Our first progressive Governor Woodrow Wilson whom Murphy should heed

Bumped from the weekend. – by Rosi

After serving as President of Princeton University, and then campaigning for the governorship, Wilson quickly shed his professorial style for more emboldened speechmaking, and presented himself as a full-fledged progressive. As governor (1911-1913) he was at once the architect of a lot of modern liberalism, but with the stain of racism as a blot to his record. He exuded optimism, successfully fought political bosses, and rapidly achieved progressive victories. Murphy would do well to heed former Governor Wilson.

In an interview with the NYTimes in October 1910 as candidate for governor, the emerging reformer Wilson said he saw hope in an awakening public because it showed that people were unwilling to stand for corruption any longer. Asked if he was not discouraged by NJ graft, he said, “No. I am an optimist.” This optimism is something that Murphy would do well to continue during his tenure.

Democrats were saying at that time that if he wins in “Mosquito Land [ie. NJ] he will be good timber for nomination as President.” In a humorous NYT article a few weeks later a dodgy character proclaims, ‘This Wilson Prof may make some mischief for National Politics if he is not squelched  at once. He is full of dangerous dynamite.”

Well Wilson was not squelched at once. His opportunity came in the summer of 1910 when Colonel George Harvey and James Smith, Jr.– two of the most powerful men in New Jersey – proposed that Wilson run for state governor. With their support and his own power of oration he won the gubernatorial office with the largest majority vote for a Democrat up to that time. Critics denounced him as a hypocrite because of his machine-backed campaign, rather similar to that of Murphy’s campaign, but once in office he stood up to the bosses and weakened the machine. Murphy would do well to follow former Governor Wilson.

In the gubernatorial race he defeated his Republican opponent although Republican William Howard Taft had carried New Jersey in the 1908 presidential election by more than 82,000 votes. Historian Edmund Morris called Wilson in the Governor’s race a “dark horse.” Wilson attributed his and others’ success against the Taft Republicans in part to the emergent national progressive message enunciated by Theodore Roosevelt after his presidency.

Aligned with the progressive forces, Wilson upon his inauguration maintained such heavy pressure on the legislature that he won enactment of most of his program in one session. He implemented direct primaries; effective state regulations of public utilities; workmen’s compensation; municipal reform; and reorganization of the school system. In early 1913 he won the last of his important demands – antitrust legislation to drive industrial monopolies from New Jersey. Murphy might do well striking forcefully in his first year when he can easily claim a mandate.

Born in Staunton, Virginia, Wilson spent his early years in Georgia and South Carolina. His father was a leading Presbyterian in the Confederacy during the Civil War, and Wilson was always a devout Presbyterian and a proud Southerner. As governor his administration included no blacks. Can we judge early 20th century behavior by 21st century standards? Yes, but we should also celebrate Wilson for his many progressive achievements.

As predicted back in 1910 Wilson ran for and won the Presidency, serving for two terms from 1913 to 1921. He developed a program of progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. He maneuvered through Congress lower tariffs, a graduated Federal Income Tax, the Federal Reserve, prohibition of child labor, and limiting railroad workers to 8 hours a day.  He supported a 19th constitutional amendment giving women suffrage. He was the first to propose the League of Nations (a forerunner of the United Nations) but left office never having convinced the United States to join it.  He was our only president who ever earned a Ph.D.and one of the last to pen his own speeches.

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean tweeted recently that Murphy “could be our next president.” Regardless of whether such fate awaits Phil Murphy, Woodrow Wilson so far remains NJ’s only governor to assume that title. More importantly he was the first governor to bring progressive leadership to our state.


  • A. Scott Berg: Wilson – a result of more than a decade of research and writing.
  • John Milton Cooper: Woodrow Wilson: A Biography – a 2010 Pulitzer Finalist in the Biography category.
  • August Heckscher: Woodrow Wilson: A Biography –  maybe the best of his biographies.

Leading up to the inauguration of Governor Phil Murphy this series of articles provides a look back at past progressive NJ governors: Go here for Gov. Brendan Byrne,  here for Gov. Jim Florio,  and here for Gov. Jon Corzine.

Comments (8)

  1. anthony

    Murphy needs to get rid of a george Norcross and Stephen sweeney. This will win a popularity contest for him among the people.

    Norcross frauds the election because nobody is making that bastard accountable. Norcross is uneducated never finished high school and either did Sweeney

    make the people love you by getting indictments in Norcross, Sweeney, Christie and trump

    Norcross and sweeney need to be exposed and shut down. Christie became hated once people found out he was in with Norcross and sweeney.

  2. Joe

    I am no fan of George Norcross in the least. Yes, he should be exposed but according to everpediadotorg: quote – “Norcross graduated from Pennsauken High School and briefly attended Rutgers University-Camden.” end quote.

  3. anthony

    according to his report card he flunked out of school Hos father paid for a diploma because his son was a terror in school. Norcross was a bully and disrespectful to teachers and his superiors

    He was always running some ponzu scheme in school
    His grades were real shit. He was dumb as a door knob
    only thing he was good at was lying and deceiving

    slick as snake with a temper and hidden secret agenda
    His dad paid pennsauken for his diploma and paid to get the dirty bastard in camden county. Norcross claims it was rutgers but that’s a bold face lie. This dummy could even stay for a week. he belonged back in grade school with his drop out fried Stupid sweeney who never saw
    a high school classroom. if it wasn’t for norcross’s daddy, he be either in jail or dead.

    1. anthony

      Norcross paid to have his life look good online.

      He’s a troublemaker and a high school drop out with a paid diploma

      he can’t focus on being educated because he too busy plotting evil things on good people

      he’s a lying piece of shit and the Anti-Christ 666

  4. Bill Orr (Post author)

    Anthony I too dislike party bosses. You, however, are over the top in your insults and nasty personal comments. You are welcome to disagree with individuals but not to call them bastards and not to make ugly claims against them that you can not substantiate.

  5. Rosi Efthim

    Anthony, I’m cosigning post author Bill’s comment to you above.

    Anybody who’s spent any time reading Blue Jersey over our 12 years knows we think bossism leads to bad government and a failed party. And I have some sympathy for your personal feelings toward Norcross. But we’d much prefer you steer your comments toward behavior, and problematic issues that Norcross’s hold on New Jersey politics creates, less your personal accusations. – Rosi (editor)

  6. anthony

    Norcross is good at attacking innocent people and discrediting them all over his paid off media sites that he has his trolls SEO and his corrupt law enforcement. We are so onto his game. Unfortunately people keep finding excuses for this corrupt clown who should be in jail
    New Jersey is Fed Up with Norcross and his crooked crew. What they’ve done to so many innocent people is unforgivable. Its pure evil and Norcross is evil. He needs to be exposed to the world for his acts of evil. He doesn’t not need to be protected any longer. He’s caused ALOT of damage. He’s a Snake

  7. anthony

    We are facing “ A Wall of Abusive Political Power”

    South Jersey has suffered greatly. If you knew what he did to the people down here you would be in tears

    So many lives destroyed, interrupted and ruined all because Norcross was able to use his paid off judges, corrupt courts, dirty laws and manufactured stories he’s orchestrated on his media to tarnish and wreck the lives of those who stood up to help the people
    Norcross; Sweeney and Christie formed an alliances and hijacked New Jersey. They are Bullies who enjoy seeing innocent people suffer. Sweeney loves to orchestrate firings then report it to nj com
    or courier post which norcross has heavily invested in to conjure his stories that are used to tarnish andceiom people’s character. Mr Katz was aware of what norcross was doing and norcross did not want that to be exposed.


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