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Frank Hague

Frank Hague

The American political leader Frank Hague (1876-1956), mayor of Jersey City, N.J., for three decades, was one of the major city bosses in the 20th century.

Frank Hague was born on Jan. 17, 1876, in Jersey City, N.J. At 16, after little schooling, he went to work. In 1896 he was picked by one of the Democratic district leaders to run for constable, given $80, and told to "use your head." Young Hague was elected and began his lengthy career in municipal politics.

Following his stint as constable, Hague held various other local offices. During those years he started to build his Democratic machine (an organization controlling politicians, patronage, and votes), which would later make him the most powerful man in the state. In 1917 he was elected mayor of Jersey City and went on to serve eight terms in office.

Hague's influence soon spread beyond the city. He controlled patronage in New Jersey and often had close ties with the state government. By 1922 he was elected a Democratic national committeeman and was a major figure in the party during the next 2 decades.

Hague's mayoralty brought much criticism, although by dispensing favors and courting the voters he remained enormously popular with his constituents. He kept a firm grip on his organization, and few doubted his words, uttered in a 1937 address, that "I am the law in Jersey City." David Dayton McKean alleged in The Boss (1940) that Hague stayed in power by methods that included controlling newspapers, intimidating opponents, engaging in wiretapping, and making false arrests to silence his critics.

As mayor, Hague built a $1.8 million maternity hospital and the Jersey City Medical Center, which cost $16 million. The medical center was the largest hospital in any city of comparable size and provided treatment at nominal fees. At the same time, however, Jersey City was the highest-taxed American municipality and had the biggest bonded debt of any large city in the United States.

Deciding not to seek another term as mayor in 1947, Hague picked his nephew to succeed him. Although the nephew won, he was defeated 2 years later. Hague suffered another blow in 1952, when the New Jersey State Democratic Organization refused to retain him as a Democratic national committeeman.

After Hague left office, his nephew and a former deputy mayor were named defendants in a $15 million suit brought by the city administration on behalf of city employees who allegedly had been required to kick back 3 percent of their annual salaries to the Hague machine during the 1917-1949 period. Hague sought to block the action, and the suit ultimately was dismissed. He died in New York on Jan. 1, 1956.

Further Reading

The only work on Hague is David Dayton McKean, The Boss:The Hague Machine in Action (1940), a highly critical account of the mayor's political tactics. Ralph G. Martin, The Bosses (1964), includes a popularly written account of Hague's whole career. Duane Lockard, The New Jersey Governor:A Study in Political Power (1964), deals with Hague's relationship with the governors of New Jersey. □

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Hague, Frank

Frank Hague (hāg), 1876–1956, American politician, mayor of Jersey City, N.J., b. Jersey City. He worked his way up through the ranks of the local Democratic machine and was elected (1913) to the city board of commissioners. As mayor of Jersey City (1917–47), Hague built one of the strongest urban political machines in the nation. After his election to the Democratic National Committee in 1922, he was the most powerful Democrat in the state and a force to be reckoned with at national conventions. Accused of corruption and large-scale intimidation of municipal employees, Hague was a controversial figure. He lost much of his power in the 1949 elections, when his nephew, Frank Hague Eggers, was defeated in the mayoralty race; and in 1952 the state Democratic organization ousted him from his post as national committeeman.

See biography by R. J. Connors (1971); study by D. D. McKean (1940, repr. 1967).

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Hague, Frank

HAGUE, FRANK

Of all the bosses who ruled their machines during the 1930s, none exerted greater power or held it longer than Mayor Frank Hague (January 17, 1876–January 1, 1956) of Jersey City, New Jersey. Hague's influence not only made him the most powerful Democrat in his state, it helped nominate Franklin D. Roosevelt and delivered New Jersey's electoral vote to Roosevelt in all four presidential elections in which Roosevelt ran. Critics condemned Hague as the "Hitler of Hudson County," where he was also accurately called "the law."

Hague's career began in a Jersey City slum known as the Horseshoe, where he was born to Catholic parents. Juvenile delinquency, tempered by an occasional appearance at Sunday Mass, characterized his childhood. A sixth-grade dropout, Hague learned the political game from local Democratic bosses and became mayor in 1917. Thirty years would pass before he relinquished power.

During the Depression, Hague's machine cared for the poor, built social clubs for the middle class, and gave tax breaks to the rich and money to all religions, especially the Catholic Church. People loved and feared the dapper mayor. In 1932 he dropped his support for Al Smith and delivered New Jersey to Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first of four consecutive presidential elections.

In turn, the New Deal funneled massive amounts of patronage and money, as well as numerous projects, through Hague's organization. Choosing to ignore the machine's scandals, Roosevelt allowed the Jersey boss to add hundreds of thousands of federal jobs and millions of dollars to the power that the machine already wielded throughout the state. The Public Works Administration (PWA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) enabled the mayor to exert national influence and near total control over New Jersey. The machine coerced 115,000 CWA and WPA employees to support its candidates. As a result, Hague manipulated governors, senators, and congressmen because he could (sometimes illegally) produce huge election-day majorities.

Roosevelt wanted to prosecute the machine's criminals, but he also wanted to provide Depression relief and New Jersey's electoral vote, both of which the mayor controlled. This reality proved crucial to Roosevelt's election to an unprecedented third term in 1940. Thanks to 173,000 ballots produced by the mayor in Hudson County, Roosevelt overcame Wendell Willkie's lead of 101,500 and won the state's electoral vote by a plurality of 71,500. Although most of the ballots were legal, critics complained of extensive fraud.

The New Deal's Department of Justice did not investigate Republican complaints because Roosevelt appreciated the electoral and legislative support rendered by the machine and its senators and representatives. For these and other reasons, Roosevelt never got around to ousting the totalitarian mayor who outlasted him by two years before voluntarily retiring in 1947. When Frank Hague died on New Year's Day, 1956, obituary writers noted that his rule constituted perhaps the most exceptional exhibition of power wielded by any city leader in American history.

See Also: ELECTION OF 1932.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Childs, Marquis. "Dictator—American Style." Readers Digest 33 (1938).

Conners, R. J. "The Local Political Career of Mayor Frank Hague." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1966.

Dorsett, Lyle W. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the City Bosses. 1977.

McKean, Dayton D. The Boss: The Hague Machine in Action. 1940.

Steinberg, Alfred. The Bosses. 1972.

J. Christopher Schnell

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