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

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The reasons for Roosevelt’s embrace of Hague were twofold. In the early years, there were not enough independent Democrats left in New Jersey to form an anti-Hague wing of the party. Later, Roosevelt needed Hague for his third-term and fourth-term pushes. With Ed Kelly, the boss of Chicago, in happy concert, the “Hague-Kelly axis” was the driving engine of Roosevelt’s 1940 steamroller. After Roosevelt was nominated, practically by acclamation, a prominent Democrat ruefully declared: “Mayor Hague has more stuff on the ball than anyone else here in Chicago.”

But Hague was to pay a bitter price for this more intimate relationship with Roosevelt. With an artful combination of cajolery and political armtwisting, the President persuaded Hague to accept Charles Edison, a son of Thomas Edison, the inventor, as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1940. Edison was an independent Democrat who owed nothing to Hague, and he had plainly spent some time in the library reading Wilson biographies. With Hague sitting at his right hand and 150,000 Democratic faithful in the audience at Hague’s by now traditional Sea Girt rally, Edison declared: “It is my happy privilege to stand here today and tell you that if you elect me, you will have elected a governor who has made no promises of preferment to any man or group. … I’ll never be a yes man except to my conscience.”

For senator that year Hague also had to accept, on White House orders, James H. R. Cromwell, a millionaire ex-playboy inflated for high office by a tour as minister to Canada. While Edison understandably excited no enthusiasm in Hague, Cromwell had precisely the opposite effect. Throughout the igso’s, while most of the country was in violent reaction against the rich, Hague had been courting their company and imitating their manners. He invited anyone and everyone from the ranks of the well-born to his magnificent Biscayne Bay mansion in Florida. Jersey City clubhouses whispered the story of the day that Deputy Mayor Johnny Malone, in Florida to confer with the Mayor, humbly asked if he could come to one of Hague’s splendiferous parties, promising to stand obscurely in the corner and not open his mouth. “I’m sorry, Johnny,” said the Mayor, “you just ain’t got enough class.”

Hague embraced Cromwell with an ardor that made no sense politically. Genial Jimmy had written many books and made scores of speeches in which he had alienated huge blocs of the electorate. He had nicknamed war veterans “the American Pillaging Force” and denned the Constitution as “a millstone around the necks of the American people.” He had called for repeal of the National Labor Relations Act and come out in print for birth control. Yet Hague toured New Jersey beside Cromwell, obviously revelling in his company. He was almost delirious with pleasure when he and several select henchmen were invited to Boxwood Manor, an English-style castle in the center of a wooded estate, the property of Mrs. E. T. Stotesbury, widow of a Morgan partner, and Cromwell’s mother.

Edison, preaching his independence of Hague, won the governorship handily. Roosevelt also carried the state, but Cromwell stumbled to defeat. As governor, Edison firmly practiced the independence he had preached during the campaign. This soon produced violent hostilities. The Governor, for instance, tried to solve the financial collapse of the state’s railroads by forgiving them some $81,000,000 in back taxes. Almost half of this money belonged to Jersey City, and Hague began belaboring Edison for selling out to the interests.

It was like Old Home Week for Hague; it was the heady crusading days of 1920 all over again. The Edison script, which called for a Wilson-style confrontation, ended in political disaster for the Governor. When Edison went out of office, Hague was still state chairman of the Democratic party, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and as invulnerable as ever in Hudson County. One explanation is that earnest, honest Charles Edison was not Woodrow Wilson. Another, equally valid, is that the dimensions of Frank Hague’s power far exceeded that of Wilson’s old foe, Boss James Smith.

No one ever fought with Hague and emerged unscathed. When Walter Van Riper became attorney general of New Jersey in 1944, he launched a series of raids on Hague’s sacrosanct “Horse Bourse.” Within months Van Riper was indicted by a federal jury for kiting checks and for selling black-market gasoline through a service station he partially owned. He was acquitted on both counts, and there is strong evidence that some of the witnesses committed perjury. But Van Riper, once considered a shoo-in as the next governor, was politically dead.