New Jersey’s Most Famous Forgotten Politician

The state of New Jersey has a known connection to both Presidents Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.  After these two well-known figures of national importance to American history, not much is known about another man who should rank high on New Jersey’s list of prominent politicians.  Garret Augustus Hobart was elected Vice President of the United States for the administration of William McKinley beginning on March 4, 1897 and lasting until Hobart’s death while in office on November 21, 1899.  As is the case with most Vice Presidents who never became elected the nation’s chief executive, Garret Hobart has predominantly been forgotten amongst the lexicon of American politicians.  While few Americans are familiar with the fact he fulfilled the second highest role in the executive branch of the federal government, even fewer people are aware he is a native of New Jersey.[1]

Garret A. Hobart

Garret A. Hobart (c. 1896)

The future Vice President was born in June 1844 in Long Branch to a family who made its living through farming.  The young man attended Rutgers and a short while after graduation began practicing law in Paterson where among his peers he constructed a distinguished reputation for himself.  On July 21, 1869 Garret married Jennie Tuttle, the daughter of a politically well-connected lawyer and politician.  Additionally, Hobart’s years in Paterson were productive.  He showed a remarkable talent in railroad management while initiating a successful and rising local and state political career.  He served in several elected New Jersey state and national Republican positions between the early 1870s until his election as Vice President.[2]

William McKinley and Garret Hobart

William McKinley and Garret Hobart

By 1896 Hobart rose to become the Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  He was also considered by McKinley’s campaign manager to be the presidential hopeful’s running mate in the upcoming election.[3] Mark Hanna, the architect of McKinley’s path to victory, viewed the wealthy Paterson politician and industrialist as an ideal partner on the Republican Party ticket.  Working in Hobart’s favor were several factors.  He was a wealthy industrialist who enjoyed a favorable relationship with many corporations.  As an eastern politician he would geographically balance the ticket since McKinley was from the Old Northwestern state of Ohio.  Finally, Hobart recently had been instrumental to wrestling New Jersey away from Democratic control.  Not since Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign for a second term as President in 1872 had the Republican Party been successful in securing the state’s electoral votes.  Hanna sought Hobart for the nomination as Vice President in order to help secure the crucial state.[4]

While the Republican presidential nominee in 1896 conducted his famous “front porch campaign,” Hobart actively campaigned on occasion throughout New Jersey and New York City.  His efforts assisted in helping the Republican Party once again place their candidate in the Executive Mansion.[5] The Hobarts moved from their upscale Paterson mansion to a Washington, D.C. home across from the presidential residence in Lafayette Square.  In their new location the family frequently entertained domestic and foreign visitors.  Jennie Hobart was often thrust into the role of hostess for White House functions held by President McKinley as a result of Ida McKinley’s constant struggles with illness.[6] As for Garret Hobart’s role as Vice President he was said to have been a diligent worker who regularly attended Senate sessions.

Vice President Garret A. Hobart

Vice President Garret A. Hobart

In the fall of 1898 the Vice President was diagnosed with a heart ailment.  He was afflicted with “weakness, breathing difficulties, and periodic fainting spells.”[7] Political circles around the capital knew of Hobart’s suffering by the spring of 1899.  Some doubted whether he would be capable of withstanding a re-election campaign.  The spring and summer were spent quietly along the Jersey Shore in Long Branch with the exception of a few leisurely travels.  By late September 1899, his condition having not improved, Hobart was brought back to his Paterson home, Carroll Hall.[8]

After almost two months of battling his illness while at home, Vice President Garret Hobart died of congestive heart failure that was suspected to have been brought on by a rare virus.[9] His public viewing, which took place in the library of his beloved Paterson home, generated a traffic jam of visitors the city previously never experienced.  An estimated 200,000 people viewed the Vice President’s procession to the church prior to his burial in Paterson along the Passaic River at Cedar Lawn Cemetery.  Initially buried near his father-in-law, he was reinterred in 1902 within the same cemetery in a newly constructed mausoleum.[10]

Though Garret Hobart has been widely forgotten, he remains a central part of Paterson history.  A thorough examination of his time in office will undoubtedly demonstrate his lasting influences within the country and upon the role of Vice President.  He will always remain a notable politician in New Jersey history.  If he had survived to see McKinley’s second term, he would have become the first President from New Jersey upon McKinley’s death at the hand of an assassin in September 1901.

[1] The Patersonian (Sykesville, MD: Great Falls Publishing Company), 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael J. Connolly, “’I Make Politics My Recreation’: Vice President Garret A. Hobart and Nineteenth-Century Republican Business Politics,” New Jersey History 125, 22.

[4] Ibid., 25-26.

[5] Ibid., 27.

[6] The Patersonian, 14.

[7] Connolly, “’I Make Politics My Recreation’: Vice President Garret A. Hobart and Nineteenth-Century Republican Business Politics,” 33.

[8] Ibid., 33-34.

[9] The Patersonian, 32.

[10] Ibid., 33.

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2 Responses to New Jersey’s Most Famous Forgotten Politician

  1. Kelly says:

    Thank you for posting information on Garret Hobart! Will come much in handy for me.

  2. Very interesting information. I agree too many pieces of history seem to be lost in the state of New Jersey.

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