New Jersey: Political Struggles and a New Constitution

Political Struggles and a New Constitution

By 1865 the pattern of the state's development was molded. Population and industry showed rapid and steady growth. Large economic interests grasped control of political power, giving rise to sporadic but unsustained popular movements for reform. The Camden and Amboy RR was transferred by lease to the Pennsylvania RR in 1871, and its monopolistic power was lessened by legislation opening the state to all rail lines and by the assessment and taxation of railroad properties.

After the 1870s easy incorporation laws and low corporation tax rates attracted new trusts to incorporate through “dummy” offices in the state. There was much liberal sentiment against the power of “big business.” A general reform movement sponsored by Woodrow Wilson when he was governor (1910–12) resulted in such legislation as the direct primary, a corrupt practices act, and the “Seven Sisters” acts for the regulation of trusts (later repealed).

The state voted predominantly Democratic from the Civil War until 1896. Since that time it has frequently voted Republican in national elections, and in state politics it has often divided power between Democratic governors and Republican legislatures. The powerful political machine of Frank Hague, centered in Jersey City, wielded great influence in the Democratic party from 1913 until 1949, when it was defeated by insurgents within its ranks.

In 1947 a new constitution was framed and accepted to replace the antiquated constitution of 1844. The liberal Bill of Rights was preserved and extended, governmental departments were streamlined, the cumbersome court system was simplified, the executive power was strengthened, and labor's right to organize and bargain collectively was recognized. In 1966 another convention was called to rewrite those portions of the 1947 constitution invalidated by application of the U.S. Supreme Court's “one man, one vote” rule to state legislatures. The convention drafted sweeping revisions, which were approved by the electorate in Nov., 1966.

The Democrats held the governor's seat from the mid-'50s until 1970 during the terms of Robert B. Meyner (1954-1962) and Richard J. Hughes (1962-1970), who instituted the state's first sales tax and was the only governor to date to also serve as Chief Justice of the state's Supreme Court (1973-1980).

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