THE GREATEST AND WORST NEW JERSEY GOVERNORS SINCE 1776 Essay
It is widely recognized that each nation is worth of its governor. To a certain extent it is always true as the governor is a product of his land and represents the spirits and motives of the nation he came to guide. What is more, history is always written by governors, either by their hands in mud and blood or by their own blood and sweat wasted in struggle for better future of the nation’s descendants. Rarely the governors bare those ideas in mind, but there is something plenty to compare and contrast. However, the merit and tinge of a governor cannot be appreciated immediately. To evaluate it properly, the time must pass, all pros and cons be weighed, and numerous political prejudices departing from the acting regime must be removed off. In any case, each observer may receive his own individual view of historical guide he receives, and consequently the best way to be unbiased and objective is virtually to concentrate more on facts than on assessments. It does not mean that ratings from both contemporaries and scholars distanced in time should be ignored. On the contrary, they should be approached carefully and with great respect and probably first of all used as salvational lighthouses in a vast sea of facts, events and ideas of past and present.
The early history of New Jersey governance.
It goes without saying that we cannot scrutinize the political leaders out of historical context. Therefore, it is critically important to understand how the statehood and identity of the New Jerseyans was formed. Firstly, it is important to underline that New Jersey was one of the first thirteen colonies that made up the United States of America. Accordingly, throughout the history of the USA, New Jersey has been in the epicenter of revolutionary events from the very beginning. Still being a colony of the Kingdom of Great Britain, New Jersey ratified its first State Constitution in 1776 and in the same year elected its first governor, William Livingston (1723-1790).
A wealthy Whig lawyer from New York, he just moved to New Jersey in search of peaceful country existence, but soon found himself in the very vortex of political and social events, and gained much credit from the local patriots. Prior to election he was delegated to both Continental congresses and representatively spoke for the New Jerseyans. What is more, as history went on, Livingstone faced one of the worst crises in the history of the state, the American Revolution. On July 4, 1776 the Americans signed the Declaration of Independence (with five representatives from New Jersey) and the War was to blow out as Britain was not going to refuse its claims on the colonies.
Four major battles between the British and the Americans were fought at the territory of New Jersey, in Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, and Springfield. It is here where George Washington took his outstanding crossing of the Delaware River. As David Hackett Fischer recounts, Washington as well as many other Americans refused to let the Revolution die (Fischer 2003). The Washington’s victories brought back moral fortitude to the army and consistently forced the British to leave the State of New Jersey. The role of the governor cannot be overestimated as well. As Mappen recognizes, “During the Revolution he kept the patriot cause alive in New Jersey, sometimes while on the run from the British” (Mappen 1992, 224). A Federalist by views and accomplished polemicist by talent, Livingstone is usually granted much respect from the historians for having suppressed endless loyalist activities (by that time many citizens were still loyal to the British crown), organized and rebelled manpower and sources, and after all for having established a new state government. On the other hand, as Mary M. Murrin states, his contribution is thought to be limited by his age and lack of health, though he served the state till his very death in 1790 (Lurie 2002, 130).
On November 26, 1779 New Jersey signed the Articles of Confederation, the first working constitution of the American nation. In 1787 the state was the third to ratify the United States Constitution and the first to ratify the Bill of Rights in 1789. Further, New Jersey turned out to play a crucial role in establishing the structure of the new United States Government. There was a proposal to link the amount of representatives to the number of population. As New Jersey was not a big state, there was a threat to lose representation at all. Therefore, the second elected New Jersey Governor, William Paterson (1745-1806) was to propose another way out.
Being a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Paterson played a significant role in drafting the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the federal court system. Taking his position from 1790 to 1793, Paterson was delegated to Constitutional Convention and showed to be a vigorous Whig and a strong nationalist who cared much about property rights of the citizens. Through him, the state managed to say her own word in decision-making, reach the compromise and play a critical role in the process of writing of the United States Constitution. To be specific, under his lead the delegation from New Jersey presented a “small state” plan according to which representation in the government was to be by state equally, not by the amount of population (Lurie 2002, 9). In the result of the Great Compromise, there were two bodies created in Congress. All in all, Paterson proved to be consistent in his views and ideas, firm in principles and most of all he praised the superiority of Law over any governments.
Political controversies of the industrial age
The nineteenth century brought denunciative changes to the politics of New Jersey. While all the previous governors were the followers of the Federalist party, Joseph Bloomfield (1753–1823) who was elected in 1801 for the first term and then again in 1817 represented Jeffersonian-Republican forces. As Fleming resumes of New Jersey, “Conflict has been a standard ingredient in her life for three centuries” (Fleming 1984, 3).
The next few governors did not try to do something outstanding and thus stayed almost unnoticed by researchers and biographers. John Lambert, Aaron Ogden, William Sanford Pennington, William Kennedy, Mahlon Dickerson, all of them were more concentrated on internal affairs and didn’t contribute much to the development of the state. The progress, actually, was acting naturally. The matter is, New Jersey has been initially known as an agricultural state and even got the nickname of the Garden State. In the nineteenth century, however, agriculture was losing the reliance for incomes and more industrialized spheres were gradually developed. What is more, Paterson (the town called after the second governor of the state) is recognized to be the cradle of the American industrial revolution.
One of the shifting events of the middle of the nineteenth century fell to the lot of Isaac Halstead Williamson (1767–1844) who ended the era of Jeffersonian-Republicans. The next governor, Peter D. Vroom (1791–1873) is noted for such contributions as the establishment of the Camden and Amboy Railroad and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. In 1838 there was a controversy known as the Broad Seal War, during which the Democrats did not want to seat the Whigs commissions and accused them of fraud, and Vroom was one of the five Democrats who replaced the Whigs. Having received much credit for his work, he was elected one more time and served for the second term through 1833 – 1836. It is recognized that “as governor Vroom played an important role in restoring the office’s prestige, which under his predecessors had become largely a judicial position” (Lurie and Mappen 2004, 840).
In 1844, the second New Jersey Constitution was ratified. At that time the power was in the hands of the 14th Governor Daniel Haines who viewed that the previous Constitution was simply “incompatible with the present age” (Lurie 2002, 13). While earlier the governor was elected annually by the state legislature (selected by several counties), the new document gave the right to vote for a governor to common citizens, though only white male. The term for service was defined to be three years, and power was separated into legislative, executive and judicial branches. In fact, Haines can be considered as a positive figure which is proved by the fact that he was reelected in 1847, and bringing forward the improvements to schooling and government became the main concerns for his administration.
The Democrats went on winning the elections, and thus went on descending in the eyes of population. As Mappen sharply remarks, Rodman M Price (1816-1894) who was elected in 1854 became the embodiment of “the nadir of the pre-Civil War governors” (Mappen 1992, 229). Price can be referred to the worst governors of New Jersey for his unprogressive and unpopular views as well as vast abuse at the position. On the one hand, he argued in favor of flogging in the navy, supported the slave-holding South and was known for joining the Confederates, and on the other hand, he was defending his own railroad interests, accused by the navy for channeling the funds of $88,000 into his own pocket and finally real estate speculations brought him to Hackensack jail (Mappen 1992, 228).
In the middle of the nineteenth century the problem of slavery was sharpening rapidly. The Quaker population was especially geared up against slavery. New Jersey meanwhile is known as the main point of the well-known Underground Railroad by means of which the African Americans escaped from the Southern States to the free North. In 1804 the Garden State passed an act that partly abolished slavery, but in the North it was the last state to have done with this phenomenon at all. The eleven Southern states announced secession and formed the Confederate States of America. The Confederates attacked the U. S. military installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina and the war blew out.
New Jersey at that time belonged to the so-called border states where slavery was not abolished yet. The Governor was Charles Smith Olden (1799-1876). He was from a Quaker family himself and being elected from the Republican party in 1859 tried to escape the civil war, but when Lincoln proclaimed a state of war, Olden assured that “New Jersey will do more than her share in defense of the Union.” There was much criticism in Olden’s being “too eager to grab any bargain, including an empty one” (Gillette 1999, 116). And though “the governor did not fully represent the rapidly growing peace sentiments of the people” (Gillette 1999, 215), in Encyclopedia it is concluded that “Until his term expired in 1863, Governor Olden worked incessantly to carry out his assurances, doing his best to improve the obsolete state military system and to cooperate with the federal government” (Lurie and Mappen 2004, 133). To weigh both assertions, it would be rational to state that Olden can be placed somewhere in between greatest and weakest governors of New Jersey.
The second part of the war fell on the shoulders of another great politician from Democratic Party, Joel Parker (1816-1888) who was, according to the Trenton Gazette, “a real Democratic Governor instead of a copperhead Demagogue” (Gillette 1999, 243). He was among those who preferred military solution instead of accommodation of the Confederacy and worked to strengthen the nation’s security. At the same time he criticized the decisions of Lincoln’s administrations which reduced civil liberties and unconstitutional character of Emancipation Proclamation. However, “When Parker differed with Lincoln, however, he did so respectfully and cautiously, not wishing to undermine the president in his conduct of the war” (Gillette 1999, 243). So, Parker was a strong and simultaneously loyal, thinking and effective governor who was firm in his views and independent in his actions who “slowly but surely outmaneuvered and discredited the copperheads” (Gillette 1999, 243). For this, “He was the “favorite son” candidate supported by New Jersey electors at the Democratic National Conventions in 1868, 1876, and 1884” (Lurie and Mappen 2004, 139).
The next, 21st governor of New Jersey was Marcus Lawrence Ward (1812–1884). He was elected from the Republican Party for 1866–1869 period, and became “the Soldiers’ Friend”, renominated for not to be forgotten by “the Boys in Blue” (Lurie 2002, 219). He is also known for prison reform and sanctioning of the public school act. Furthermore, “the White Man’s President” was also the representative of New Jersey. It was George Brinton McClellan (1826–1885) whom the New Jerseyans elected against Lincoln. That situation can be viewed as a pattern of New Jerseyans’ political behavior. McClellan was one of the most popular commanders among soldiers. And though he failed at the Presidential elections of 1864, in 1878 he was elected the 24th Governor of New Jersey and the next three years became known as “a tenure marked by careful, conservative executive management and minimal political rancor” (Stellhorn and Birkner 1982, 187). Although his military career is a subject of numerous disputes, McClellan earned people’s sympathy and was admirable at the position of a governor.
On the opposite end of the scale is George T. Werts who was a governor through 1893–1896 from the Democratic Party. If to be impartial, that was a truly difficult period, at least to mention the Depression of 1893 and controversies between Protestants and new Catholic immigrants. Werts revealed to be weak and conciliatory. Because of his compliance, Democrat party lost credit and power for one and a half decade while “Wert’s approach was to dash for cover, prevaricating and avoiding the issues” (Mappen 1992, 229).
Paradoxes of the twentieth century.
At the turn of the 20th century New Jersey was at the peak of its industrial development. The Standard Oil Company, shipbuilding, manufacturing, weapon parts for the participants of the World War I made the state feel afloat. The 1911–1913 years have been also observed for the governance of Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924). Though he governed for two years only, “as governor he proceeded to push actively for a series of laws embodying Progressive ideals”, e. g. he managed to lay foundation for direct primaries in election reforms, to make corrupt practices restricted, to set regulations of industry by special public utilities commission and establish compensation for workmen. In other words that was “a forceful governor able to muster enough legislative support for reform measure” (Lurie 2002, 21) and it was a miracle indeed how “in that brief time he proved to be the state’s most dynamic and energetic chief executive ever” (Mappen 1992, 223).
It would be fair to note that the years of the World War I fell to the lot of the Governor Walter Evans Edge (1873–1956). With the slogan “A Business Man with a Business Plan,” he was put into nomination from in the Republicans in 1916. Though he was quite moderate and not a persistent reformer, he gained authority and definitely good reputation for deep involvement in economic concerns and overall efficiency of his government. Moreover, Edge managed to provide legislation uniting state boards; he improved the civil service and fixed a franchise tax on public utilities which provided local bodies with more power; he also reformed corporation law and succeeded in improving some state institutions including the prisons (Stellhorn and Birkner 1982, 299).
After Edge resigned to become the US Senator, position went to William Nelson Runyon (1871–1931). In 1919, all the civil debates were centered on the Prohibition Act that prohibited alcohol drinks. Being a Republican, Runyon took the dry position and thus received the title of “dry champion”. Though he received the political and financial support of the Anti-Saloon League, he lost support of masses and was first outrun by the Democrat Newton Bugbee who positioned himself being “as wet as the Atlantic Ocean” (Stellhorn and Birkner 1982, 312) and then in 1920 the victory went to Edward Edwards (1863–1931). As Governor, Edwards made the Legislature that was by time controlled by the Republicans to pass a bill that allowed the sale of beverages with 3.5% alcohol. In fact, his opposition to Prohibition and callings for nullification of the Constitution were linked with “anarchy, treason, sedition, secession, nullification, and Bolshevism” (Lurie 2002, 366) and his wet laws were again repealed in 1921. In this way, Edwards’ successes were temporary and full of controversies.
The next outstanding Governor of New Jersey is Arthur Harry Moore (1879–1952). Between 1926 and 1941 he served three terms and thus became the longest-serving New Jersey Governor in the twentieth century. Among his contributions of the first two terms are the improvement of compensation law for the state workmen; modification of the state’s “blue law” (on religious standards); sanction of a narcotics bill; and introduction of a state planning board. In the conditions of the Great Depression of 1933 he really succeeded in many actions. Moore’s final tenure was marked for the initiation of the pari-mutuel system and regulations on liquor and gasoline sales. There was a mess about the imprisonment of the World War I veteran Robert Elliot Burns in Georgia chain gang for robbery. Moore announced Burns would not be extradited and for that act Richard Russell, the Governor of Georgia, stated that “The Governor of New Jersey is either desirous of basking in the light of some cheap publicity or else is completely taken in by statements and writings of Burns, which have been proven false and are a slander on the State of Georgia and its institutions” (Mappen 1992, 224). However, for New Jerseyans a better governor could hardly be expected.
In contrast, new disappointment came in 1935 with the Republican candidate Harold G. Hoffman (1896–1954). He had a set of misfortunes starting with the conflicts with his own party (for sales taxes) and then being blundered into the Lindbergh kidnapping case. To be fair, he cannot be called the worst leader of the state, but discredited himself enough by corruption throughout his political career, in particular, he wasted $300,000 from a South Amboy bank and blackmailed for $150,000 (Mappen 1992, 229). Another eloquent fact is that he got into at least two fist-fights with reporters, so he is obviously a dark spot in the New Jersey history.
During the Second World War New Jersey was governed by Charles Edison (1890–1969), a well-educated Democrat and idealist who was appraised by Franklin D. Roosevelt for “a deep-seated feeling of responsibility to good government and efficient government”. Besides, Edison turned out to be reasonable and reflective politician, articulate and calm speaker, sincere and soft-featured personality. Through his term, citizens were relieved from extremely high taxes (Mappen 1992, 406). What is even more important, he gave birth to and encouraged the movement for a new state constitution that was adopted in 1947.
The Governor who “pushed New Jersey to adopt a new constitution that is still one of the best in the nation” (Mappen 1992, 225) was Alfred Eastlack Driscoll (1902–1975). This great Governor served for two terms during which two critical transportation links, he New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway were constructed making the state open to new investments and additionally the most densely populated state in the Union. As for the Constitution, it allowed the governors to serve for four years and returned the right of suffrage to women and non-whites.
To go forward, the second part of the twentieth century was mostly traced for various civil rights movements and the Cold War with the USSR. Having a strategic location of the East Coast, New Jersey was a significant point of defense. Reguio0nal command center was built here. In 1953 the office was taken by Robert Baumle Meyner (1908–1990) who provided strong support for education programs and what is more for general restructure of the government. As Gerald M. Pomper notes, “When Governor Meyner was in office, the size of the state government was so small that it was possible for the governor to know all key decision-makers” (Pomper 1986, 103). As a strong leader, Meyner was elected for one more term as a Governor and stood for Presidential Election in 1960 where he received 43 votes.
The next, 45th New Jersey Governor (1962-70) was also evaluated rather positively. It was a Democrat Richard Joseph Hughes (1909–1992), “a distinguished candidate and outstanding leader” (Pomper 1989, 49) who cared much for environmental and social issues. For example, he administratively established the Division of Clean Air and Water and moved stringent several air pollution control acts. Another emphasis was on the improvement of higher education. It is interesting to note that Hughes was among those rare politicians who “generally received bipartisan support” (Pomper 1989, 135).
The following leader, William Thomas Cahill (1912–1996) is known for a good deal of attempts in different spheres of public life. In particular, he tried to reform relationships between power and media; enacted judicial intervention, passed the Baterman-Tanzman Education Act on state’s responsibility for education provided to every child and experimented with the Program Planning Budgeting System; fostered medical education and signed the Celebration of the first Earth Day. On the whole, being a gregarious leader, he preferred informal methods of administration and provided a foundation for further necessary reforms.
The end of the twentieth century can be described by the governance of Thomas Kean who received wide support for his warm relations with common citizens, whom he sincerely cared of and tended to attract by active publicity. He avoided explosive issues and managed to keep economu healthy through his two terms, 1982-1990. In 1994, New Jersey elected her first female Governor, Christine Todd Whitman (b.1946). This person is surrounded by a lot of controversial facts and stipulations which do not provide the opportunity to define strictly her positive or negative contribution to the well-being of New Jersey. For Whitman and the subsequent governors, time must pass to justify them objectively.
At the moment, it seems to be the best way out to quote Marc Mappen who tends that it is much easier to list good governors (the list including Leon Abbett, Peter D. Vroom, Walter E. Edge, Joel Parker, Brendan Byrne, Richard Hughes, William Paterson, Joseph Bloomfield, and Thomas Kean), than to say firmly who is put to the end of the list. However, “New Jersey has had its share of rogues and bumblers, but it has also benefited from the efforts of some unusually astute and foresighted leaders who have made a major difference in the government of the state and the welfare of its citizens” (Pomper 1986, xii). All in all, being contrasted some governors really showed to be irrelevant, but together with positive figures they contributed to the varicolored canvas of the New Jersey history and identity.