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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 1 - Early Days With Boss Davis
Part 2

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Frank Hague was born January 17, 1876 in the “Horseshoe” section of Jersey City. One of the poorest sections of the city, the ‘Show was the result of a Republican gerrymander in 1871, an attempt by Reconstruction Republicans to isolate most of the Democrats into a politically insignificant sector. 2 With the resurgence of the Democrats in the late nineteenth century, the ‘Shoe became known as the “Gibraltar of Democracy.” In this section, Hague grew up. His formal education was not extensive, as he was expelled from the sixth grade at the age of fourteen. In his late teens, he worked briefly in an Erie Railroad shop, but he disliked the idea of physical labor and soon quit. 3 Undoubtedly, the example of the type of life his father led spurred him to avoid the drudgery of life in a union suit. John Hague, natively Irish, had worked first as a blacksmith and later as a guard at a bank. Young Hague frequented a local gymnasium and briefly managed a professional prizefighter, all the while absorbing the local political lore.4 What little money he accumulated was quickly spent of fine clothing; the sight of young Hague dressed in a white shirt and suit on even the hottest days must have impressed many of his future constituents. Hague’s interest in politics was obvious. Hew won election to his first political office shortly after his twenty-first birthday.

Two years before he was elected constable, nascent reformers thought that machine politics in Jersey City was on the way out. The Republicans had swept the city elections (all but the second ward, where Hague lived), something they had not done for years. The Jersey Journal, and ardent opponent of “machine rule,” crowed in its hour of triumph: “Ring rule in Jersey City is a thing of the past. Clean government has come to stay. The day of the bosses is over.” 5

Two years later, however, the Jersey Journal and reform minded groups had less cause for optimism. In the election year of 1896 when the Republicans swept William McKinley into office over William Jennings Bryan, the Democrats won the city elections. Robert Davis, the so-called “boss” of the Democrats, was still very much in evidence. Frank Hague had been elected constable in the spring of 1896 in a special election of constables and members of the Street and Water Board. Although Hague’s name had been placed in nomination by one of Davis’s rivals in the second ward, Nat Kenny, Hague still managed to defeat his Republican opponent 1,571 to 560.6

As constable elect, Hague quickly went to work for the party. In the general election in November, Davis was very interested in municipal results. McKinley carried the city by 8,500 votes over Bryan, and the Republicans won nine out of twelve freeholder seats. However, Davis’s candidate for Sheriff, William Heller, won even though he carried only five out of twelve wards. In the second ward, he gained a 2,243 to 840 edge over his opponent. Likewise, Davis’s candidate for County Surrogate carried the second ward by nearly a three to one margin and just barely edged his Republican opponent. Both would have lost without their big majorities in the second ward. Finally, one of the three Democratic victors in the freeholder race was from the second ward.7 Davis could not help but notice young and enthusiastic Frank Hague, who was willing to work round the clock to further the goals of the party.

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