Hiram Johnson was a leading American progressive and later isolationist politician from California; he served as the 23rd governor from 1911 to 1917, and as a United States Senator from 1917 to 1945.
Johnson was born in Sacramento, California on September 2, 1866; his father was Grove Lawrence Johnson, a Republican Representative and a member of the California State Legislature who was accused of election irregularities and using his political offices to look after his personal financial interests. His mother was Annie DeMontfredy, partially descended of a family of Huguenots who had left France after the Edict of Nantes, to escape religious persecution. Annie was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, claiming descent from a general of the Continental Army. Johnson had a brother and three sisters.
After attending public schools and Heald College, Johnson first worked as a shorthand reporter and stenographer in law offices. He eventually pursued a legal career, studying at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He was admitted to the bar in 1888 and commenced practice in his hometown. In 1902, he moved to San Francisco.
Winning acclaim in 1906 as a crusading San Francisco prosecuting attorney, Johnson was elected governor four years later on a reform ticket. Under his leadership the legislature curtailed the political hold on California of the Southern Pacific Railroad and placed the state in the forefront of the Progressive movement.
In 1912 Johnson helped form the Progressive Party and was its unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate on a ticket with Theodore Roosevelt. In the Senate he opposed the dominant conservative tendencies of the Republican Party, supporting ameliorative farm legislation and, in the 1930s, New Deal measures to relieve unemployment. Gradually he became best known for his implacable isolationism, opposing U.S. adherence to the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations, and the Permanent Court of International Justice, known as the World Court. He sponsored the Neutrality acts of the 1930s and resisted all preparedness measures before World War II as well as the formation of the United Nations.