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Hezekiah Bradley Smith, a Burlington County Democrat, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1879 to 1881, and in the New Jersey State Senate from 1883 to 1885

New Jersey’s bigamist congressman

Before Kim, the last Burlington County Democrat to serve in Congress

By David Wildstein, November 30 2018 11:29 am


When Andy Kim takes his seat in Congress in January, he will be the first Burlington County Democrat to serve in the House since Hezekiah Bradley Smith lost in 1880 after Republicans found evidence that the congressman was a bigamist.

Democrat John Adler held the seat from 2009 to 2011, but he was from Camden County.

Smith was married in Boston in 1846, two months before his daughter was born.  They separated one year later, after buying his wife a sewing machine so she could earn a living.  While the Smith’s never lived together again – she refused to grant him a divorce — they had three more children.

According to the legend, Smith sought to erase any evidence of his marriage.  He burned all correspondence with his wife, even he family bible that included a record of his marriage.

After amassing a considerable fortune as an inventor and manufacturer, he moved to Easthampton, New Jersey and married again.

Smith was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1878. He defeated freshman Republican Rep. John Howard Pugh by 911 votes, 50.6% -47.4%.

Allegations of bigamy were made during Smith’s campaign for re-election to a second term in 1880.

Smith lost to J. Hart Brewer, a former Assemblyman from Lawrenceville whose grandfather’s great-grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence, by 2,044 votes.  Brewer ran slightly ahead of Republican presidential candidate James Garfield, who won the district by 1,835 votes but lost New Jersey to Democrat Winfield Hancock.

There is some evidence that Smith lost re-election because of the national political climate and not because of the bigamy allegations.  That’s because Smith ran again for office and won.

In 1882, Smith sought a seat in the New Jersey State Senate back when each county had one senator.  He defeated Republican Charles Ewan Merritt by 988 votes for the Burlington Senate seat.  Merritt had been a union army captain who served under future President Benjamin Harrison.

He didn’t run again in 1885.  Following Smith’s death two years later at age 71, his estranged son tried to claim his remains.  That was something Smith had predicted, so he had his iron coffin placed in an iron cage and then set that in concrete.  His son had a marble statue Smith had erected in tribute to his other wife destroyed.

Smith’s great-great-great-grandson, Jim Marshall, was a Democratic congressman from Georgia from 2003 to 2011.

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