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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

The level of political morality was no higher. Alexander McLean, historian of Jersey City, says that in the seventies a site was purchased for City Hall for `$320,000, or more than twice what the land was worth.' The city treasurer absconded with $87,000 worth of city bonds. Wooden pavements were laid at `exorbitant figures.... Nearly all of the cost went into bonds and became permanent debt. The wood soon rotted away, but the bonds are still sound and bear interest.' (History of Jersey City, New Jersey (1895), p. 85.)

Hudson County was ruled by a succession of bosses. In Frank Hague's boyhood the boss was William McAvoy; in the late eighties the boss was Robert Davis, followed by James Smith and James Nugent. The real force behind them was, as long as he lived, Edward F. C. Young, the local magnate, who controlled trolley companies, banks, and railroads. Great stories were told in the Horseshoe about the political prowess of these leaders, and about the victories they had won. The boys of the Horseshoe absorbed their political education just as unconsciously as they absorbed their religion; they looked up particularly to the leader of the Second Ward (which included the Horseshoe), Dennis McLaughlin. He owned tenements, not only in his own district but also in Hoboken, and he was the principal proprietor of the Guttenberg race-track in the northern end of the county. While their mothers gossiped on the stoops of the tenements, the boys' fathers spent their evenings in the forty saloons – each an informal political club – arguing, often physically, the issues of the times. Often after these arguments they had to be carried to Saint Francis' Hospital for appropriate treatment.


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