Pat Brown

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This article is about the California politician. For other uses, see Pat Brown (disambiguation).
Pat Brown
Gov. Pat Brown.jpg
California Gov. Pat Brown at the groundbreaking of the University of California, Irvine campus on June 20, 1964
32nd Governor of California
In office
January 5, 1959 – January 2, 1967
Lieutenant Glenn M. Anderson
Preceded by Goodwin Knight
Succeeded by Ronald Reagan
23rd California Attorney General
In office
January 8, 1951 – January 5, 1959
Governor Earl Warren
Goodwin Knight
Preceded by Frederick N. Howser
Succeeded by Stanley Mosk
Personal details
Born Edmund Gerald Brown
(1905-04-21)April 21, 1905
San Francisco, California
Died February 16, 1996(1996-02-16) (aged 90)
Beverly Hills, California
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, CA
Political party Democrat (1932-1996)
Republican (before 1932)
Spouse(s) Bernice Layne Brown
Children Barbara Layne
Cynthia Arden
Edmund Gerald, Jr.
Kathleen Lynn
Alma mater San Francisco College of Law
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholicism

Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, Sr. (April 21, 1905 – February 16, 1996) was the 32nd Governor of California from 1959 to 1967 and the father of the 34th and 39th Governor of California, Jerry Brown.


Brown was born in San Francisco, California, one of four children of Ida (née Schuckman) and Edmund Joseph Brown. His father was of Irish Catholic descent, and his mother was from a German Protestant family.[1][2] He acquired the nickname "Pat" during his school years; the nickname was a reference to his Patrick Henry-like oratory. When he was 12 and selling Liberty Bonds on street corners, he would end his spiel with, "Give me liberty, or give me death."[3]

Brown was a debate champion as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society at San Francisco's Lowell High School, from which he graduated in 1923. Brown skipped college and worked in his father's cigar store while studying law at a local night school. He graduated from San Francisco College of Law in spring 1927, passed the California bar exam the following fall,[4] and started a law practice in San Francisco.

Brown ran as a Republican Party candidate for the State Assembly in 1928, but lost; he joined the Democratic Party in 1932, during the Great Depression and after the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He waited until 1939 to seek public office again, this time running for District Attorney of San Francisco, a race he lost to Matthew Brady.[1]

He ran again for District Attorney in 1943, and this time won. He served in that position for seven years, and made his name attacking bookies and underground abortion providers[citation needed]. In 1949, he raided Sally Stanford's elegant San Francisco bordello.[5]

In 1946, as the Democratic nominee, Brown lost the race for Attorney General of California to Los Angeles County District Attorney Frederick N. Howser. Running again in 1950, he won election as Attorney General and was re-elected in 1954. As Attorney General, he was the only Democrat to win statewide election in California.

Governor of California[edit]

Governor Brown (l.) meets with President Johnson in 1963.

In 1958, he was the Democratic nominee for Governor of California. He defeated Republican U.S. Senator William F. Knowland by a near 3/5ths supermajority of 59.75% to 40.16%, and an outright majority with over 1 million more votes out of just over 5.25 million. He was re-elected in 1962, defeating former Vice President Richard Nixon by 52% to 47%. Brown governed through the turbulence of the Watts Riots, the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, the Vietnam War protests, and Death Penalty politics.

Brown's two terms were marked by a dramatic increase in water-resources development. The California Aqueduct, built as part of the program, was named for him. He also presided over the enactment of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, fair employment legislation, a state economic development commission, and a consumers' council. He sponsored some 40 major proposals, gaining passage of 35.

On April 14, 1960, Governor Brown signed the Donahoe Higher Education Act, more informally known as the “Master Plan.” This was composed of three parts. The statutory bill set the functions of the various public institutions. A constitutional amendment created a Board of Trustees for the state college system. Dozens of general agreements were made that were never officially sanctioned by law but implemented the plan, including admissions guidelines, maintaining a non-tuition policy for California residents other than "incidental costs," and beginning a policy of charging tuition for out-of-state students.[6] During Brown’s two terms, enrollment in higher education in California, including junior colleges, approximately doubled. Spending for the University of California system more than doubled, and for the state colleges more than tripled. Four new state colleges were opened, and three new campuses for the UC system were built.[7]

During his two terms in office, Brown commuted 23 death sentences, signing the first commutation on his second day in office.[8] One of his more notable commutations was the death sentence of Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker, whose execution in the gas chamber for first-degree murder had been postponed because of an attempted suicide some hours before it was scheduled to take place. After Walker recovered, his execution was postponed while he was being restored to mental competency. After Walker was declared sane in 1961, Brown commuted Walker's death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Walker was later paroled after the California Supreme Court held that Governor Brown could not legally deny a prisoner the right to parole in a death-sentence commutation. Another prisoner whose death sentence was commuted by Brown committed at least one murder after being paroled.[8]

In contrast, Governor Brown allowed 36 executions, including the highly controversial cases of Caryl Chessman in 1960 and Elizabeth Duncan; she was the last woman put to death before a national moratorium was instituted.[8] Though he had supported the death penalty while serving as district attorney, as Attorney General, and when first elected Governor,[9] he later became an opponent of it.[10]

While Governor, Brown's attitude toward the death penalty was often ambivalent, if not arbitrary. An ardent supporter of gun control, he was more inclined to let convicts go to the gas chamber if they had killed with guns than with other weapons.[9] He later admitted that he had denied clemency in one death penalty case principally because the legislator who represented the district in which the murder occurred held a swing vote on farmworker legislation supported by Brown, and had told Brown that his district "would go up in smoke" if the governor commuted the man's sentence.[8]

During the Chessman case, Brown proposed that the death penalty be abolished, but the proposal failed.[8] His Republican successor, Ronald Reagan, was a firm death penalty supporter and oversaw the last execution in California in 1967, prior to the US Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia (1972).

Brown was a relatively popular Democrat in what was, at the time, a Republican-leaning state. After his re-election victory over Richard Nixon in 1962, he was strongly considered for Lyndon Johnson's running mate in 1964, a position that eventually went to Hubert Humphrey. However, Brown's popularity began to sag amidst the civil disorders of the Watts Riots and the early anti-Vietnam war demonstrations at U.C. Berkeley.

Campaign for third term[edit]

Brown's decision to seek a third term as governor (after promising earlier that he would not do so) also hurt his popularity. His sagging popularity was evidenced by a tough battle in the Democratic primary - normally not a concern for an incumbent. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty received 38% of the primary vote while Brown barely received 52%, a very low number for an incumbent in a primary election.

The Republicans seized upon Brown's sudden unpopularity by nominating a well-known and charismatic political outsider - actor Ronald Reagan. With Richard Nixon and William Knowland working tirelessly behind the scenes and Reagan trumpeting his law-and-order campaign message, Reagan received almost 2/3 of the primary vote over George Christopher, the moderate Republican former mayor of San Francisco. He went into the general election with a great deal of momentum. At first Brown ran a low-key campaign, stating that running the state was his biggest priority. As Reagan's lead in the polls increased, Brown began to panic and made a gaffe when he told a group of school children that an actor, John Wilkes Booth, had killed Abraham Lincoln.[11] The comparison of Reagan to Booth did not go over well and led to a further decline of the Brown campaign.

By election day, Reagan was ahead in the polls and favored to win a relatively close election. Brown lost the 1966 election to Ronald Reagan, another future Republican President. Reagan won in a landslide; his nearly 1 million vote plurality surprised even his staunchest supporters. He dramatically unseated Brown with 58% to 42%. Reagan's majority was nearly as huge as Brown's had been in 1958, and Reagan garnered some 990,000 more votes from the larger electorate.

Personal life[edit]

Brown and his wife, Bernice Layne, the daughter of a San Francisco police captain, were childhood sweethearts. They married in 1930 and had four children (all born in San Francisco):

In 1958, as governor-elect, Brown appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show What's My Line?

Pat Brown died at age 90 in Beverly Hills and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. His funeral was the most recent gubernatorial funeral to be held in the state of California to date (not counting the national state funeral of Ronald Reagan).

Presidential and vice presidential candidate[edit]

Unlike his son Jerry, Pat Brown never seriously ran for President of the United States, but he frequently was California's "favorite son." At the quadrennial American national political party conventions, a state delegation sometimes nominates and votes for a candidate from the state, or less often from the state's region, who is not a viable candidate. The technique allows state leaders to negotiate with leading candidates in exchange for the delegation's support. The technique was widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since nationwide campaigns by candidates and binding primary elections have replaced brokered conventions, the technique has fallen out of use.

During the 1952 Democratic primaries Brown placed distant second to Estes Kefauver in total votes (65.04% to 9.97%),[12] losing California to Kefauver.[13]

During Governor Brown's first term (1959 – 1963), the national census confirmed that California had become the nation's most populous state.[14] Brown's political popularity, multiplied by the state's population, would contribute to two national Presidential victories, when he pledged his votes to the national candidates, (Kennedy in 1960, and Johnson in 1964), at the Democratic conventions.

As governor, Brown was again California's favorite son in 1960, winning his home state with a large margin to his only opponent George H. McLain.[15] Brown joined favorite sons Ohio's Albert S. Porter, Governor Michael DiSalle and Florida Senator George Smathers.

More serious primary candidates were Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson II and Stuart Symington in 1960, with the nomination going to John F. Kennedy. Brown ran only in the California state primary. Yet his popularity with the largest state electorate in the nation gave him second place in the national Democratic primary vote, just behind Kennedy.[16] Thus he repeated his 1952 state and national rankings. However, only one delegate cast his vote for Brown for President at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.[17]

During the 1964 primaries, by running again only in California, the nation's largest state electorate vote[18] led Brown to place first this time in both the California and the Democratic national primary total,[19] besting the eventual nominee. Brown, as well as over a dozen other candidates except George Wallace, was a stalking horse for incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, whose nomination was assured.

As for the vice presidency, he briefly sought nomination at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, winning one vote.[20]

Political party identity in California[edit]

Prior to 1959, loyalty to a political party was not an important issue in California. Through a practice known as cross-filing, a person could run in both the Democratic primary and the Republican primary at the same time. Governor Earl Warren did so in 1946 and 1950. Cross-filing was abolished in 1959. Thus the fact that Brown first ran for office as a Republican and later as a Democrat was not, at that time, as significant in California as it would have been elsewhere.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Reinhold, Robert (February 18, 1996). "Edmund G. Brown Is Dead at 90; He Led California in Boom Years". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  2. ^ Rarick 2006, pp. 8, 30
  3. ^ Video on YouTube
  4. ^ Rarick 2006, p. 17
  5. ^, 19 December 1999
  6. ^ The California Idea and American Higher Education: 1850 to the 1960 Master Plan, John Aubrey Douglass, Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 2000, pages 308 and following.
  7. ^ California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown, Ethan Rarick, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005, pages 152-53.
  8. ^ a b c d e Lewis, Anthony (August 20, 1989). "He was their last resort". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Brown, Edmund (Pat) with Adler, Dick, Public Justice, Private Mercy: A Governor's Education on Death Row, New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 1-55584-253-4, ISBN 978-1-55584-253-6 (1989)
  10. ^ The History of the California Master Plan for Higher Education: Biographical Glossary
  11. ^ Reagan, Michael; Denney, Jim (2010), The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan's Principles Can Restore America's Greatness, p. 111, ISBN 978-0-312-64454-3 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Our Campaigns - CA US President - D Primary Race - Jun 07, 1960
  16. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - D Primaries Race - Feb 01, 1960
  17. ^ Our Campaigns - US President - D Convention Race - Jul 11, 1960
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Our Campaigns - US Vice President - D Convention Race - Aug 13, 1956

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Goodwin Knight
Governor of California
Succeeded by
Ronald Reagan