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First Name: Hugh

Last Name: Johnson

Birthplace: Ft. Scott, KS, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Samuel

Date of Birth: 05 August 1882

Date of Death: 15 April 1942

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
Hugh Samuel Johnson

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1903

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  Mexican Expedition (1916 - 1917)


Hugh Samuel Johnson
Brigadier General, U.S. Army

Hugh Samuel Johnson was born on 5 August 1882 in Ft. Scott, KS, to Samuel L. and Elizabeth Mead Johnson. His paternal grandparents, Samuel and Matilda MacAlan Johnson, emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1837 and originally settled in Brooklyn, NY. Hugh's father was a lawyer, and he attended public school in Wichita, KS, before the family moved to Alva, Oklahoma Territory.

Johnson attempted to run away from home to join the Oklahoma State Militia at the age of 15, but he was apprehended by his family before he left town. His father promised to try to secure him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy and was successful in obtaining an alternate appointment. Johnson himself discovered that the individual who was first in line for the appointment was too old, and convinced him to step aside so that Johnson could enter the Academy. Johnson entered West Point in 1899.

He graduated on 11 June 1903 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry on that date. Douglas MacArthur was one of his West Point classmates. From 1907-09 he was stationed at Pampanga, Philippines, but later was transferred to California. In the early years of the 20th century, most national parks in the U.S. were administered by units of the U.S. Army. Johnson was subsequently stationed at Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 11 March 1911, and was named Superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1912.

Wishing to follow in his father's footsteps, Johnson won permission from General Enoch Crowderto attend the University of California (at Berkeley) where he received his Bachelor of Laws degree (with honors) in 1915 and his Juris Doctor in 1916 (doubling up on courses to graduate in half the time required). Transferring to the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG), from May to October 1916 he served under General John J. Pershing in Mexico with the Pancho Villa Expedition. He was promoted to Captain on 1 July 1916 and transferred to JAG Headquarters in Washington, DC, in October 1916.

He was promoted to Major on 15 May 1917 and to Lieutenant Colonel on 5 August 1917. He was named Deputy Provost Marshal General in October 1917, and the same month was named to a Department of War Committee on Military Training (the U.S. had entered World War I on 6 April 1917). As a Captain, Johnson helped co-author the regulations implementing the Selective Service Act of 1917. Without Congressional authorization, he ordered the completion of several of the initial steps needed to implement the draft. The action could have led to his court-martial had Congress not acted (a month later) to pass the conscription law. He was promoted to Colonel on 8 January 1918, and to Brigadier General on 15 April 1918. At the time of his promotion, he was the youngest person to reach the rank of Brigadier General since the Civil War, and the youngest West Point graduate to remain continuously in the service who had ever reached the rank.

Johnson was an excellent second-in-command during the war in the Office of the Provost Marshal under Brigadier General Enoch H. Crowder, as long as he was closely watched and tightly supervised. His considerable talents were effectively drawn upon in the planning and implementation of the registration and draft, before and during the conflict. However he was never able to work smoothly with others.

As a Brigadier General, Johnson was appointed Director of the Purchase and Supply Branch of the General Staff in April 1918, and was promoted to Assistant Director of the Purchase, Storage and Traffic Division of the General Staff in October 1918. In this capacity, he worked closely with the War Industries Board. He favorably impressed many businessmen, including Bernard Baruch (head of the War Industries Board). These contacts later proved critical in winning Johnson a position with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. He was put in command of the 15th Infantry Brigade, but the Unit did not deploy to Europe because the war had ended.

Johnson resigned from the U.S. Army on 25 February 1919. For his service in the Provost Marshal's office and in executing the draft, he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal in 1926.

New Deal Career

Johnson was named Assistant General Manager of the Moline Plow Company on 1 September 1919. Moline Plow's president, George Peek, and Johnson were both supporters of the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill, a proposed federal law which would have established the first farm price supports in U.S. history.

Johnson left Moline Plow in 1927 to become an adviser to Bernard Baruch. He joined the Brain Trust of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election. His major role was drafting speeches, most notably one that FDR delivered in Pittsburgh denouncing the reckless spending of the Hoover administration and calling for a very conservative fiscal policy.

National Recovery Association (NRA)

Johnson played a major role in the New Deal. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Johnson to administer the National Recovery Administration (NRA). One author claims Johnson looked on Italian Fascist corporatism as a kind of model. He distributed copies of a fascist tract called "The Corporate State" by one of Mussolini's favorite economists, including giving one to Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and asked her give copies to her cabinet. The NRA involved organizing thousands of businesses under codes drawn up by trade associations and industries. He was recognized for his efforts when Time named him Man of the Year of 1933-choosing him instead of FDR.

He was faltering badly by 1934, which historians ascribe to the profound contradictions in NRA policies, compounded by heavy drinking on the job. The NRA continued to deteriorate-it was abolished in 1935-and he came under attack by Labor Secretary Frances Perkins for having Fascist inclinations. Therefore Roosevelt fired Johnson in September 1934.

Johnson, who had long been a successful essay writer for national magazines, now became a syndicated newspaper columnist specializing in political commentary. He supported Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election, but when the Court-packing plan was announced in 1937 he denounced Roosevelt as a would-be dictator. In 1939 he endorsed isolationism-staying out of World War II; he endorsed Wendell Willkie the Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential election.

Johnson wrote a number of articles and stories. One future history piece, The Dam, was written in 1911 and appears in the Sam Moskowitz anthology, Science Fiction by Gaslight. In the story, Japan invades and conquers California.

Death and Burial

Brigadier General Hugh S. Johnson died on 15 April 1942 in Washington, DC, from pneumonia. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 2683   Created by: MHOH




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