New Jersey has had a somewhat weak group of national politicians throughout its history with an obvious choice for the top. I suspect a lot of this is getting overshadowed by New York and Pennsylvania. That the Frelinghuysen family has dominated New Jersey politics from its early days, a family that has long aspired to mediocrity in office, has certainly not helped.
This list is so weak, I feel like I must have missed some people. But I don’t think so. If I have, I’m sure you all will let me know in comments.
1. Woodrow Wilson. A native of Virginia, but his political career was in New Jersey. Certainly one of the most important presidents in U.S. history, though one I also find pretty unlikable.
2. William Paterson. Key player in the Constitutional Convention, 2nd governor of New Jersey, early Supreme Court justice. Put the hammer down on the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion while a Justice.
3. George McClellan. We usually think of McClellan as a failed general, and indeed he was. But he was also the Democratic candidate for president in 1864 and later governor of New Jersey from 1878-81. His big post-war political ambition was to be Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of State, but he failed to get the position.
Paterson and McClellan are fairly lame 2 and 3 choices for the 3rd oldest state, but the other possibilities are also pretty underwhelming.
Frederick Frelinghuysen–Chester Arthur’s Secretary of State, senator, general Republican hack who helped decide the disputed 1876 election.
William Pennington–Governor of New Jersey in the 1830s and 40s, later elected to the House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House in 1860 and early 1861. He also once turned down the chance to be governor of Minnesota Territory. Pretty hot stuff.
John Griggs–Governor. William McKinley tapped him to be Attorney General in 1898, where he served until 1901.
Thomas Kean–Like many other long-time New Jersey politicians, solid and remarkably unspectacular. Governor of the state from 1982-90, most known for his service on the 9/11 Commission. That alone separates him from the pack of mediocrity known as New Jersey.
Bill Bradley–Senator from 1979-97. Launched a particularly lame campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2000. Mostly I found him to be an annoying blowhard. He seems like the kind of Democrat who would be on Fox News, but he seems to avoid the spotlight these days. Which I find in his favor.