Hiram Johnson

23rd Governor, Republican

First Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 3, 1911

Second Inaugural Address - January 5, 1915


In the political struggle from which we have just emerged the issue was so sharply defined and so thoroughly understood that it may be superfluous for me to indicate the policy which in the ensuing four years will control the executive department of the State of California. The electorate has rendered its decision, a decision conclusive upon all its representatives; but while we know the sort of government demanded and decreed by the people, it may not be amiss to suggest the means by which that kind of administration may be attained and continued. “Successful and permanent government must rest primarily on recognition of the rights of men and the absolute sovereignty of the people. Upon these principles is based the superstructure of our republic. Their maintenance and perpetuation measure the life of the republic.” It was upon this theory that we undertook originally to go to the people; it was this theory that was adopted by the people; it is upon this theory, so far as your Executive is concerned, that this government shall be henceforth conducted. The problem first presented to us, therefore, is how best can the government be made responsive to the people alone? Matters of material prosperity and advancement, conservation of resources, development of that which lies within our borders, are easy of solution when once the primal question of the people’s rule shall have been determined. In some form or other nearly every governmental problem that involves the health, the happiness, or the prosperity of the State has arisen, because some private interest has intervened or has sought for its own gain to exploit either the resources or the politics of the State. I take it, therefore, that the first duty that is mine to perform is to eliminate every private interest from the government, and to make the public service of the State responsive solely to the people. The State is entitled to the highest efficiency in our public service, and that efficiency I shall endeavor at all times to give. It is obvious that the requisite degree of efficiency can not be attained where any public servant divides his allegiance between the public service and a private interest. Where under our political system, therefore, there exists any appointee of the Governor who is representing a political machine or a corporation that has been devoting itself in part to our politics, that appointee will be replaced by an official who will devote himself exclusively and solely to the service of the State. In this fashion, so far as it can be accomplished by the Executive, the government of California shall be made a government for the people. If there are in existence now any appointees who represent the system of politics which has been in vogue in this State for many years and who have divided their allegiance between the State and a private interest of any sort, or if there be in existence any Commission of like character, and I can not alone deal with either, then I shall look to the Legislature to aid me in my design to eliminate special interests from the government and to require from our officials the highest efficiency and an undivided allegiance; and I shall expect such legislative action to be taken as may be necessary to accomplish the desired result.

In pursuing this policy, so long as we deal only with the ward-heeler who holds a petty official position as a reward for political service, or with the weak and vacillating small politician, we will have the support and indeed the commendation of all the people and all the press; but as we go a little higher, with firm resolve and absolute determination, we will begin to meet with opposition here and there to our plan, and various arguments, apparently put forth in good faith for the retention of this official or that, will make their appearance; and finally when we reach, if we do, some representative, not only of the former political master of this State, the Southern Pacific Company, but an apostle of “big business” as well (that business that believes all government is a mere thing for exploitation and private gain), a storm of indignation will meet us from all of those who have been parties to or partisans of the political system that has obtained in the past; and particularly that portion of the public press which is responsive to private interest and believes that private interest should control our government, will, in mock indignation and pretended horror, cry out against the desecration of the public service and the awful politics which would permit the people to rule. Much, doubtless, will be said of destructiveness, of abuse of power, of anarchistic tendencies and the like, and of the astounding and incomparable fitness of him who represents “big business” to represent us all. And in the end it may be that the very plan, simple, and direct, to which we have set ourselves in this administration will be wholly distorted and will be understood only by those who, with singleness of purpose, are working for a return of popular government in California.

It matters not how powerful the individual may be who is in the service of the State, nor how much wealth and influence there may be behind him, nor how strenuously he may be supported by “big business” and by all that has been heretofore powerful and omnipotent in our political life, if he be the representative of Southern Pacific politics, or if he be one of that class who divides his allegiance to the State with a private interest and thus impairs his efficiency, I shall attack him the more readily because of his power and his influence and the wealth behind him, and I shall strive in respect to such a one in exactly the same way as with his weaker and less powerful accomplices. I prefer, as less dangerous to society, the political thug of the water front to the smugly respectable individual in broadcloth of pretended respectability who from ambush employs and uses that thug for his selfish political gain.

In the consummation of our design at last to have the people rule, we shall go forward, without malice or hatred, not in animosity or personal hostility, but calmly, coolly, pertinaciously, unswervingly and with absolute determination, until the public service reflects only the public good and represents alone the people.


When, with your assistance, California’s government shall be composed only of those who recognize one sovereign and master, the people, then is presented to us the question of, How best can we arm the people to protect themselves hereafter? If we can give to the people the means by which they may accomplish such other reforms as they desire, the means as well by which they may prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature, and an admonitory and precautionary measure which will ever be present before weak officials, and the existence of which will prevent the necessity for its use, then all that lies in our power will have been done in the direction of safeguarding the future and for the perpetuation of the theory upon which we ourselves shall conduct this government. This means for accomplishing other reforms has been designated the “Initiative and the referendum,” and the precautionary measure by which a recalcitrant official can be removed is designated the “Recall.” And while I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves. I recommend to you, therefore, and I most strongly urge, that the first step in our design to preserve and perpetuate popular government shall be the adoption of the initiative, the referendum, and the recall. I recognize that this must be accomplished, so far as the State is concerned, by constitutional amendment. But I hope that at the earliest possible date the amendments may be submitted to the people, and that you take the steps necessary for that purpose. I will not here go into detail as to the proposed measures. I have collected what I know many of your members have—the various constitutional amendments now in force in different states—and at a future time, if desired, the detail to be applied in this State may be taken up. Suffice it to say, so far as the recall is concerned, did the solution of the matter rest with me, I would apply it to every official. I commend to you the proposition that, after all, the initiative and the referendum depend on our confidence in the people and in their ability to govern. The opponents of direct legislation and the recall, however they may phrase their opposition, in reality believe the people can not be trusted. On the other hand, those of us who espouse these measures do so because of our deep-rooted belief in popular government, and not only in the right of the people to govern, but in their ability to govern; and this leads us logically to the belief that if the people have the right, the ability, and the intelligence to elect, they have as well the right, ability, and intelligence to reject or to recall; and this applies with equal force to an administrative or a judicial officer. I suggest, therefore, that if you believe in the recall, and if in your wisdom you desire its adoption by the people, you make no exception in its application. It has been suggested that by immediate legislation you can make the recall applicable to counties without the necessity of constitutional amendment. If this be so, and if you believe in the adoption of this particular measure, there is no reason why the Legislature should not at once give to the counties of the State the right which we expect to accord to the whole State by virtue of constitutional amendment.

Were we to do nothing else during our terms of office than to require and compel an undivided allegiance to the State from all its servants, and then to place in the hands of the people the means by which they could continue that allegiance, with the power to legislate for themselves when they desired, we would have thus accomplished perhaps the greatest service that could be rendered our State. With public servants whose sole thought is the good of the State the prosperity of the State is assured, exaction and extortion from the people will be at an end, in every material aspect advancement will be ours, development and progress will follow as a matter of course, and popular government will be perpetuated.


For many years in the past, shippers, and those generally dealing with the Southern Pacific Company, have been demanding protection against the rates fixed by that corporation. The demand has been answered by the corporation by the simple expedient of taking over the government of the State; and instead of regulation of the railroads, as the framers of the new Constitution fondly hoped, the railroad has regulated the State.

To Californians it is quite unnecessary to recall the motives that actuated the framers of the new Constitution when Article XII was adopted. It was thought that the Railroad Commission thereby created would be the bulwark between the people and the exactions and extortions and discriminations of the transportation companies. That the scheme then adopted has not proved effective has become only too plain. That this arose because of the individuals constituting the Railroad Commission is in the main true, but it is also apparent there has been a settled purpose on the part of the Southern Pacific Company not only to elect its own Railroad Commission, but also wherever those Commissioners made any attempt, however feeble, to act, to arrest the powers of the Commission, and to have those powers circumscribed within the narrowest limits. All of us who recall the adoption of the new Constitution will remember that we then supposed the most plenary powers were conferred upon the Commission. It has been gravely asserted of late, however, by those representing the Railroad Company, and they insist that in the decisions of our courts there is foundation for the assertion, that the Constitution does not give the Commission power to fix absolute rates. In my opinion this power is conferred upon the Commission, and in this I am upheld by the Attorney General of the State, and by the very able and eminent attorneys who represent the various traffic associations.

The people are indeed fortunate now in having a Railroad Commission of ability, integrity, energy, and courage. I suggest to you, and I recommend, that you give to the Commission the amplest power that can be conferred upon it. The president of the Railroad Commission, Mr. John M. Eshleman, in conjunction with Attorney General Webb, Senator Stetson, and others, in all of whom we have the highest confidence, has been at work preparing a bill which shall meet the requirements of the case, and I commend to your particular attention this instrument.

I would suggest that an appropriation of at least $75,000 be made for the use of the Commission that it may, by careful hearing and the taking of evidence, determine the physical value of the transportation companies in the State of California, and that the Commission may have the power and the means to determine this physical value justly and fairly, and thereafter ascertain the value of improvements, betterments and the like, and upon the values thus determined may fix the railroad rates within the State of California.

It is asserted that some ambiguity exists in that portion of the language of Section 22 of Article XII of the Constitution, which fixes the penalty when any railroad company shall fail or refuse to conform to rates established by the Commission or shall charge rates in excess thereof, and it is claimed that the use of the last phrase “or shall charge rates in excess thereof” excludes the power to punish discrimination by the railroad companies. The rational construction of the language used can lead to no such conclusion; but if you believe there is any ambiguity in the constitutional provision as it now exists, or any doubt of the power conferred by it upon the Railroad Commission, I would suggest that this matter be remedied by a constitutional amendment. In no event, however, should action in reference to needed legislation and that herein suggested be deferred. It is not unlikely that the ingenuity of those who represent the railroad companies will pretend, and find some advocates in this, that all legislative action should await the amendment of the Constitution. I trust that you will not permit this specious plea to prevail, but that you will at once accord the power to the Commission that is designed by the bill referred to.

I beg of you not to permit the bogie man of the railroad companies, “Unconstitutionality,” to deter you from enacting the legislation suggested, if you believe that legislation to be necessary; and I trust that none of us will be terrified by the threat of resort to the courts that follows the instant a railroad extortion is resented or attempted to be remedied. Let us do our full duty, now that at last we have a Railroad Commission that will do its full duty, and let us give this Commission all the power and aid and resources it requires; and if thereafter legitimate work done within the law and the Constitution shall be nullified, let the consequences rest with the nullifying power.


California took a long step toward popular government when the direct primary law was enacted. The first experiment under the direct primary law has been made, and despite the predictions of the cynical and the critical, the law has been a success and has come to stay. It may, however, be improved in many respects, and so recent has been the discussion of the minor imperfections of the act that they are familiar to us all; and I think the desire is general to remedy those defects. When the law shall have been amended and its imperfections corrected, and when it shall have been made less difficult for one to become a candidate for public office (and this should be one of the designs of amendment, I think), the important question of dealing with the candidacy for United States Senator remains. Of course, the Constitution of the United States requires that United States Senators shall be elected by state legislatures. Notwithstanding the popular demand expressed now for a quarter of a century that United States Senators should be elected by direct vote of the people, we have been unable to amend the Federal Constitution; but the people in more than half the states are striving to effect the same result by indirection. The result is that our people, in common with those of most of the states, are seeking to have the people themselves elect United States Senators. I do not think it is extravagant to say that nine electors out of ten in California desire the electorate directly to choose United States Senators, and if they possessed the power they would remove the selection wholly from the Legislature. The present primary law in its partisan features does not attain the desired result. And the present law, in its provision relating to United States Senators, is at variance with the wishes of an overwhelming majority of our people. Some of those who desire direct election may wish a selection made by parties, while others would eliminate all partisan features in such an election; yet all wish a selection by the whole State by plurality; and the present provisions of the primary law meet with the approval of none who really wish the election of United States Senator by direct vote. I suggest to you, therefore, that the present law be amended so that there be a state-wide advisory vote upon United States Senator; and the logical result of a desire to elect United States Senators by direct vote of the people is that that election shall be of any person who may be a candidate, no matter what party he may be affiliated with. For that reason I favor the Oregon plan, as it is termed, whereby the candidate for this office as for any other office may be voted for, and by which the candidate receiving the highest number of votes may be ultimately selected. If in your wisdom you believe we should not go to the full extent expressed in my views, then, in any event, the primary law should make the vote for the United States Senator state-wide so that the vote of the whole State, irrespective of districts, shall control.


The most advanced thought in our nation has reached the conclusion that we can best avoid blind voting and best obtain the discrimination of the electorate by a short ballot. A very well known editor in our State, during a recent lecture at Stanford University, challenged the faculty of that great institution to produce a single man who had cast an intelligent vote for the office of State Treasurer, and none was produced. Fortunately our State Treasurer is the highest type of citizen and official. The reason the challenge could not be met was that, in the hurry of our existence and in the engrossing importance of the contests for one or two offices, we can not or do not inform ourselves sufficiently regarding the candidates for minor offices. Again, we elect some officials whose duties are merely clerical or ministerial and whose qualifications naturally can not be well understood. Of course it is undesirable, and indeed detrimental, that we should elect officials of whom we know nothing and concerning whom the electorate can not learn and can not discriminate. It is equally undesirable that those occupying merely clerical positions should be voted for by the entire electorate of the State. The result of a long ballot is that often candidates for minor offices are elected who are unfit or unsatisfactory. This conclusion, I think, has been reached by students and the farseeing in every state in the Union. If we can remedy this condition it is our duty to do so, and it is plain that the remedy is by limiting the elective list of offices to those that are naturally conspicuous. One familiar with the subject recently said: “The little offices must either go off the ballot and be appointed, no matter how awkwardly, or they must be increased in real public importance by added powers until they rise into such eminence as to be visible to all the people. * * *

That candidates should be conspicuous is vital. The people must be able to see what they are doing; they must know the candidates, otherwise they are not in control of the situation but are only going through the motions of controlling.”

The Supreme Court of the State has asked that the Clerk of the Supreme Court, now elective, shall be made appointive. It is eminently just that this should be so. It is quite absurd that the people of an entire state should be called upon to vote for a clerk of the Supreme Court. The office of State Printer is merely administrative. Presumably an expert printer is selected to fill this position, and in the selection of an expert no reason at all exists for the entire electorate selecting that particular expert. The Surveyor General likewise performs merely ministerial duties, presumably is only an expert, and his selection should be by appointment rather than election. The Superintendent of Public Instruction, an expert educator, is in the same category. The government of the United States is conducted with all of its departments with only two elective officers, the President and Vice-President. The President has surrounding him a Cabinet, the members of which perform all of the duties that are ministerial in character. The Treasurer of the State of California performs duties akin to those of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. He does nothing initiative in character, and his office could better be filled by appointment than election. The Secretary of State is in reality merely the head clerk of the State, and as a clerk of the Supreme Court may be better selected by the Supreme Court itself, so the Secretary of State, as chief clerk of the State, may be better selected by the head of the State. The Attorney General could in like fashion be appointed, and if appointed his office could be made the general office of all legal departments of the State. Every attorneyship of the State that now exists, of commissions, and boards, and officials, could be put under his control, and a general scheme of state legal department could thus be successfully evolved—a department economical, efficient, and permanent, and even non-partisan in its character if desired.

Were these various officials appointed by the Governor, the chief officer of the State could surround himself with a cabinet like the cabinet of the Chief Executive of the nation, and a more compact, perhaps more centralized and possibly a more efficient government, established. I would leave the Controller an elective officer because, theoretically at least, the Controller is a check upon the other officials of the State, and thus should be independent. Were these suggestions carried out, the State ballot would consist of a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Controller, members of the judiciary, and members of the Legislature. Of course, any change we might make as herein suggested could not operate upon officials now in office or during any of our terms.

I recognize that the reform here suggested is radical and advanced, but I commend it to your careful consideration.


All of the parties in the State of California are committed to the policy of restoring the Australian ballot to its original form; and, therefore, I merely call to your attention that restoration as one of the duties that devolves upon us because of party pledges.


And the return of the Australian ballot to the form which first we adopted in this State provides an easy mode for the redemption of the promises that have been made in respect to non-partisan judiciary. With the party circle eliminated, and with the names of the candidates for office printed immediately under the designation of the office, when upon the ballot the title of the judiciary is reached, the names of all the candidates may be printed without any party designation following those names; and in this fashion all of the candidates for judicial position will be presented to the people with nothing to indicate the political parties with which they have been affiliated.


One of the most vexatious subjects with which legislatures have to deal is respecting classification, salaries, etc., of the various counties. The astonishing amount of time occupied by our Legislature in county government bills can only be understood by those who have been familiar with legislative work. I quote from a report by Controller Nye upon the subject:

“The first Legislature after the adoption of the Constitution commenced by making ten classes of counties, which number soon increased to more than forty, and at the present time there are fifty-eight classes, exactly equaling the number of counties. “If there were no other evidence of the folly of trying to legislate on county salaries by general laws, this would be conclusive. But the change of these general laws to meet the supposed needs of different counties has been incessant. In the legislative session of 1905 there were forty-five amendments to the salary schedules of as many counties; in 1907 there were fifty-seven such amendments, one for every county then existing, and in 1909 there were fifty. “So great are the evils of this form of legislation that we deem the only permanent remedy for them to be the submission and adoption of an amendment which will permit each county, proceeding along the same general lines as those prescribed for cities, to draft its own county government act, subject to ratification by the Legislature. The amendment should enumerate the subjects which may be embraced in these county government acts, or county charters, so framed, and they should include the number and compensation of officers, the granting or withholding of fees, the determination whether the county board of supervisors shall be elected by districts or at large, also the determination whether other county officers shall be elected or appointed, and such other similar matters of local concern as will not interfere with the operation of the general plan of State Government.”

I quite agree with the views expressed by our Controller, and adopt his recommendation. It is but just and proper that counties should rule themselves just as cities do, and if this be accomplished we will have succeeded in taking from the Legislature perhaps a most vexatious subject, and one with which of necessity it oftentimes can not deal with intelligence, and we will have saved to the Legislature and the State the immense amount of time that is now expended by the Legislature upon the subject. Of course, care must be exercised in any change that practical uniformity is preserved.


In the first subject with which I have dealt, I defined clearly my attitude in regard to public service. Too often it has occurred that appointments to the public service have been made solely because of political affiliations or as a reward for political service. It is a design of the present administration to put in force the merit system, and it is our hope to continue that system by virtue of a civil service enactment. The committee recently appointed by the Republican State Central Committee presented an act, covering the subject, which I commend to you.


In the abstract all agree upon the policy of conservation. It is only when we deal with conservation in the concrete that we find opposition to the enforcement of the doctrine enunciated originally by Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt. Conservation means development, but development and preservation; and it would seem that no argument should be required on the question of preserving, so far as we may, for all of the people, those things which naturally belong to all. The great natural wealth of water in this State has been permitted, under our existing laws and lack of system, to be misappropriated and to be held to the great disadvantage of its economical development. The present laws in this respect should be amended. If it can be demonstrated that claims are wrongfully or illegally held, those claims should revert to the State. A rational and equitable code and method of procedure for water conservation and development should be adopted.


Humanity requires that we should provide a reformatory for first offenders. All of us are agreed upon this matter, and your wisdom will determine the best mode of its consummation.


Upon the righteousness of an Employers’ Liability Law, no more apt expression can be found than that of ex-President Roosevelt on last Labor Day. He said:

“In what is called ‘Employers’ Liability’ legislation other industrial countries have accepted the principle that the industry must bear the monetary burden of its human sacrifices, and that the employee who is injured shall have a fixed and definite sum. The United States still proceeds on an outworn and curiously improper principle, in accordance with which it has too often been held by the courts that the frightful burden of the accident shall be borne in its entirety by the very person least able to bear it. Fortunately, in a number of states—in Wisconsin and in New York, for instance—these defects in our industrial life are either being remedied or else are being made a subject of intelligent study, with a view to their remedy.”

In this State all parties stand committed to a just and adequate law whereby the risk of the employment shall be placed not upon the employee alone, but upon the employment itself. Some new legal questions will be required to be solved in this connection, and the fellow servant rule now in vogue in this State will probably be abrogated and the doctrine of contributory negligence abridged. It is hoped that those in our State who have given most study to this subject will soon present to you a comprehensive bill, and when this shall have been done the matter will again be made a subject of communication by me.

I have purposely refrained to-day from indulging in panegyrics upon the beauty, grandeur, wealth, and prosperity of our State; or from solemnly declaring that we will foster industries, and aid in all that is material. It goes without saying that, whatever political or other differences may exist among our citizens, all are proud of California, its unbounded resources, its unsurpassed scenic grandeur, its climatic conditions that compel the wandering admiration of the world; and all will devotedly lend their aid to the proper development of the State, to the protection and preservation of that which our citizens have acquired, and that which industrially is in our midst. Ours of course is a glorious destiny, to the promotion and consummation of which we look forward with pride and affection, and to which we pledge our highest endeavor. Hand in hand with that prosperity and material development that we foster, and that will be ours practically in any event, goes political development. The hope of governmental accomplishment for progress and purity politically is with us in this new era. This hope and wish for accomplishment for the supremacy of the right and its maintenance, I believe to be with every member of the Legislature. It is in no partisan spirit that I have addressed you; it is in no partisan spirit that I appeal to you for aid. Democrats and Republicans alike are citizens, and equal patriotism is in each. Your aid, your comfort, your highest resolve and endeavor, I bespeak, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of all the people of all classes and political affiliations, as patriots indeed, for the advancement and progress and righteousness and uplift of California.

And may God in his mercy grant us the strength and the courage to do the right!