Hague, Frank (1876–1956)

2012-07-09 10:24:33

Frank ‘‘Boss’’ Hague rose from the slums of Jersey City to become its mayor from 1917 to 1947. Hague was a controversial political force of the Democratic Party on the local, state and national level at the height of his power. He heralded progressivism, while maintaining iron-fisted control over the channels of the local political system. Hague lived lavishly on a meager public servant’s salary and was often accused of widespread corruption. It is widely believed that he made a fortune by taking a small percentage of the salaries of all appointed local workers and took kickbacks for the sale of land.

Hague created a political ‘‘machine’’ through a network of intensely loyal civil servants, many of whom did very little work for their city paychecks, rampant ‘‘get out the vote’’ efforts, election fraud, and intimidation of enemies to Hague or his cause. This system produced lopsided majorities for Hague or whoever he chose to back in the election (beneficiaries of the Hague machine included Franklin Delano Roosevelt).

Hague, who believed in tough law and order, often disregarded the civil liberties of those who did not share his positions or those who posed any threat to his dominance. His political foes would be physically beaten by the police or poll workers. Hague barred the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) union from using the city’s meeting halls since he considered them to be socialist. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this was an unconstitutional violation of their right to assemble under the Fourteenth Amendment in Hague v. CIO (1939). When students from Princeton University came to Jersey City on election day to monitor the polls, they were beaten and jailed, thwarting their attempts to ensure fairness and deter fraud. Hague’s response against the objections of those seeking the protection of their civil liberties by the law was his famous line, ‘‘I am the law.’’

Hague also embodied notions of the benevolent local government, as seen in the great improvements in sanitation and the building of a ‘‘state of the art’’ public hospital. The hospital offered free services to all city residents, although the program came at the expense of high taxes. Overall, Hague believed in an unrelenting law and order government and used the police department to further his goals. Frank Hague’s career in politics embodies the tension that exists between authoritarianism, which can be quite efficient in attaining certain social welfare accomplishments, and civil liberties, the hallmark of an open and democratic system.


References and Further Reading

  • McKean, Dayton David. The Boss: The Hague Machine in Action. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939)