Oklahoma Governors: Henry S. Johnston 1927-1929
Born in 1870 in an Indiana log cabin, Henry S. Johnston later started a law practice in Colorado, then trekked to settle in Perry upon the great Cherokee Outlet Opening of 1893. Between then and statehood fourteen years later, he served as an Oklahoma Territory legislator, Noble County Attorney, and Constitutional Convention delegate. His leadership role in the convention propelled him to election representing Noble and Payne counties in the first state senate, as well as president pro tempore of that body.
Elected governor in 1927, he brought a humble attitude to the office by shepherding through a bill to create a crippled children’s home. He launched the tradition of saying a prayer during Oklahoma governors’ inaugurations, and his prayer stands as the first such event broadcasted on radio.
Johnston is best remembered, though, for his impeachment as governor by the state house and removal by the state senate. He nearly got removed his first year in office over accusations of improper patronage in his appointments to the Oklahoma State Highway Commission, and particularly the controversially strong influence of his executive secretary, Mayme Hammonds. Before finally relenting, the marauding state house, having impeached Governor Jack Walton just three years earlier, defied the legal actions of a district court, the State Supreme Court, the National Guard, and the governor himself.
A year later, after Johnston campaigned across the state for unpopular Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, anti-Smith Democratic senators joined an increased Republican contingent to convict him on one of 13 charges—“general incompetency.” “It seems hardly likely that the political reputation or prestige of the Legislature was enhanced as a result of these . . . sessions,” wrote one historian, who called Johnston’s and other impeachments “an embarrassing notoriety for Oklahoma.”