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--Origins and 1776 Constitution
New Jersey's first constitution, hurriedly adopted in July 1776 as British armies marched through the former colony, reflected the political tensions which had led to the Revolution. The antagonism toward the role of the Royal governor which had resulted in the arrest of Governor William Franklin was illustrated by the relatively weak powers given to the chief executive of the new state, restricted to annual election by the legislature without any veto of legislation and scant budgetary, appointment or management authority.
Yet the advantages of a single decision-maker, particularly during wartime when the legislature faced severe logistical barriers and security risks to meeting as a body, soon became apparent. William Livingston, the state's first governor, demonstrated the ability to act decisively during the War as leader of the state's militia and in peacetime as a manager of the state's resources, resulting in the legislature's re-electing him as governor for successive single-year terms until he died in office in 1790.
Following Livingston's death, New Jersey saw the emergence of political parties. In the election of 1800, the leaders of the state Democratic-Republican Party identified with Thomas Jefferson met in Princeton to nominate a slate of candidates running for Congress, winning that election and, with the exception of 1812, winning succeeding federal and state elections through 1820. Their principal opposition, the Federalists, were relegated to control of some counties and towns, with the Party largely dissolving after 1815 and the Democratic-Republicans retaining power through the "Era of Good Feelings" under President James Monroe's two terms in office ending in 1825.
--"State of the Camden & Amboy"
In the 1830s, the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans gradually ceded power to what evolved as the Jacksonian Democrats, the party which was based on the populist policies advanced by Andrew Jackson. But in contrast to the national party's populist roots, the New Jersey Democrats increasingly became allied with the interests of the transportation monopoly that funded much of the state government's modest needs.
In 1830, the New Jersey legislature granted a charter to the Camden and Amboy Rail Road and Transportation Company--the first railroad in New Jersey and the third in the nation. In the following year, the legislature also approved the partial merger of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company, a canal providing a bulk freight corridor between Philadelphia and New York, into the Camden & Amboy to form what was called the Joint Companies. In return for the benefits given to the company, which included the power to prevent construction of any competing railroad on its route, the state government received shares of stock and revenue from transit duties on each passenger and ton of freight, with the tax revenue alone accounting for as much as a fifth of the state government's total annual income.
In 1844, New Jersey adopted a new state constitution, which marginally strengthened the political position of the governor, making elections by popular vote rather than by the legislature; increasing the term to three years from a single year; and for the first time providing a limited veto over passed bills.
Into the 1870s, the Joint Companies held an effective monopoly over passenger and freight service in the heavily traveled corridor across New Jersey, using its power to charge excessive rates on passengers and shippers, many of whom were located outside New Jersey. In the absence of competition, the railroad also failed to invest in safety improvements, contributing to a series of accidents resulting in deaths and injuries.
In reaction to the influence of the Joint Companies, enhanced by its covert contributions to state and local politicians, New Jersey became known as the "State of the Camden & Amboy." The chief strategist in creating and defending the monopoly was Robert F. "the Commodore" Stockton, a prominent naval officer who served in the US Senate before resigning to head the Joint Companies, and was reported to boast that “he carried the State in his breeches pocket, and meant to keep it there.” The control was further enhanced by shrewd alliances; as its lawyer, the Joint Companies hired Isaac Williamson, who had been elected governor to successive one-year terms from 1817 to 1829 and later served as mayor of Elizabeth.
In the 1850s, New Jersey's politics increasingly became dominated by the national debate over slavery which would lead to the Civil War. The state had developed significant commercial ties to the south: New Jersey textile and leather factories bought cotton and hides from Southern states to produce finished goods and Cape May had become a thriving resort catering to large numbers of wealthy Southerners seeking respite from the summer heat at home.
The split in the state was reflected in the 1860 election, when New Jersey elected four electors pledged to Abraham Lincoln and three to his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas, becoming the only Northern state not to cast all its electoral votes for Lincoln. In 1862, the Democrats regained the governorship. Even after the Union victory at Gettysburg in July 1863, many state "peace Democrats" were urging the North to make peace with the Confederacy. Draft calls were vigorously opposed in 1863, yet the state sent its full quota of troops into service throughout the conflict and its factories became a major supplier of munitions and other equipment for the Union army.
But in 1864 New Jersey again was the only northern state not to fully support Lincoln, voting for the Democratic candidate, former General George McClellan (who later would be elected as the state's governor in 1877). At war's end, political leaders stubbornly opposed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, and blacks were not permitted to vote in the state until 1870.
* William Gillette, Jersey Blue: Civil War Politics in New Jersey 1854-1865
--Woodrow Wilson and Reform
Voter backlash to the corruption was a major factor to the election as governor in 1910 of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton University president and political scientist. Although Wilson's own nomination was largely secured through the influence of Democratic political bosses, after his inauguration he succeeded in enacting laws mandating direct party primaries for all elected officials in the state and requiring all candidates to file campaign financial statements, limit campaign expenditures, and outlaw corporate contributions to political campaigns. Soon after he took office, Wilson also directed the state attorney general and the assignment of a special judge to investigate, prosecute and try the leaders of the Atlantic County Republican machine (which had reported election returns in 1910 for Wilson's opponent which in some cases far exceeded the number of registered voters), an action which ultimately led to a conviction and one-year prison term for Louis Kuehnle, the county party's leader.
-- Trends in party support
Following World War II, New Jersey was a Republican-leaning swing state in presidential elections. From the 1948 presidential election to the 1988 presidential election, Republican candidates won 9 out of 11 times; John F. Kennedy won New Jersey in 1960 by 22,000 votes, and Lyndon B. Johnson won New Jersey in 1964 as a part of his landslide victory. Although New Jersey had several highly populated Democrat-dominated urban areas like Camden, Newark, and Jersey City, the state was also becoming home to many suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia. Voters in suburban New Jersey were overwhelmingly white, and were more likely to vote Republican.
-- The income tax
Perhaps the most divisive political issue in the state's modern history was confronted in 1976 when the state enacted an income tax. Both Democratic Governor Richard Hughes and Republican Governor William Cahill had proposed income taxes, but had failed to secure passage in the legislature. After the election in 1973 of Democrat Brendan Byrne, the measure only was approved after the state Supreme Court had ordered public schools closed until the state substantially increased aid for urban school districts. Despite predictions that his advocacy of the tax would end his political career, Governor Byrne was able to win re-election, aided by the split of votes in the primary election among his several challengers and the failure of the Republicans to develop a persuasive alternative plan.
-- Urban-suburban conflicts
The battle over the income tax also reflected the growing political, economic and racial divide between the state's older cities--traditional Democratic bases--and its more Republican suburbs. The decline of the state's cities was most dramatically illustrated in the urban riots of the 1960s, with the 1967 riots in Newark attracting global attention as National Guard troops occupied the city. While school funding was the primary forum for the conflict, there would be continuing struggles over the allocation of resources in such areas as transportation, housing, health care and social services.
-- Republican internal divisions
The Republican Party in New Jersey continues to be divided between its more conservative wing, which often includes more activist members who represent relatively high proportions of voters in primary elections nominating party candidates, and more moderate voters who tend to have views supporting candidates more compatible with the state's independent voters and more conservative Democrats.
From 1943 to 1979, New Jersey was represented in the US Senate by a Democrat and a Republican. The national shift of the Republican Party toward more conservative policies, as illustrated by the nomination and election of Ronald Reagan in 1978, also divided Republicans within the state, which traditionally had preferred candidates with moderate or liberal positions. In the same year as Reagan's election, the divisions between the conservative and more moderate factions of the Republican Party led to the primary election defeat of incumbent US Senator Clifford Case by Jeffrey Bell, a conservative protege of Ronald Reagan who was soundly defeated in the general election by Bill Bradley. In the 1990s, somewhat influenced by national trends, New Jersey politics also became more partisan, particularly after the Republicans took majority control of both houses of the Legislature in the 1991 election in the backlash to the tax program enacted by Governor Florio.
Nationally, however, New Jersey swung consistently Democratic. Beginning in 1992, when Bill Clinton won a plurality of New Jersey's popular vote in in the election in which Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate dividing support for President George H.W. Bush's re-election, New Jersey has voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election. In 1996, President Clinton became the first Democrat in 32 years to win a majority of New Jersey's popular vote, and in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections New Jersey has been considered so strongly Democratic that the national GOP has not seriously contested the state. .
In the 2001 gubernatorial election won by Democrat Jim McGreevey, Republican conservatives also were able to nominate Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler over Bob Franks, the moderate former congressman who had the support of most of the party's leaders, but Schundler was easily defeated in the general election.
In addition to the internal divisions within the Republican Party, more recent demographic changes have also tended to skew toward Democrats as minorities, traditionally with higher percentages of Democratic voters, increase their share of the electorate. According to the US Census Bureau, from 2010 through 2013, New Jersey's Asian population rose the most--by 9.5%, to about 802,000; followed by multiracial residents (up 9.1% to 125,067) and Hispanics (up 8.3% to nearly 1.7 million). New Jersey's black population grew 1% to 1.1 million.