The Political Machine Ii: A Case History “i Am The Law”

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Hague furiously denounced the board members as tools of the interests, and summoned his Hudson legions to elect a Democratic governor, who would appoint a new tax board. He soon found his candidate, Edward I. Edwards, president of the First National Bank of Jersey City. Edwards won by 14,510 votes, aided by the huge majority— 58,527 to 23,009—Hague delivered for him in Hudson County.

Bucking a national Republican era, Hague proceeded to elect three governors in succession (the law then prohibited a governor from serving two consecutive three-year terms); his third, Jersey City’s A. Harry Moore, boomed into Trenton in 1926 atop a Hudson County avalanche of 103,000 votes. In eight short years, Hague had quadrupled the standard Hudson County majority. Even subtracting the extra votes he garnered from woman suffrage, it was still a remarkable achievement.

During this nine-year period, Hague exultantly concentrated on appointing Democrats to the state Board of Taxes and to a breathtaking number of other jobs that the New Jersey governor had in his power. Between 1900 and 1910, the state had espoused the reform idea of the short ballot, and had eliminated scores of jobs that had theretofore been elective. The governor had the power to appoint almost every officer in the state government, ranging from the attorney general and the treasurer down to the prosecutors of the individual counties. There were more than eighty different boards and commissions, plus judgeships in fourteen court systems.

Most important were the judgeships. They were reserved for men with proved loyalty to Frank Hague. The Mayor’s attitude toward these vital figures is summed up in an argument he had in the 1940*5 with Governor Charles Edison when the two men differed over a judicial appointment. Edison insisted that his preference was a man of integrity. “The hell with his integrity, Charlie,” Hague roared. “What I want to know is, can you depend on the S.O.B. in a pinch?”

Another politician recalls Hague’s wheeling and dealing to execute his greatest judicial coup, the installation of his former corporation counsel, Thomas Brogan, as chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. For all Hudson’s clout, Hague never won control of the New Jersey legislature; Brogan’s appointment had to be confirmed by the Republican-dominated state senate. Hague traded jobs by the dozen to Republican politicians in return for their votes.

The senate confirmed Brogan’s appointment. He proved he could deliver in the pinch, more than once. Outraged Republican investigators tried to subpoena the voting records in Hudson County after the gubernatorial election of 1937, another emergency in which Hague needed every nightstick and graveyard vote he could find to squeak A. Harry Moore into his third term as governor. Chief Justice Brogan listened to stories of people being beaten up and thrown out of polling places, of men voting from insane asylums, and solemnly ruled on the great principle of the law, Quod non apparet non est . Since there was no evidence of corruption in the election, there was no basis for granting a subpoena of the voting records.

Hague penetrated the Republican party, not only by astute job trading, but also by occasionally helping the Republicans select their candidates. He first performed this bit of legerdemain in the 1928 gubernatorial primary. The man favored to get the Republican nomination was Robert Carey, a former Jersey City judge and a fierce critic of Hague and the organization. On primary day, some 20,000 “instant Republicans” flowered in Hudson County, and not one voted for Carey. All their enthusiasm—and the nomination— went to a colorless state senator from Middlesex County named Morgan Larson.

Worse, the galled Republicans discovered the ploy was perfectly legal. Hague’s lawyers had spotted a loophole in the election law that permitted a man who had not voted in a previous year’s primary to switch his party affiliation without penalty. Like a shrewd general, Hague had simply ordered 20,000 loyalists to skip a primary and stand by, on reserve status, to name the Republican of his choice.

In the beginning New Jersey Republicans could not quite believe what was happening in Hudson County. The only answer they could produce to match Hague’s maneuvers was a gimmick to pin the state closer to the coattails of the national Republican ticket, which still looked like a winner. They called for a referendum to lengthen the governor’s term to four years, and to elect him in presidential years. In a special election in September, 1925, the proposal was defeated 200,716 to 135,288. Of the No votes, 100,002 were from Hudson County. This was only 3,000 fewer votes than Hudson’s huge gubernatorial turnout the next year for favorite son Moore. Such a vote on an issue so tenuous to the average voter struck the state as little short of miraculous. As one politician to another, New Jersey’s Republican senator, Walter Edge, congratulated Hague for an unsurpassed performance.