Garret Hobart was a lawyer, banker, and New Jersey state legislator before he became vice president of the United States under President William McKinley. Hobart was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, the son of a schoolteacher-father, who himself was from a long line of New England clergymen. Young Hobart attended the local common school, where his father taught, and then matriculated at a boarding school. He entered Rutgers College (today, Rutgers University) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he graduated first in the class of 1863. Instead of joining the Union Army, he read law in the office of his father’s friend, Socrates Tuttle, in Paterson, New Jersey. Hobart passed the state bar in 1866, and three years later became Tuttle’s law partner and married his daughter, Jennie. The couple had a son and a daughter.
Under the influence of the Tuttles, Hobart left the Democratic Party and became a Republican. In 1868, he won election as a municipal judge in Paterson, and three years later was appointed city counsel by his father-in-law, who was then serving as mayor. In 1872, he was elected to the first of three consecutive terms in the state legislature (1872-1876), becoming speaker of the house in 1874. Two years later, he was elected to the first of two consecutive terms in the state senate (1876-1882), serving as senate president in 1881-1882. He was the first politician in New Jersey history to hold the offices of both house speaker and senate president. Despite Hobart’s leadership role, the state legislature declined opportunities to send him to the U.S. Senate, perhaps because he preferred his comfortable life in Paterson. Hobart had become wealthy as a lawyer to banks and railroad companies, and served as an officer or board member for 60 corporations. He was a longtime member of the New Jersey Republican Committee (1880-1891) and the National Republican Committee (1883-1896).
In the late-nineteenth century, New Jersey was primarily a Democratic state, but the onset of a national economic depression during the second administration of President Grover Cleveland (1893-1897), a Democrat, weakened the party’s standing with voters. In 1895, Hobart managed the Republican campaign in New Jersey, resulting in his party’s capture of both houses of the state legislature and the governorship. The sweeping Republican victory in a key Democratic state also brought Hobart to the attention of his party’s national leadership. The next year at the 1896 Republican National Convention, William McKinley of Ohio won a first-ballot nomination for president by a commanding margin over House Speaker Thomas B. Reed, who then declined the vice-presidential nod. McKinley and his campaign manager, Mark Hanna, turned next to Hobart, whose selection was ratified by the delegates.
Although a relative unknown who had held no national office, Hobart’s solid business credentials, strong support of the gold standard, record of successful campaign management, and eastern residence (which geographically balanced the ticket) earned him the position. While he only campaigned from his front porch (in the traditional style), Hobart performed as a skillful fundraiser among businessmen nervous about the economic policies promoted by the Democratic presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. In November 1896, the McKinley-Hobart ticket was elected with 271 electoral votes from 23 states, including Hobart’s New Jersey in the Republican column for the first time since 1872.
In Washington, the Hobarts entertained public officials often at their new home, and Jennie Hobart acted frequently as White House hostess in place of the ailing Ida McKinley. The couples quickly became good friends and vacationed together on occasion. McKinley, who had once declared bankruptcy, even trusted Hobart to invest for him a portion of his monthly presidential salary. In contrast to most vice presidents of the period, Hobart became a policy advisor to the president and a valued member of the administration. As president of the Senate, Hobart quietly lobbied congressman to support the president’s plan for military intervention in Cuba (Spanish-American War of 1898), and furthered administration policy by casting a tie-breaking vote in February 1899 against independence for the Philippines (acquired from Spain after the war).
In early 1899, Hobart began to suffer from fainting spells caused by heart disease, so he returned to New Jersey in an attempt to recover his health. There, he performed a final service to the president by convincing the controversial secretary of war, Russell Alger, who was embroiled in the “embalmed beef” scandal, to resign. Hobart’s health continued to decline until he suffered a fatal heart attack on November 21, 1899. At the Hobart residence, President McKinley told the grieving family, “No one outside of this home feels this loss more deeply than I do.” Hobart’s death left the vice presidency vacant until the swearing in of Theodore Roosevelt in March 1901. Less than a year later, Vice President Roosevelt assumed the presidency upon the assassination of President McKinley.
Sources consulted: Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress (online); American National Biography; Mark O. Hatfield, with the Senate Historical Office, Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993 (Washington: U.S. government Printing Office, 1997), pp. 289-293; William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; and, Harper’s Weekly.