recall, which allowed voters to force a new election of an elected official before that person?s term of office was completed.Johnson?s administration established the Industrial Welfare Commission to investigate and establish wage and working standards for women and children. Johnson?s administration also established the Commission on Immigration and Housing to provide assistance to the state?s poorer immigrants. In his second term Johnson continued to improve workers? rights and strengthened child labor laws. Such reforms made California a shining example of progressivism and produced fame for the recognition-hungry Johnson. (Pinchot 29,35,45, 51,57,134-38,141 and ?Hiram Johnson and?) California?s Progressive movement peaked during Hiram Johnson?s tenure. The state of California was overwhelmed by corruption and public protest rising rapidly before Johnson. Johnson, supported by the Progressives, carried through with the public?s expectation of him being the public?s advocate. His administration passed an outbreak of progressive measures including state constitutional amendments, greater Bindra 5 rights to women, and tighter control of the ?power trust.? Although Hiram Johnson was great for the people of California his personality was completely opportunistic and was highly criticized for his motivation for reform. His motivation was solely to gain recognition. By the end of Johnson?s two terms as Governor, his administration had made California a leading example of progressivism.


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