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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



The subject of this sketch, Hon. Grove L. Johnson, was born in Syracuse, Onondaga county, state of New York, March 27, 1841. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grand- father were born in America. His mother, her father and her grandfather were all born in America. He can therefore truly claim that he is an American in the fullest sense.

Mr. Johnson's father died when he was but fifteen years of age, since which time he has supported himself by his own exertions. He studied law in the office of Sedgwick, Andrews & Kennedy, the leading law firm of Syracuse, N. Y., and was admitted to the bar April 2, 1862, just six days after he became twenty-one. He early in life took an interest in politics as a Republican. Although but fifteen years of age he made many speeches for Fremont in 1856 and when but nineteen years old he campaigned for Lincoln in 1860. He was elected school commissioner of the city of his birth in 1862, although not twenty-one years old and could not take his seat for some time, awaiting his majority.

The fact that his brother was serving as a commissioned officer in the west was the immediate cause of the coming of Mr. Johnson to California in October of 1863, when he arrived in Sacramento after a tedious overland journey from Atchison, Kans., in a stage-coach that covered the distance in twenty-two days and nights. Immediately after his arrival he was made quartermaster's clerk under his brother and served in that capacity in California, Arizona and Washington. During April of 1865, with the close of the war, he received an honorable discharge and in May of the same year he returned to Sacramento, which city he since has considered his home, although public duties often have called him temporarily to other points. After having held a position as chief deputy in the county assessor's office for two years he was made swamp land clerk for the board of supervisors of Sacramento county, being the first to hold the office, also the sole incumbent, for at the expiration of seven years the swamp lands were formed into different districts instead of being managed by the board of supervisors, hence there was no longer need for a swamp land clerk of the supervisors.

After having held a position as clerk in the office of the surveyor- general of California for two years Mr. Johnson opened an office in Sacramento, Cal., for the practice of law May 1, 1873. Since that time he has risen to a high rank in his profession, not alone in his home city, but throughout the entire commonwealth and indeed the whole great west. Deliberate in action, logical in thought, ripe in experience and concise and clear in his reasoning and most eloquent in his addresses, he possesses the attributes of a successful attorney and has won his laurels worthily and well. He was very successful as a criminal lawyer and during his practice lost only two cases. He defended seventeen persons accused of murder and saved all but one from hanging. He won the Hurtado case, when the Supreme Court of California, upon the strength of his argument, changed the rule of testimony in murder cases where temporary insanity was the defense.

He carried to success the litigation growing out of the attempt to take the State Capitol from Sacramento to San Jose. In other important lawsuits he won decisions from the Supreme Court against learned and able antagonists and at times obtained decisions that were new to our state. He has always been a friend to the poor and has done more unpaid work as a lawyer than any other man in California.

The building up of an important clientele did not engross his attention to the exclusion of public service. Always he has stood for what was best for the interests of the city and commonwealth. In a long and influential public career he has proved absolutely honest and incontestably courageous and perhaps no citizen of Sacramento has done more than he in the molding of public opinion. As a member of the State Bar Association and as president for more than twelve years of the Sacramento Bar Association, he has maintained an intimate association with matters of law and jurisprudence. With justice he might be denominated a Nestor of the bar, not only on account of his long service as a practitioner, but also in recognition of his deep knowledge of fundamental law. As a public speaker either politically or on general topics he has no superior in the west. He always captivates his audience.

Prom young manhood Mr. Johnson has been active in the work of the Republican party. At the California Republican state conventions of 1884, 1888, 1892 and 1908 he officiated as chairman of the committee on resolutions and also wrote the party platform that was adopted by the delegates. During 1896 he was a delegate to the St. Louis national convention of his party. Elected to the Assembly in 1877, two years later he was chosen to serve as state senator for four years. In 1894 he became a member of congress from the second congressional district of California. Two years later, when again nominated, he suffered defeat with the balance of the Republican ticket. At the elections of 1898, 1900 and 1902 he was chosen a member of the state assembly and would have been reelected in 1904 had not illness prevented him from being a candidate. Elected to the state legislature in 1906, he served with such distinction and fidelity that he was again chosen for the same position in 1908. In each session he was chairman of the judiciary committee. Every bill of a general nature introduced before the legislature was read by him. So painstaking was he in the presentation of every important matter to the members of his committee that they were accustomed to remark, as they proceeded to the judiciary committee room, they were going to "Johnson's law school." No measure associated with his public career has been more important than that of securing while a member of congress the placing of the work of improving and cleansing the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers on the regular appropriation schedule, so that appropriations are made each year for the work without special orders, thus entirely removing a great public measure from the realm of politics.

The first marriage of Mr. Johnson took place in Syracuse, N. Y., and united him with Miss Annie W. de Montfredy, who was born in Syracuse and died in 1903 in California. September 1, 1908, he was united in marriage with Miss Helen Alice Hassett, a native of San Francisco and a daughter of Hon. W. J. Hassett, ex-mayor of Sacramento. By his first marriage he became the father of five children, namely: Albert M., who died in Oakland in 1907 at the age of forty-six years; Josephine, Mrs. A. R. Fink, of Sacramento; Hiram W., now governor of California; Mabel, Mrs. Bruce L. Dray, of Pasadena; and Mary, Mrs. H. E. O'Neal, of Tacoma, Wash., who died in Sacramento. The eldest son, Albert M., ranked as one of the most brilliant and promising attorneys of the state and as one of the most eloquent orators in the west. The inspiration of his career is not forgotten, although its untimely end was a source of deep regret to friends.

From May, 1911, to February, 1912, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson traveled in Europe, making an extensive tour, not only for purposes of pleasure and recreation, but also in the interests of research and study. Upon his return he gave a series of interesting lectures concerning the old world, dwelling particularly upon its people, history and institutions, its present status and future possibilities. In the midst of a career embracing large public interests and important private duties, he has not remained aloof from fraternal associations, but has enjoyed his comradeship iu a peculiar degree. At this writing he is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and of all its branches, the Improved Order of Red Men, the United Ancient Order of Druids, the Foresters of America, the Knights of Pythias, the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He has served as Great Sachem of the Improved Order of Red Men of California and Grand Master of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows of California and is a P. C. F. of the Foresters and a P. C. of the Knights of Pythias and a P. N. A. of the United Ancient Order of Druids. He is an honorary member of the Typographical union, having received that recognition of his services in the legislature in behalf of the printers of California. 

History of Sacramento County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: William L. Willis
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1913)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011