“Presidential Visits to New Jersey” – a new story by Peter Zablocki


New Jersey may have a reputation for being disrespectful – “Which exit are you from?” — a self-imposed part, sure, and a big deserved part, but never so hot it seems to keep presidential hopefuls and presidents away.

In fact, New Jersey—second only to Rhode Island in electoral votes per square mile—claims a significant—and impressive—presidential history, from Washington and the Revolution to Abraham Lincoln directly appealing to a state that rejected him. in the ballot. box, to Seven Presidents Park and President James Garfield dying in Elberon, to Woodrow Wilson becoming President, to Frank Hague helping to do FDR prez, to Kennedy campaigning for Richard J. Hughes at the War Memorial, to the 1980s fighting on brownfield-contaminated New Jersey, to Bush and Bill Clinton battling for critical electoral votes here, and to Obama and Hillary Clinton battling for a deadly primary election. These are just a few examples.

Many more are waiting for you in Presidential Visits to New Jersey: A History by Peter Zablocki which will be released on October 17. A historian, educator, and author of numerous books detailing New Jersey history, Zablocki features NJ’s elections, political events, and critical presidential moments.

“I think I was trying to convey respect for the position of the presidency,” the Denville author told InsiderNJ.

Originally from Poland, who came to the country 30 years ago, Zablocki said that during his formative years he found the country and its sense of unity in crisis uplifting. “Americans are patriotic and when they come together there is a lot of good. In a sense, the things that divide us today brought us together” – as the symbol of the presidency itself.

“I’ve written seven books now, and when I write a book, I write with my students in mind and with a message of hope,” said the author, an advanced high school history teacher. “It’s not much different. We can come together. Just because a person is flawed, there is hope after a person. Things change. There was a time when presidents had a certain quality taken away from them. , and with that came a certain reverence for office. The rise of social media has humanized these characters. It takes away from that symbol. We see them as people and not as a symbol. We’re even re-evaluating Thomas Jefferson. Because of what’s happened with social media, I think the office is diminished. These presidential figures are so ridiculed and so humanized that we now apply that to historical figures.”

Today, if a president doesn’t do what we want or agree with us, we take to Twitter with profanity and rage. “Technically speaking, a real leader doesn’t do everything the voters want him to do,” Zablocki said. “We live in a society where people confuse ‘I don’t agree with this’ with decision-making.”

Presidents visiting New Jersey drew huge crowds drawn in part by the symbolic idea of ​​the country embodied by an individual. It happened when 250,000 people showed up to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It was a great moment in the political history of New Jersey.

When President Joe Biden came to Manville in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, crowds gave him the middle finger and scoffed.

True, past presidents have drawn detractors, but Zablocki notes that media coverage of events has emphasized positive, collective nurturing.

For much of its history, New Jersey served the function of a shaky state, opting for Ike in the 1950s and then backing Kennedy; go for Reagan – then, with the election of Bill Clinton (above) in 1992, find its way as a reliable blue bastion.

Clinton, as Agent Tom Barrett always says, turned New Jersey into a blue state.

But first a battle ensued.

Zablocki chronicles this in his book.

“[President George Herbert Walker] Bush campaigned in New Jersey at the rate of once every ten days,” he said. “Clinton visited the state six times that year. He said in Jersey City, ‘New Jersey is the one that can turn off the lights of the Bush presidency.’

On the eve of the election, former Governor Tom Kean joined President Bush for a campaign stop at Madison Station.

Clinton won, and New Jersey, in a sense, has never looked back — at least not to this day.

In Presidential Visits, Zablocki delves into those intense campaign seasons in New Jersey, including 1992, and the Wilson-Taft-Roosevelt election of 1912, and the Clinton-Baraka Democratic primary of 2008. He also examines those occasions when the Presidents have logged on here, as Lyndon Baines Johnson did after the JFK murder.

“Believe it or not, Kennedy was somewhat overshadowed by LBJ in New Jersey,” Zablocki said. “He got in the airport limo [after the Kennedy assassination]. It was a show. New Jersey police called in snipers and they were hiding on buildings. Johnson (above) touched people, despite security’s pleas. His hands were so battered they were covered in bandages, a 6ft 4in figure towering over everyone as he worked through the crowd.

He had a campaign rally at the Paramus Mall and the papers said it wasn’t Beatlemania, it was Johnson-mania.

Johnson also chaired the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

Zablocki dwells on New Jersey’s seminal moment for Lincoln more than a hundred years before Johnson.

“Lincoln wins the [1860] election, but doesn’t win New Jersey, and right away after he wins the election, he wants to get them on his side,” the author said. “Knowing that war is inevitable and knowing that he is disliked for many reasons in New Jersey, he comes here. New Jersey businesses worked closely with the south. His initial position was that slavery was not to expand. When he stopped in Princeton, remember, a lot of people in Princeton were wealthy southerners, so there was a lot of sympathy for the south. When he arrives, he is considered a instigator and never convinces them.

But the moment is right.

There was also Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive president who approached New Jersey with affection and great care, Zablocki said.

Partly because of its importance to industry and shipping, Roosevelt (pictured below) also saw poverty and social inequality here and wanted to address it with policy. “He was kind of trying to make New Jersey a model state,” Zablocki said.

When campaigning for president in a field that included former New Jersey Governor Wilson, he tried to remind voters of that forged bond, but ultimately couldn’t get around Taft’s bid to beat Wilson. He beat Taft in New Jersey, but the fiery New Yorker couldn’t catch the former New Jersey governor.

“Wilson quietly snuck up on everyone,” Zablocki said.

But back to those darker presidential moments, like when Ronald Reagan helicoptered down a football field and walked into a school to talk to students about the dangers of drugs; or when former President Harry Truman came to Paramus to see his daughter in a play; or when Grover Cleveland – a native of New Jersey – stayed at the Denville Hotel.

This last nugget particularly delights Zablocki, who is vice-president of the Denville Historical Society.

“You almost feel special when a president comes to your town,” the author said. “How many other places have the presidents visited? When you think about that sight of 250,000 people showing up to see FDR, it’s surreal. They’re not there to throw tomatoes or stir up hatred.

They are there for respect.

Parked there by The Hague?

Some maybe or maybe many – but many more drawn as Americans.

Of course, we didn’t invent stupidity with our out-of-control Twitter feeds.

New Jersey poked fun at Lincoln’s lanky height when he arrived.

But when he left, he received a standing ovation in the state legislature.

“At some point, the respect given to the office went down, and it started happening around MTV generation,” Zablocki (pictured, right) said. “The newspapers mentioned those who were against the president in their coverage of the president in New Jersey. He never made headlines. Journalists didn’t make much of it. But by the time we get to 1992, you see, on the front page, a female student on someone’s shoulders with a big sign that says “Bush is lying,” with a Pinocchio nose on the president’s face. Also, at a Bush rally, you see people holding Clinton-Gore signs. Before that, even if it existed, it was not shown. The closer you got to the 90s, the more you entered the era of boxers or MTV briefs”, which turned into the era of Twitter.

“As to the symbolism of the presidency itself, our founding fathers never intended the president to be the head of state, the representative of all that is good or bad. Article 1 expressly states that Congress would decide; would decide what was right or wrong, and it was the president’s job to execute the laws made by Congress, to execute the will of the true representatives. At some point, there was a shift in American government where the presidency eclipsed Congress; a phenomenon in American history that begins in the 1820s with tensions between Congress and the so-called boss [Andrew] President Jackson, who becomes the face of the federal government.

Whatever those bumps in the presidential road are, perhaps no one in New Jersey has suffered them quite like Wilson — literally. “Towards the end of his presidential campaign in 1912 – it was the era of the Model T – Wilson’s driver was going from stop to stop and the Model T went over a bump. Governor Wilson hits his head against the roof and cracks his skull. The driver went from village to village in search of a doctor. The Governor ends up having his head sewn up and glued and shaved where he suffered the injury .

He went to his next campaign event, wearing a hat.

Mortally wounded in Baltimore, President James Garfield returned to Long Branch to die. He loved this place and was thirsty for the sea air. Pierce and Buchanan rode through Cape May along the Jersey Shore and went to balls at night; danced and felt the bustling oceanside friendliness of elegant America.

Ulysses S. Grant loved this place so much that he had a cottage built and worked in New Jersey, prompting newspapers to wonder where the President was as the nation crumbled again; the answer is the same in the case of the former Civil War hero, or elsewhere, “on the Jersey Shore.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: REMEMBER – Presidential Visits to New Jersey: A History by Peter Zablocki is released on October 17.

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