Merriam, Frank F.

1938 TLS as California Governor to a prominent GOP supporter, laments re-election defeat

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(1865-1955) 28th California Governor 6/2/34-1/2/39. Iowa-born, to California 1910, elected to State Assembly 1916 representing Long Beach area. Assembly Speaker 1923-26, elected to State Senate 1928. Elected Lieutenant Governor 1932, became Governor on Gov. Rolph’s death in 1934 at height of the Depression. Nearly immediately into his Governorship, he faced agitation by members of the International Longshoremen's Association on the San Francisco docks. Activity in the ports of San Francisco and Oakland ground to a halt and negotiations between the US government and local ILA organizers failed to yield an agreement. On July 5, 1934, "Bloody Thursday", San Francisco police shot tear gas at strikers and sympathizers and then protestors were met by gunshots in the air and into the crowd. Police raided an ILA hall, shooting tear gas into the building and into local hotels. Merriam, Governor for a month, threw state government into the fray. He activated the National Guard, and 1,500 Guardsman with fixed bayonets and machine guns soon patrolled the waterfront, with 5,000 state troops on reserve. Merriam placed full blame of "Bloody Thursday" on the political left. The San Francisco Labor Council voted for a general strike and activity in the city ground to a halt July 16-19. The police, backed by National Guardsmen, arrested ILA leaders and sympathizers. By July 19, the General Strike Committee and the Labor Council ordered an end to the strike and longshoremen returned to work. During the strike, Republicans nominated the Acting Governor for the November election. Running against Merriam in 1934 was former Socialist Party member & Democratic candidate Upton Sinclair, who promoted the EPIC project, a socialist work program to ensure universal employment for all Californians. Merriam's campaign rallied conservatives into the so-called "Stop Sinclair" movement, with supporters Louis B. Mayer and William Randolph Hearst. The 1934 election was one of the most hotly contested elections in state history. Merriam defeated Sinclair with 48% of the vote, opposed to Sinclair's 37%, a 3rd party candidate with 13%. Merriam announced the result as "[a] rebuke to socialism and communism." He immediately faced an ever-shrinking state budget and growing deficit. Merriam proposed a tax increase of nearly $107M to the Legislature, a state personal income tax modeled after the Federal Income Tax of 1934, and raising sales taxes to 3%. The Legislature passed the tax reform law in 1935. Hearst supporters challenged the 1935 tax reform laws with Proposition 2 during a 1936 special referendum that was defeated. By the 1938 elections, Merriam lost much support from the right due to the 1935 tax reform laws and support for Social Security. The Democrats nominee, State Senator Culbert Olson, was an Upton Sinclair & FDR New Deal supporter. Merriam lost in a landslide, ending an over 40-year GOP hold over the governorship. TLS on 10 ½ x 7 ¼ official letterhead as Governor with State seal at top left, Sacramento, November 29 1938, to Charles Segerstrom, Sonora, Cal., prominent Tuolumne County GOP leader (future chairman of California’s 1940 GOP Convention delegation). Gov. Merriam thanks Segerstrom for the “generous service” rendered in his behalf, one million votes received “…were not sufficient to elect [but] are a matter of much satisfaction and pride to all who are interested in a sane liberalism as distinguished from the radicalism which seems to have prevailed in this election.” Merriam has no regrets or apologies and will remember Segerstrom’s “loyal and unselfish service” in his campaign.

Condition: Very good, slight creasing to lower right corner
Type:Letter






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