Following orders from the Continental Congress, the New Jersey Provincial Congress devised a new framework of government for the state. Passed in July 1776, the new state constitution remained in force until 1844. Providing for annual elections, the constitution established an upper house called the Legislative Council and a lower house called the General Assembly. A joint meeting of the Council and the Assembly elected the governor. Essentially a figurehead, the governor lacked the power to veto laws passed by the legislature, could not pardon criminals, and did not have the authority to appoint individuals to state offices. These powers devolved on the legislature, which was thought to best represent the voice of the people. The governor and Legislative Council, meeting together, acted as the state's supreme court and court of appeals.
Different counties in New Jersey initially used different methods of voting, some favoring viva voce voting and others the paper ballot system. After 1797, however, all the counties shifted to the secret ballot. Representation was apportioned according to geographic units; each of the state's thirteen counties elected one councilor and three assemblymen to the legislature. The constitution included a provision that allowed the legislature to "add to or diminish the number or proportion" of representatives if "a majority of representatives" deemed it "equitable and proper." Although a few slight adjustments were made in 1804, 1815, and 1818, the state did not in this period fully accept the principle that representation should be proportionate to population. In addition, officeholders had to own a certain amount of property. Members of the lower house had to possess real or personal property of at least £500 in value, and members of the upper house had to own property valued at twice that much.
New Jersey's suffrage laws were unique. Under the 1776 constitution, any adult inhabitant who possessed real or personal property valued at £50 or more was entitled to vote. Laws passed in 1790 and 1797 made it clear that the legislators intended the constitution to enfranchise both unmarried women (single and widowed) and free blacks who met the property requirement. Although a few other states during this period did allow free blacks to vote, no other state allowed women to cast ballots. Ongoing hostility, however, resulted in the law's repeal. In 1807 the legislature eliminated all property qualifications for voting but confined the vote to white males. Thus the franchise was extended to all adult white male taxpayers at the same time that women and free blacks lost the right to vote.
The 1807 law represented a rare show of bipartisan cooperation between Federalists and Republicans. Long-standing differences between East Jersey, which was primarily Presbyterian in religion and looked to New York City for its cues, and West Jersey, which was predominantly Quaker in religion and took Philadelphia as it model, had persisted from the colonial era. After the factions united to ratify the United States Constitution on December 19, 1788, the old divisions between East and West Jersey resurfaced. Counties in the southern part of the state formed the West Jersey "Junto," which tended to support Federalist policies and candidates, while East Jersey increasingly gravitated toward the emerging Democratic-Republican Party.
Throughout the 1790s, the parties battled for control. In 1798 voters reacted against the Alien and Sedition Acts by electing three Republican members out of five to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite Federalists' subsequent attempts to gerrymander districts to their advantage, the Republican surge continued. After 1800, New Jersey Republicans gained control of the state legislature, the governorship, and the congressional delegation. With only a brief Federalist interlude during the War of 1812, the Republicans’ dominance continued unabated until the fracture of the Republican Party itself during the Jacksonian era.
Republican domination was enhanced by the state's method of electing members to Congress. Whereas most state legislatures divided their state into districts and allowed each district to select its own representative to Congress, after 1813 New Jersey chose to use the at-large method of electing congressmen. Voters throughout the state cast ballots for all the eligible candidates. The candidates with the highest totals were elected. As Republicans well knew, this system tended to result in the election of members from the majority party and to eliminate the possibility of representation for the Federalist minority. Thus both persuasion and procedural tactics enabled the New Jersey Republicans solidify their own power while eradicating the divisive legacy of the state’s colonial past.
- Fleming, Thomas.
New Jersey: A Bicentennial History(New York: Norton, 1977).
- Fee, Walter R.
The Transition from Aristocracy to Democracy in New Jersey, 1789–1829.Somerville, NJ: Somerset Press, 1933.
- Klinghoffer, Judith Apter and Lois Elkis.
"'The Petticoat Electors': Women's Suffrage in New Jersey, 1776–1807,"Journal of the Early Republic, 12 (Summer 1992), 169–193.
- Kruman, Marc W.
Between Authority and Liberty: State Constitution Making in Revolutionary America.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
- McCormick, Richard P.
Experiment in Independence: New Jersey in the Critical Period, 1781–1789.New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1950).
- Zagarri, Rosemarie.
The Politics of Size: Representation in the United States, 1776–1850.Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987).
In the "Era of Good Feelings", when many candidates were of the same party, specific issues would divide the candidates and the candidates would be described in newspapers in terms of their support or opposition of that issue. The various one-issue parties include:
- New York 1807 Assembly, Dutchess County: The Division and Anti-Division Tickets.
- New Jersey 1810 Essex County: The Bank Tax Ticket and the Anti-Bank Tax Ticket.
- Pennsylvania 1814 Assembly, Columbia, Northumberland and Union: In 1813, Northumberland County had been divided into three counties: Northumberland, Columbia and Union. The 1814 Assembly election for the district composed of these three counties split on the division.
- Maryland 1816 House of Delegates, Montgomery County: Moderates and Violents. Both groups appeared to be Federalists, but were listed in several newspapers as Moderates and Violents (including the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington), Alexandria Herald, Federal Republican (Baltimore) and Federal Gazette (Baltimore). Throughout the early republic, the Federalist remained incredibly united. One exception was the 1816 Montgomery County election. Montgomery was among the most Federal counties in Maryland, and as sometimes happens when one party is so dominant, dissension, often in the form of personality conflicts erupt. The exact cause of this split is not yet known, but it is interesting that none of the Delegates chosen in 1815 ran for re-election, although one was a candidate for Congress. Although all the candidates for Delegates were Federalist, it was stated that Republicans supported those listed as Moderates. Among those listed as Violents was Alexander C. Hanson, owner of the virulent Baltimore Federal Republican, which had recently moved back to Maryland from Georgetown. Although Hanson was not elected to the House of Delegates, he was chosen a few months later to the United States Senate. With his appointment, this conflict seemed to subside.
- New Hampshire 1816 House of Representatives, Portsmouth: Brickites and Woodites. Both groups were Republicans but were split on a "law passed for the exclusive erection of brick buildings" (Portsmouth Oracle. March 16, 1816.)
- Kentucky 1817 and 1818: George Madison who was elected Governor of Kentucky in August 1816, died very shortly after being inaugurated. He was succeeded by Gabriel Slaughter, who had just been elected as Lieutenant Governor. The new Lieutenant Governor, appointed John Pope, who was considered by many to be an avowed Federalist, to the office of Secretary of State for Kentucky. This caused uproar among the Kentucky Republicans and many of them demanded a new election for Governor and that became a big issue in the state elections of 1817. It would have required an act of the State Legislature to call for a new election of a Governor, so in the 1817 and 1818 state elections, candidates for the state legislature aligned themselves into those who were in favor of a new election for Governor, and those against a new election for Governor.
- New York 1819 Assembly, Ontario County: The Division and Anti-Division Tickets.
- Illinois and Missouri 1820: Various elections included tickets there listed as either Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery or Restrictionist (anti-slavery) and Anti-Restrictionist or variations of the two tickets running against each other (e.g. Pro-Slavery vs. Restrictionist). These would come up again in Illinois in 1824.
- Maryland 1822 and 1823 House of Delegates elections in Anne Arundel County and the 1822 Assembly election in Annapolis City: The Caucus and Anti-Caucus tickets. With their loss of the State Senate in September 1821, and even more for Delegates in the following month of October, by the next election of 1822, the Federalists in many counties offered only token any opposition. With the upcoming Presidential election, in which a Congressional caucus would be called upon to choose the republican candidate, the system of caucus nominations, both nationally and on the state level was coming under increasing attack. In 1822, several Federalist newspapers, listed some candidates in Annapolis City and Anne Arundel County as Anti-Caucus. In Annapolis City, Lewis Duvall who had been elected for many years a Republican member to the House of Delegates was not re nominated in 1821. This apparently caused some dissension, as he still received substantial support in both 1821 and 1822. In Anne Arundel County, two candidates were set up in opposition to the Regular Republican ticket and both were elected. It is interesting to note that almost half of their votes came from the most Federalist district within that county. It does appear that in both places, much of the support for these candidates was drawn from Federalists. Throughout the states, regularly nominated Republican candidates faced opposition from others within their party, a further reflection of dissatisfaction with the nomination process.
- Kentucky 1822 House of Representatives, Bullitt County, Assembly, Fayette County and Assembly, Franklin and Owen Counties, 1823 Assembly, Fayette County and 1824 Assembly, Madison County: The Relief and Anti-Relief (or Constitutionalist) Tickets. The Relief and Anti-Relief parties were a reaction to the crisis caused by the national economic downturn [Panic of 1819] and how the state of Kentucky was dealing with the aftermath.
- Maryland 1823 House of Delegates, Washington County: The Jew-Bill Ticket and the No Jew-Bill Ticket. This was in reference to the bill, eventually passed in 1826, that removed the Christian oath requirement for public office in Maryland.
- Pennsylvania 1824 Commissioner, Moyamensing Township: The People's ticket and the Family Ticket.
- Pennsylvania 1824 Commissioner, Southwark District: The 25 Cent ticket and the Quality Ticket.
- Kentucky 1824 House of Representatives, Bourbon, Fayette, Franklin, Mercer and Washington Counties: The Court Ticket and the Country Ticket.