- Historic Sites
The “diary” Of Hiram Johnson
The cantankerous Californian’s utterly candid opinions, aver thirty years, of the Presidents he knew, the senators with whom he served, and the (to him) alarming changes in the America he loved
August 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 5
July 20, 1918. We regard the Russians as traitors [for having signed a separate peace with Germany in 1918] because they did not continue being killed for something they did not understand. We look upon them with disdain and scorn because after losing eight millions of their people they did not lose eight millions more for Constantinople and the Dardanelles. Their cry for bread, and for land, is as little understood by the majority of our people as our original cry for decency of government in California was understood by the old line politicians. … we are deaf to the cries of an oppressed and an outraged people, and wholly scornful of the yearnings of this people for that which they have never had—just a little of freedom.
Don’t think I am a bolsheviki because of the fashion in which I am writing. When I speak of Russia, I am speaking of the mass of humanity there, not of the few wretches, who, because of fortuitous circumstances, rise to the top for the moment and have a little brief authority. Trotskys and Lenines will come and go, and probably ought to go as rapidly as possible, but any man who believes in freedom and democracy, and who would destroy this faintly budding bloom in Russia is recreant to his beliefs and his ideals.
December 26, 1918. A league of nations abstractly appeals to me. It is an alluring prospect to contemplate that the great nations of the world will unite to prevent future wars; and then the argument that all this slaughter must not be in vain, and that from it the lesson of prevention of future conflicts must be learned, is quite persuasive. But the difficulty is to find a scheme feasible and practicable. Like all the President’s utterances, what he says concerning it is nebulous and couched wholly in general language. His only declaration abroad has been that such a league must be founded upon moral suasion, and, of course, a league of this sort would be the most empty of promises.
January 11, 1919. I attended Roosevelt’s funeral with the Senatorial delegation. I really was much affected. I doubt if anybody in the delegation had anything like the feeling that I had. I saw the most prominent places at the funeral filled by Elihu Root, who stole the Presidency from Roosevelt in 1912, by [William Howard] Taft, for whom the nomination was stolen, [Charles Evans] Hughes, who was nominated in 1916 by the pro-German element, and whom Roosevelt detested as he detested probably no other man.
It made me sick to go to that funeral with [Republican senator from Pennsylvania Philander Chase] Knox and [Republican senator from Connecticut Frank B.] Brandegee, and the others, who, deep in their hearts, hated Roosevelt as mediocrity and cowardice always hate real ability and fearless courage. And it seemed to me that there was a different atmosphere at the very funeral itself with the “old boy” mute and silent forever in the flag-draped casket. I thought, and perhaps some of my associates thought too, that littleness, meanness, petty-selfishness, and cowardice could rear their heads again all around him and about him without encountering the swift and savage blows he always dealt them. Really lad, I think a lot of damn scrubs have been breathing easier and holding their heads higher since Roosevelt’s death.
February 16, 1919. The trouble with our body is that every member is a candidate for President, and measures his acts therefore, by the effect upon his chances. It is this that curtails our usefulness, and makes some of us cynical. Moreover, ours is a body possessing no great ability.
There are many average men, and some of long experience and high education, but unfortunately those of great experience in most instances are old hacks, who have learned nothing but Senatorial detail, and the highly educated are too often so narrow that they have little vision. When you add that they all play a single handed game, either for their constituents or for the publicity they may obtain, and that the dominating personal characteristic with all is egotism and vanity, you may understand something of our ineffectiveness and the partial contempt in which we are held.
I often wonder as I look over the body and listen to the insincere utterances and observe the orators watching out of the corners of their eyes the press gallery, whether the Senate of which I used to read in history and that I followed in my early manhood, was like the present. Of course, old timers say no; but I am growing more and more suspicious of history, as I observe it in the process of making.
The development in the United States Senate of opposition to the Treaty of Versailles and to acceptance of the League of Nations is clearly shown in the letters Senator Johnson wrote during and after the late spring of 1919. He was developing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, basing it largely on opposition to the League, and was becoming known as one of the most determined senatorial opponents of Wilson’s plan for a peace settlement.
May 31, 1919. Monday I will be somewhat bitter in denouncing the League of Nations; but I firmly believe it to be the most iniquitous thing presented at least during my lifetime, and so believing I shall not hesitate to declare myself.…