office=Governor of California
June 2 1934
January 2 1939
George J. Hatfield
birth_date= birth date|1865|12|22|mf=y
death_date= death date and age|1955|4|25|1865|12|22
Long Beach, California
spouse= Jessie Lipsey
Frank Finley Merriam (
December 22 1865ndash April 25 1955) was an American politician who served as the twenty-eighth Governor of Californiafrom June 2 1934until January 2 1939. Assuming the governorship at the height of the Great Depressionfollowing the death of Governor James Rolph, Merriam famously defeated former Socialist Party member and Democratic candidate for Governor Upton Sinclairin the 1934 general elections.
Born in 1865 in
Hopkinton, Iowa, Merriam spent nearly half of his life in his home state and the Midwest. After a brief career in education as a school superintendent in Wisner, Nebraska, ["A Great Past, A Greater Future--A History of Wisner, Nebraska". Wisner "News-Chronicle"; 1971. ] Merriam was elected to the Iowa House of Representativesas a Republican at the age of 31 in 1896. Two years later, Merriam was elected as Iowa State Auditor, a post he would hold until 1903. In 1910 at the age of 44, Merriam moved to California. Following seven years of living in the state, Merriam was elected to the California State Assemblyin 1916, representing the Long Beach area, beginning his rise in California politics.
In 1922, while still serving in the Assembly, Merriam presided over the successful election campaign of former
Bull Moosemember and Republican candidate for Governor Friend Richardson. Name recognition from Richardson's successful campaign among fellow Republicans helped Merriam be elected by the Republican majority in the Assembly as its Speaker in 1923. During the 1926 general elections, Speaker Merriam ran as a primary candidate for Lieutenant Governor. However, state Republicans instead voted for Buron Fittsas the party's candidate for that office.
Following his departure from the Assembly that year, Merriam took a two-year hiatus from state politics. He returned in the 1928 elections, being elected to the
California State Senate. After three years in that body, Merriam successfully won the nomination for Lieutenant Governor and, along with the Republican candidate for Governor, San Francisco Mayor James Rolph, was elected to office.
June 2 1934, Governor Rolph was pronounced dead of heart failureat Riverside Farm in Santa Clara County. Rolph had been the second Governor to die in office, the first being Washington Bartlettin 1887. Upon the news of the Governor's death, Lieutenant Governor Merriam was sworn in as Governor.
Nearly immediately into his governorship, Merriam faced labor agitation, particularly by members of the
International Longshoremen's Associationon the docks of San Francisco. Beginning in May 1934, longshoremen along the West Coast walked off the job to strike, protesting against the ILA national leadership's negotiated settlements with transportation and cargo companies. Longshoremen demanded six-hour days, closed shops, and the right to unionize freely. Activity in the ports of San Francisco and Oakland ground to a halt. Teamsterssoon joined the longshoremen in their walk-out. Popular support for the strikers also grew from various segments of the urban working-class, left unemployed by the Great Depression. By the strike's second month, violence had begun to break out along the Embarcadero as San Francisco Police clashed with the strikers during attempts to escort hired labor to the docks. Municipal officials accused the ILA's ranks filled with Communists and other left-wingradicals.
As Governor, James Rolph had consulted with other West Coast governors such as
Julius L. Meierof Oregonand Clarence D. Martinof Washingtonto bring in the U.S. Department of Laborin order to settle the dispute. After his unexpected death in June, these efforts were suspended. Furthermore, negotiations between the federal government and local ILA organizers failed to yield any agreement.
July 5 1934, as more attempts to open the Port of San Franciscowere made by employers, hostilities between strikers, their sympathizers, and the police reached their zenith. Later known as "Bloody Thursday", San Francisco Police shot tear gasat strikers and sympathizers on Rincon Hill, followed by a charge on horseback. Later, protestors surrounded a police car and attempted to overturn it, but were met by gunshots in the air, and quickly afterwards, shots into the crowd itself. Later in the day, police raided an ILA union hall, shooting tear gas into the building and into other local hotels.
if the situation grew beyond the Guard's control.
Merriam also ordered the halt of construction on the
San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridgeuntil the violence in San Francisco subsided.
Within the day, 1,500 Guardsman armed with fixed
bayonets and machine guns patrolled the waterfront, with an additional 5,000 state troops on reserve. Explaining to the United Pressthe following day, Merriam placed full blame of "Bloody Thursday" on the political Left. "The leaders of the striking longshoremen are not free from Communist and subversive influences...There will be no turning back from the position I have taken in this matter." [ [http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist4/maritime11.html] United Press. July 6 1934]
Following the funerals of the two men slain on "Bloody Thursday", the San Francisco Labor Council voted for a
general strike. For four days from July 16to July 19, the activity in the city ground to a halt. Mayor Angelo J. Rossirequested more Guardsman in the city, and in meetings with generals, plans were drawn to impose martial lawover the entire city. However, with a heavily armed National Guard presence along the waterfront, violence did not break out again. In the meantime, the police, now backed up by National Guardsmen, raided and arrested militant and radical offices of ILA leaders and sympathizers. By July 19, the General Strike Committee and the Labor Council ordered an end to the strike, demanding its picketers to accept arbitrationfrom the federal government. With the strike broken by its less militant leadership, longshoremen grudgingly returned to work.
1934 general election
In the aftermath of the Longshore Strike, Merriam was highly praised by the conservative San Francisco press for his perceived victory over the longshore strikers. During the strike, state Republicans nominated the Acting Governor as its party nominee for the general elections that November. Merriam, however, had threatened not to deploy the California National Guard to San Francisco if the party would not nominate him. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754790,00.html "After EPIC"] "Time" magazine.
May 20 1935.]
Running against Merriam in the 1934 elections was former Socialist Party member
Upton Sinclair, who had surprisingly won the nomination of the Democratic Party for Governor. A third-party candidacy from Raymond L. Haightof the Commonwealth Party also challenged Merriam for the governorship.
During the campaign, Sinclair promoted the EPIC project, a socialist work program to ensure universal employment for all Californians, complete with the state control of factories, the opening of farm
cooperatives and the creation of a cabinet-level California Authority for Production agency to oversee state employment.
The Commonwealth Party's Haight relied on centrists from the Democrats who believed that Sinclair had driven the party too far to the left.
Merriam's campaign rallied state conservatives into the so-called "Stop Sinclair" movement. Among supporters were
MGMstudio head Louis B. Mayerand media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. During the campaign, Mayer turned multiple studio lots in Los Angelesinto propaganda machines, churning out fake newsreels to be played before feature-length films in the state. One notable newsreel included Soviets arriving in California to vote for Sinclair. [ [http://newsmine.org/archive/propoganda/hollywood/hollywood-fixes-an-election-1934.txt "Films and Politics"] " The New York Times". November 4 1934.] Also during the campaign, Merriam frequented football games and public events, and on one occasion, attended a hospital talking to deaf mutes through an interpreter. Many such events were quickly publicized by the conservative newspaper press. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,847171-5,00.html "California Climax"] "Time" magazine. October 22 1934.]
The end result of the 1934 general elections saw Merriam defeating Sinclair with 48 percent of the vote, opposed to Sinclair's 37 percent. Haight garnered 13 percent. [ [http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1934-11-06 JoinCalifornia]
November 6 1934general election results] After the election, Merriam announced that the result was " [a] rebuke to socialism and communism." [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,748068,00.html "Governors"] "Time" magazine. November 12 1934.]
The 1934 general election is generally remembered as one of the most hotly contested elections in California history. It has also been cited by political historians as one of the first modern elections, due to the various uses of popular media and rhetoric to both popularize and demonize candidates.
Rest of term
Upon beginning his first elected term, Merriam immediately faced an ever-shrinking state budget and growing deficit. In an effort that later angered many powerful conservative backers who had originally supported his 1934 candidacy, as well as challenging his own deep-seated conservativism, Merriam proposed to the Legislature a tax increase of nearly $107 million dollars. The tax reform laws included instituting a state
personal income taxmodeled after the Federal Income Tax of 1934, which had been created by the Democratic-controlled Congress, and raising sales taxes to three percent. The Legislature agreed, and passed the tax reform law in 1935. [ [http://digitalarchive.oclc.org/da/ViewObjectMain.jsp;jsessionid=84ae0c5f824065e48a6be90b4fb4ab53adf5e5db0092?fileid=0000020402:000000988657&reqid=349 "Reform During Crisis"] James E. Hartley, Stephen F. Sheffrin, J. David Vasche. " Journal of Economic History", September 1996.] William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers provided one of the bulwarks of the governor's 1934 campaign, complained bitterly over the reformed tax laws. The Hearst-owned " San Francisco Examiner"'s editorial shortly after the reform bills' passage read: " [e] xtortionate and confiscatory taxation will mean...devastation of business, paralysis of industry." [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754790-2,00.html After EPIC - TIME ] ]
Fanning the growing rift between Merriam and conservative Republicans,
right-wingauthor and playwright Charles Gilman Norrispenned letters that became widely circulated thanks to Hearst's newspaper empire, complaining of Merriam's reforms. " [T] he minute the proposed State Income Tax becomes law, my wife, Kathleen Norris, and myself will put both our homes—-the one in Palo Alto and our ranch near Saratoga—-up for sale and move out of the State. There is no alternative for us. We pay 52% of our income now to the Federal Government at Washington and under the proposed State Income Tax Law, we shall have to pay an additional 18%, so that out of every dollar we earn from our writings, 70¢ will go out in taxes!" [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754790-2,00.html After EPIC - TIME ] ]
Hearst supporters challenged Merriam's and the Legislature's 1935 reform laws during a special referendum in 1936 with Proposition 2. The proposition would automatically repeal the tax reforms, and would in the future require the support of two-thirds of the Legislature and approval of voters by statewide referendum before any new
income taxcould be imposed. The measure, however, was defeated. [ [http://www.caltax.org/newweb/documents/1997/mar97-3.htm Doerr, David R. "Conformity: The Impossible Dream"] California Taxpayers' Association. March 1997.]
While the State Senate was controlled by Republicans, the crucial
lower houseAssembly, where finance bills originated, was split between conservative and socialist-leaning Democrats. Merriam proceeded with appeasing the closely-divided Legislature by praising the federal Townsend Plan, while complaining to conservatives and other capitalist supporters that he was surrounded by fanatics. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754790-2,00.html After EPIC - TIME ] ]
By the 1938 general elections, Merriam had lost much support from the right due to the 1935 tax reform laws and support for Social Security, while he garnered little support or sympathy from the left due to his troubled relationship with
labor unions and the quelching of the Longshore Strike. For the elections, the Democratic Party nominated State Senator Culbert Olson, a former EPIC and Upton Sinclair supporter as well as an unabashed supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Republicans, meanwhile, renominated Merriam for a second term of office.
Merriam lost to Senator Olson in an electoral landslide, ending the Republican dynasty over the governorship that had lasted for over forty years beginning with the election of Governor
Henry Gagein 1899.
After his defeat, Merriam retired from public life. Following the death of former Governor and U.S. Senator
Hiram Johnsonin 1945, a brief write-in campaign for Merriam appeared, though it only garnered 500 votes. He died in Long Beach, Californiaon April 25 1955at the age of 89.
*The Merriam Administration supervised the completion and the openings of both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay and
Golden Gate Bridges.
*Merriam was the first Governor of California to marry while in office.
*A popular nickname among lawmakers, cabinet officials and bureaucrats for the Governor was "Marbletop" due to his
*Assuming the governorship at the age of 69, Merriam remains the oldest person to ever become Governor.
* [http://www.governor.ca.gov/govsite/govsgallery/h/biography/governor_28.html Biography and Inaugural Addresses]
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