A Reference Resource
Garret A. Hobart (1897–1899)
Despite his untimely death halfway through his term, Garret Augustus Hobart expanded the role of the vice president to such an extent that he earned the nickname, the "Assistant President."
Garret Hobart was born on June 3, 1844, in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Addison Hobart, established a school in Long Branch where Garret was enrolled at the age of five. In 1852, Hobart moved with his family to Marlboro, New Jersey, where he attended the village school until he graduated to a nearby boarding school. He enrolled at Rutgers College at the age of 16, where he majored in mathematics and English. He graduated with honors in 1863, earning awards in mathematics and public speaking.
After spending a short period as a schoolteacher to repay loans, Hobart studied law under a family friend, Socrates Tuttle, in Paterson, New Jersey. He earned his license in 1866, receiving his masters of chancery in 1872. During the course of his education, Hobart fell in love with Jennie Tuttle, the daughter of his teacher, and they were married in 1869.
Socrates Tuttle was elected mayor of Paterson in 1871, and he appointed Hobart to the position of city attorney. In 1872, Hobart took a seat in the New Jersey legislature, becoming Speaker of the House in 1874. In 1876, he was elected to the Senate of New Jersey, serving as its president from 1881 to 1882. His legislative experience contributed to the success of his law practice, and Hobart was named director of several corporations. He also served as president of banks, railroads, and the Passaic Water Company.
Because of his achievements, Hobart was nominated as the Republican candidate for vice president in the 1896 election, despite the fact he was a relative unknown outside of New Jersey. After accepting his nomination, Hobart returned to New Jersey and used his influence to ensure that William McKinley was the first Republican candidate to win the state in a quarter of a century. Despite the fact that Hobart had never met McKinley prior to the election, they became quite close in the following months.
Hobart agreed with McKinley on most major issues and was a strong advocate of maintaining the gold standard. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Hobart famously stated, "An honest dollar, worth one hundred cents everywhere, cannot be coined out of fifty-three cents of silver, plus a legislative fiat." McKinley and cabinet members regularly sought advice from the vice president. Following the Spanish-American War, Hobart listened closely to McKinley's plans for the Philippines - to convert the Filipinos to Christianity and assimilate them into the United States. As a result, Hobart cast the tie-breaking vote to deny independence to the Philippines.
As presiding officer of the Senate, Hobart was known for his remarkably strong memory with regard to past bills, and he consistently sought to improve the efficiency of the legislative process. He was known for passing judgment on the rules of order himself, rather than putting issues to a Senate vote, as was traditionally done. Hobart and his wife were also excellent entertainers, hosting lavish parties, dinners, and "smokers" at their rented mansion on Lafayette Square.
Although he is better remembered for his early death and famous successor (Theodore Roosevelt), Hobart's brief tenure included historically significant expansions of vice presidential power. McKinley consulted Vice President Hobart far more regularly than prior Presidents and had a close working relationship with him. While he was not included in cabinet meetings, both McKinley and other cabinet members consulted with him freely on matters of policy. Additionally, Hobart's more assertive oversight of the Senate represented a distinct change from his predecessors. Although his time in office was less than three years, Hobart was an able vice president and treated his office less as a ceremonial position than as a venue for more substantial consultation and influence. Garret Hobart developed heart troubles during his tenure, and he was required to return to Paterson to rest during the summer of 1899. His condition worsened, and he died on November 21, 1899.