Never, never cross Frank Hague


Fighting between Democrats is part of New Jersey political history.

In 1916, a young rising star of Jersey City politics, Frank Hague, traveled to St. Louis to witness Woodrow Wilson’s nomination to the Democratic National Convention.

The President of the Democratic state at the time was James “Big Boss” Nugent, who had served as Democratic President of Essex County from 1903 to 1925 and had helped recruit Wilson, then President of Princeton University, to join. run for governor.

Because Hague was not a delegate, Nugent refused to allow him to be on convention floor.

From that moment on, Hague made it his mission to eliminate Nugent.

Hague was elected mayor of Jersey City the following year.

In 1919, Hague controlled the democratic machine in Hudson County and decided to lead an ally, State Senator Edward Edwards, for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Nugent decided to run for governor himself in 1919. Edwards beat him in the Democratic primary by a 56-44 percent margin. He won the general election that year.

Democratic National Committee member Robert Hudspeth, an ally of Nugent, was convinced to retire early and Hague took his seat.

When Democrats from New Jersey traveled to San Francisco to attend the Democratic National Convention in 1920, Hague had his own private wagon that left Exchange Place. The train picked up Nugent and other delegates to Newark, Trenton and Philadelphia before heading to the West Coast.

When the convention met eight days later, The Hague was seated in the front row.

The Hague spent thirty years as mayor, leading perhaps the strongest political organization in the history of the state. When the Democrats won the governorship, it was thanks to the might of the Hague machine. When they lost, it was often because the Republican candidate had pledged to reduce The Hague’s influence.

Nugent’s power as county chief was drastically curtailed after he refused to let The Hague participate in the convention.

The Hague asked the State Senate to confirm Nugent’s appointment as Essex County District Attorney, torpedoed his candidacy for an influential place on a committee at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, and played a role major in Nugent’s defeat as a member of the Newark City Commission. This blunted Nugent’s plans to become mayor and cost him the county presidency.

This story first appeared on December 22, 2018.

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