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The Early Career of Mayor Frank Hague

Chapter 3- Hague Fights the County Machine
Part 1

By Mark S. Foster

Copyright 1967

Web version, edited by GET NJ.
Copyright 2002

Strongly emphasized in the introduction was the idea that Frank Hague finally achieved power primarily as a result of molding himself to fit the progressive image. It was also mentioned that Hague closely patterned himself after Woodrow Wilson, who achieved rapid success through the promises of New Freedom. What makes Hague’s shift all the more striking is that in the two years preceding his conversion in 1912, Hague’s name was connected with several unsavory affairs. In order to understand this transition, one must set it against the backdrop of contemporary politics.

Woodrow Wilson’s gubernatorial nomination in 1910 proved to be the first step in the rift between Hague and Wittpenn. Neither man anticipated this at the time. Failure to win the gubernatorial nomination had been a bitter personal defeat for Wittpenn. In fact, the Jersey Journal, jumping to a hasty conclusion once again, commented that “this election proves that as an active politician his days are over.” 1 The next day, it added: “The mayor has been a constant failure as a politician.”2 One of the big reasons for his failure to win the nomination was that Davis threw his support to Wilson. This angered Wittpenn. Largely as a result, rumblings were soon heard that Wittpenn would refuse to work for the regularly nominated Democratic candidates in the general election in November. Wittpenn voice his anger:

Davis has seen fit to ignore us. We may show him that the independent Democrats are a power in Hudson and that he made the mistake of his life when he tried to imagine we are no longer on the map. We’ll know next week about a third ticket.3

Hague apparently saw this as his cue. He announced four days later that he would support a third ticket, adding, “this is no bluff…I’m a fighter. I am no quitter.”4 However, as Hague grew more belligerent, Wittpenn’s initial ire cooled. Second thoughts told him that he would have little support from local Democrats for a third term as mayor if he failed to support the regularly nominated ticket in the fall elections. He therefore deserted Hague by not following up in support of the third ticket.

Although stymied in this endeavor, things soon took a turn for the better for Hague. In January 1911, the Democracy in Hudson County was thrown into a turmoil by the sudden death of Robert Davis. Wittpenn had recently lost influence by his failure to win the gubernatorial nomination. Since there was no heir apparent, the fight for county leadership was thrown open. From 1911 until Hague became mayor in 1917, county Democrats experienced scarcely a day of peace and harmony within the party.

Of immediate interest to Hague was the fact that Davis’ death vacated the city collectorship, along with the attractive salary of $5,000 per year. Rumors circulated that he was under serious consideration for the job. No doubt Hague felt it his just due for having recently supported Wittpenn for the gubernatorial nomination. Wittpenn realized that in order to promote party harmony, the job should be given to a representative of the Davis faction. Therefore, Hague did not get the job.

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