An Address By Sen. Hiram Johnson – America First Committee – May 31, 1940 – Past Daily Reference Room
The name of Hiram Johnson may not ring many bells today – but during the last century he was a popular, elected four times to the Senate (and dying while in office) Republican legislator from California. More than that, he was of that now relatively extinct breed of car known as The Progressive Liberal Republican who began his political career as Governor of California and became vice-presidential running mate to Teddy Roosevelt in 1912.
Like many Americans at the time, Johnson was opposed to our involvement in the War in Europe which began in 1939 and was part of the America First Committee. The America First Committee was an influential political pressure group in the United States (1940–41) that opposed aid to the Allies in World War II because it feared direct American military involvement in the conflict. The committee claimed a membership of 800,000 and attracted such leaders as General Robert E. Wood, the aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, and Senator Gerald P. Nye. Though failing in its campaigns to block the Lend-Lease Act, the use of the U.S. Navy for convoys, and the repeal of the Neutrality Act, its public pressure undoubtedly discouraged greater direct military aid to a Great Britain beleaguered by Nazi Germany. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941), the committee dissolved and urged its members to support the war effort.
But during the period of time leading up to our involvement in December of 1941, figures such as Senator Hiram Johnson argued strenuously against our getting involved.
As a senator, Johnson proved extremely popular. In 1934, he was re-elected with 94.5 percent of the popular vote because he was nominated by both Republicans and Democrats and his only opponent was Socialist George Ross Kirkpatrick.
In the 1932 presidential election, Johnson broke with President Hoover, and was one of the most prominent Republicans in the country to support Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the early presidency of Roosevelt, Johnson supported the president’s economic recovery package, the New Deal, and frequently crossed the floor to aid the Democrats. He even endorsed FDR in the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections, although he never switched party affiliation. He became disenchanted with Roosevelt and the New Deal following FDR’s unsuccessful attempt to increase the size of the Supreme Court. As a staunch isolationist, Johnson voted against the League of Nations. He was not present when the Senate voted to ratify the treaty to create a similar organization, the United Nations, but he made it known that he would have voted against ratification; only senators Henrik Shipstead and William Langer actually cast votes against the United Nations Charter.
For a better understanding of The America First Movement and its goals, here is a radio address by Senator Hiram Johnson from May 3, 1940.