Direct democracy, for better or for worse, has become California's most distinctive and emblematic political institution. Initiative, referendum, and recall elections were added to the state constitution in 1911 as part of Governor Hiram Johnson's “progressive” movement, which redeemed the state from control by “The Octopus”, meaning the Southern Pacific Railroad monopoly that had a stranglehold on the state's economy and government. Progressive reformers expected that California voters would use direct democracy to tame the Octopus and to protect themselves against such wealthy special interests in the future. Over time, however, those same interests proved adept at using direct democracy to serve their own interests. This article surveys the origins of direct democracy in California's progressive movement and traces its history up to the 1970s.
California political history, direct democracy, initiative, referendum, recall, Johnson Hiram, Progressive movement, Proposition 13, United States, California, Era, 19th century (late), 20th century
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Glen Gendzel. "The People versus the Octopus: California Progressives and the Origins of Direct Democracy" Siècles (2014). https://doi.org/10.4000/siecles.1109
This article originally appeared in Siècles, Volume 37, 2014. The article can also be found online at: https://doi.org/10.4000/siecles.1109.