New Jersey’s legal system was plagued with injustices from the time the system was established through the mid-twentieth century. In Battleground New Jersey, historian and author of Boardwalk Empire, Nelson Johnson chronicles reforms to the system through the dramatic stories of Arthur T. Vanderbilt—the first chief justice of the state’s modern-era Supreme Court—and Frank Hague—legendary mayor of Jersey City. Two of the most powerful politicians in twentieth-century America, Vanderbilt and Hague clashed on matters of public policy and over the need to reform New Jersey’s antiquated and corrupt court system. Their battles made headlines and eventually led to legal reform, transforming New Jersey’s court system into one of the most highly regarded in America.
Vanderbilt’s power came through mastering the law, serving as dean of New York University Law School, preaching court reform as president of the American Bar Association, and organizing suburban voters before other politicians recognized their importance. Hague, a remarkably successful sixth-grade dropout, amassed his power by exploiting people’s foibles, crushing his rivals, accumulating a fortune through extortion, subverting the law, and taking care of business in his own backyard. They were different ethnically, culturally, and temperamentally, but they shared the goals of power.
Relying upon previously unexamined personal files of Vanderbilt, Johnson’s engaging chronicle reveals the hatred the lawyer had for the mayor and the lengths Vanderbilt went to in an effort to destroy Hague. Battleground New Jersey illustrates the difficulty in adapting government to a changing world, and the vital role of independent courts in American society.
About the Author
NELSON JOHNSON is best known for his award-winning New York Times bestseller, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, which inspired the HBO series, and most recently Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City.
"Breaking new ground, Nelson Johnson gives a colorful account of the relationship between Frank Hague and Arthur Vanderbilt, leading to the adoption of the 1947 N.J. Constitution. This is a good read and an important book for anyone interested in N.J. history."
— Governor Thomas H. Kean
"Nelson Johnson’s Battleground New Jersey takes a fresh look at the personal and political forces that brought the New Jersey Court system from a hodgepodge of ancient rules and 'Dickensian absurdity' to what ultimately became a judicial model envied throughout the country. The book is a compelling narrative that both illuminates and entertains."
— Hon. L. Anthony Gibson, J.S.C. (Ret.)
"Nelson Johnson’s new book is a must for anyone interested not only in two of the most important New Jersey political actors in 20th century New Jersey (including new information on Arthur Vanderbilt) but also in the formative political events in those years that still affect us today."
— Robert F. Williams
"Battleground New Jersey is an enjoyable romp through an important era about which most people know little. Nelson Johnson brings to life people and events for which we have, at best, a hazy image. His balanced presentation of the two principals, Arthur Vanderbilt and Frank Hague—conflicting in character as they are—is a reflection of his thorough research."
— Governor James J. Florio
"Johnson...disproves the theory that a book about the judiciary can't be crackling good."
— New York Law Journal