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Rep. Charles Haight (D-Freehold). Library of Congress Photo.

Veteran: Charles Haight

By David Wildstein, May 30 2022 12:00 am

Charles Haight (D-Colts Neck) was serving as Assembly Speaker in 1861 when he was commissioned as a brigadier general of the New Jersey Militia.  He held the speakership in 1862, even though he would spend the next 2 ½ years commanding Camp Vredenburgh for the 14th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

Haight decided to run for Congress in 1866 against incumbent William Newell, who had served as the New Jersey’s first Republican governor from 1857.  Newell had served as a congressman from the Whig Party (1847 to 1851) and returned to the House as a Republican in 1864.

The dominant issue in the Haight vs. Newell campaign was Newell’s intense opposition to immigration, and his opposition to Irish Catholics becoming part of the political establishment in New Jersey.

When Newell was governor, James Donnelly was convicted of murder in a Monmouth County by a Protestant judge who sentenced Donnelly to death despite what the Irish community viewed as flimsy evidence.  Newell refused to commute his sentence.

Haight beat Newell by 349 votes, 50.6%-49.4%.  He did not seek re-election to a second term in 1866 and later served as Monmouth County Prosecutor.

Newell ran for governor again in 1877, but lost to Civil War General George B. McClellan.  McClellan had been the Democratic presidential nominee against Abraham Lincoln in 1864.  The Donnelly case again contributed heavily to Newell’s defeat.

The political comeback of Newell was especially interesting: President Rutherford Hayes appointed him to serve as Governor of the Washington Territory in 1880.  Newell remained in Washington State for fourteen years, serving as U.S. Indian Inspector before winning election as mayor of Olympia.  He returned to Monmouth County at age 82, and died the following year.

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