By Matt Rooney
Our glorious Garden State has many virtues but it’s true that we’ve never been a particularly wonderful judge of character. At least not consistently. I’m not talking about Jim McGreevey or Bob Menendez.
We voted AGAINST Abraham Lincoln. Twice.
In the fateful Election of 1860, the Republican Lincoln’s electors captured 48.13% of the New Jersey popular vote (58,346 votes) while the “fusion” slate garnered 51.87% (62,869).
Lincoln nevertheless got a little lucky given the race’s unusual electoral college dynamics.
New Jersey has 7 electoral votes back then. The Fusion slate boasted 3 Stephen A. Douglas electors; there were also 2 for John C. Breckinridge and Democrat John Bell respectively, but the fact that the electors for Breckinridge and Bell were not the same in some New Jersey counties resulted in lower vote totals for those electors AND Lincoln walking away with 4 electors to the Fusion ticket’s 3 electors. Lincoln ultimately won Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, and Salem counties.
The future Great Emancipator would of course go on to win the presidency with 39.8% of the national popular vote in a multi-candidate field, representing 18 states and 180 electoral votes. This result helped catalyze the secession of the Southern states and the inauguration of the U.S. Civil War.
Four years later in 1864, with the war entering its final bloody phase, Lincoln faced his former top general George McClellan and — buoyed by the fall of Atlanta during the summer months — won a comparatively decisive victory nation-wide consisting of 55% of the popular vote, 22 states and 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s paltry electoral total of 21.
One of just three states carried by McClellan?
McClellan (a Democrat) took all the state’s 7 electoral votes with a 52.84% popular vote victory (68,024 votes).
Not content to do anything other than double-down on our error? Former General McClellan would later serve as New Jersey’s 24th governor between January 15, 1878 and January 18, 1881.