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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
October 21, 1921. On Friday night when we were dining with Harding, I had a very intimate talk with the President, and I want to preserve in this letter to you one of his statements. … During the time he had been in power he had been advised by Intelligence officers and officers in the Navy that war with Japan was imminent, and they had asserted to him that we probably would have had war with Japan ere this, but for the calling of the Disarmament Conference. I expressed my utter surprise at this statement, but he reiterated it. …
October 29, 1921. Harding loves the limelight as few men have loved it. He has actually made those who come in contact with him believe that he is modest and unassuming. He certainly is unostentatious, but he is more greedy for applause, more avid for crowds than any man I have ever known. This arises, possibly, from the fact that during all of his political life he never aroused one particle of enthusiasm. He was never able to draw well, and never able to impress his hearers. He now finds himself by virtue of the office the great drawing card everywhere, whose every word is cheered to the echo, and he is finally surfeiting himself in what all the rest of his life he had been denied.
December 16, 1922. I dined at the White House on Thursday night, and spent the evening in the usual recreation which obtains with us. There were present: Secretary of War [John W.] Weeks, Attorney General [Harry M.] Daugherty, Senator [Harry S.] New [Republican from Indiana], Edward McLean of the Washington Post , A. D. Lasker [head of the Shipping Board], the President and myself. It was quite the inner circle of the Administration. I looked at them curiously during the dinner and wondered whether all governments were similarly constituted. The men I sat with are at present governing the richest and most powerful nation on earth. Among them there is neither vision nor statesmanship.
I have sometimes an overwhelming sense of my own insignificance and limitations; but as I sat with these men, really the most powerful in the world today, I think, without being unduly egotistical or vain, I was justified in a sense of intellectual superiority.
June 9, 1924. There is a most singular political situation, particularly in the Republican Party. Big business is in the saddle as it has not been before during my life. The great exploiting interests are united with an enthusiasm and determination I have never seen exceeded. They are perfectly satisfied with the present administration, and Coolidge’s success in the primaries has made them truculent and arrogant. …
If the Democrats had a real man, they would win. Without a real man, and they will not nominate one, in my opinion, I think Coolidge will be able to buy the election. The amount of money behind him will be greater than in all previous campaigns during our lives. In addition to this, money has learned how to disseminate propaganda cunningly and scientifically. The press is more venal than ever before in the history of the Republic.
July 2, 1926. The fact of the matter is Coolidge would not know an economic policy, if he met it on the street. He has one great virtue. Apparently he knows his limitations, and therefore, he will not talk at all. If he talked at all, the poverty of his intellect would at once be obvious, so he sits tight, and follows implicitly what is told him, and trusts to the press of the land.
November 13, 1926. I enjoyed the high privilege and inestimable boon of eating a meal at the White House and smoking one of the President’s cigars. … I wish it were possible for you to sit sometime for an hour with the President, and size him up from the physical standpoint, and draw your conclusions of his character from his physiognomy, and then confirm your view, if that were possible, from his conversation.
I really believe there never was a man in high position so politically minded. I do not think there is any principle or policy of government that for one instant will sway him when he believes his personal political fortunes may be influenced. I can not conceive of any conjuncture in our affairs, any crisis in which he would passionately espouse a particular course because of his belief in it, or because it was right.
He weighs, I think, his every word and every action by the effect they may have upon his personal political future; and he will say a certain thing or perform a particular act as he decides the effect may aid him. This isn’t a nice estimate to have of the President of the United States, but I firmly believe it to be a just estimate.
March 17, 1928. Some of our political wiseacres here claim that Hoover has been stopped in his mad career to the Presidency. I do not believe it. Every rogue, every unconvicted thief, every scoundrel, politically, gravitate naturally to his banner. … Wherever there is a delegate to be bought, we find that delegate for Hoover. Wherever there is a crook to be placated by a promise of future preferment, or office, there is a Hoover shouter. Wherever there is a big business enterprise, that seeks to despoil the people and rob the government, there you find a “business man” for Hoover. The sum total of all this is the control of the Republican Party.