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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
December 7, 1920. I have just returned from an hour’s conversation with President-elect Harding.… He said that I represented a great progressive force in the country, and that, contrary to the general view that might have been entertained of him in the past, he desired to be considered progressive, and he hoped to be part of progressive accomplishment in legislation. … My fault lay, politically, he thought, in my indifference to party regularity, and with that party regularity in the next few years on my part there was nothing could prevent me becoming President.…
He had been thinking that in January he might undertake some action—and this was the action in his mind: He could then bring to this country … authoritative representatives of Great Britain and France, who would meet with him, or with those men of his suggestion, and, eliminating everything objectionable in the League of Nations, might use the shell of the League as something upon which to found an “International Association” which would meet with everybody’s hopes; and then he suddenly asked, “Don’t you approve of this plan?” and I responded I did not. He hurriedly explained then that it was wholly tentative and had reached no definite formation yet.…
He is seeking in every possible way to unite every hostile element. By flattery on the one side, and by offer of position on the other, he hopes to unite in sweet concord the cacophonous of the Republican Party. The principle of anything he is uncapable of understanding. He wants to move smoothly along the path of least resistance. … I will go with him, if it is possible to do so. If a break is to come I hope it comes early. I don’t want to glide along here for a year or two by fooling our people, and so I am praying that if he is going wrong, is unfaithful to the promises that he made, that he will make this very clear even before his inauguration.
May 1, 1921. The situation is developing here as long ago I prophesied. I could follow the easy path and doubtless be a part of the Administration party, if I’d play the game as they desire. Indeed, this has been conveyed to me. If I’d be “good,” I could be a frequent visitor and diner at the White House and sit in the inner councils. Perhaps the Lord made me a natural rebel, perhaps I’m just an obstinate ass; but I just have to go my own way.… All this is preliminary to telling you that I’ve marked my course, I’m going to follow it no matter what happens, and that I’m mighty lonely. … The next few months, possibly years if I stay here, are going to be difficult and hard, lonely and bitter, depressing and damnable, and with little or no happiness.
June 12, 1921. Last year, when I was a candidate for the Presidency, I used to be startled occasionally at my presumption. I’d dream of the past of the Nation, of the great grown greater in the mist of history, and I’d feel a real humility that I dared to try for the place they had occupied; and then suddenly I’d recall the other candidates, and a decent self-respect enabled me to recover my equanimity. …
July 2, 1921. Day before yesterday [former President] Taft’s name was sent to the Senate as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. What a bustle there was! Every sycophant in the Senate rushed about to obtain immediate consideration and unanimous confirmation. … In my opinion, he is, first, without the qualifications for a United States Supreme Court Judge, and secondly, he is crooked, both intellectually and otherwise, and thirdly, I think he was a traitor to his country in the League of Nations fight. [Taft had been willing to accept the League, “with reservations,” which made him anathema to Johnson.] … Taft deciding the grave problems which will come to us in the next few years is the most sinister thing that has come to us thus far in the administration. I confess that I went home Thursday night as low in spirits as I have ever been here. It has taken every bit of courage I possess to drive my thoughts from the contemplation of another sort of life.
As this next letter indicates, Johnson saw threats to America emanating not only from internationalism, bureaucracy, and the increased centralization of power but also from the millions of new immigrants with their strange manners and alien tongues.
September 10, 1921. We returned on Tuesday night from Atlantic City.… On Labor Day it was estimated there were 350,000 people in Atlantic City. If this estimate was correct, I am perfectly certain 249,000 of them were of the chosen people. Everywhere, and in everything, the Israelite predominated.
Of course, in places like the Ritz and the Ambassador, they were the sort that we know, the rich, assertive, self-sufficient. Farther down, they were the short, swarthy men, the squatty, dumpy women, and the innumerable daughters, at an early age bursting into overblown maturity. But, oh, how many of theml Where they came from nobody apparently knew. Many of them even talked in foreign tongues, and really, there were places where one felt a stranger almost in a strange land.
I have never had so thorough a demonstration of the conquest of this country by God’s chosen people as I had at Atlantic City. I can’t understand why there should be a Zionist movement, or one for peopling Jerusalem. Time, just as certain as it passes, will make this country theirs. In talking of this subject with different people I find that practically the same situation exists in every eastern resort. There is food for reflection in it.